Sunny Dunny

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on February 4, 2011

Well not exactly, but it wasn’t sunny leaving another Scottish seaside holiday town this morning either. I was invited by Polarcap (Liz Adamson and Graeme Todd) to see their current exhibition, Vegetable Loves, at West Barns Studios.

Adamson and Todd curate projects as Polarcap, and are also, with another colleague, the organisers of West Barns Studios, a project space and six studios outside Dunbar on the East coast.

Derrick Guild, root crop, oil on resin with cz diamonds, 2006

Drawing inspiration from Andrew Marvell’s most famous poem To His Coy Mistress and hinting at the ecological interests of the curators, Vegetable Loves includes a range of work, from Jonathan Owen‘s obsessively recarved figure which started as Don Quixote and is now a surrealist fantasy of the bondage of books, to Jacqui Irvine’s ‘painting’ made by the snails in her garden working for her in exchange for the nacotic joys of envelope adhesive. Having just been reading Boris Groys’ essay in the e-flux Journal Marx After Duchamp, or The Artist’s Two Bodies, I wonder what sort of alienated labour that represents?

The melody in the background, part of the video by Soland Goose found by following the sound down a corridor to a small alcove, alludes to agriculture. Furrow patterns in a field caught in the low sunlight of the Scottish winter are animated by, organ-grinder-like, C-A-B-B-A-G-E.

The sound of running water takes over as guide to the inquisitive, leading to a projection with a fountain. Images of anonymous, un-peopled, spaces in a modern city, curiously new and yet bereft of life, as if abandoned, are projected on the wall. In front stands a red plastic stool with a bucket on it, but the roof is not leaking. Instead a small garden water fountain mechanism is in the bucket, and a spout of water arcs into another bucket on the floor. Where the images are of modern topiary perfection (nothing like a garden in the Italianate style), the fountain is an improvised icon of a Shanghai market, offered by an artist Rania Ho to Todd in remembrance of a visit (as I understood).

But going back to Groys, underneath the skin of this exhibition we find precisely the problems of labour in contemporary art. Adamson and Todd collaborate on curatorial projects, whilst Todd maintains a formal painting practice. Both also lecture at Edinburgh College of Art (and are probably being expected to evidence ‘impact’ for the REF). Talking about the exhibition they commented on the arrival of Hayley Tompkins elegantly simple and modest work from her gallery, the Modern Institute, and the importance of good packaging in signalling the significance of the artist. Todd described with loving detail the layers of foam rubber and the precision with which they had been packed. Whilst Groys is right that there has been a shift from ‘artistic mass consumption’ to ‘artistic mass production’ brought on by the high bandwidth communications which mean that,

“Contemporary means of communication and social networks such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter offer global populations the ability to present their photos, videos, and texts in ways that cannot be distinguished from any post-Conceptualist artwork. And contemporary design offers the same populations a means of shaping and experiencing their apartments or workplaces as artistic installations.”

And he is right that institutional critique has been focused on the purposes and powers of art institutions rather than their practicalities,

“Especially within the framework of “institutional critique,” art institutions are mostly considered to be power structures defining what is included or excluded from public view. Thus art institutions are analyzed mostly in “idealist,” non-materialist terms, whereas, in materialist terms, art institutions present themselves rather as buildings, spaces, storage facilities, and so forth, requiring an amount of manual work in order to be built, maintained, and used.”

The grassroots of contemporary art brings all the systemic elements (curatorship, organisational development, fundraising, creating work, installing work, marketing through social media) into the hands of individuals and small collectives where they are still personal bodily activity, and where the results have the touch of the individual. Often, like Polarcap and West Barns Studios, these are also seeking to challenge centre-periphery dynamics, whilst simultaneously allowing Todd to exhibit in London and undertake research visits to China.

What emerges is a new construction challenging the VALS (highlighted in another e-flux journal paper, this time by Martha Rosler) analysis which aligns ‘experiencers’ to the highest value and ‘makers’ with the lowest value. Innovation is making, making work and making things happen, and yes the experiencers can feel creative through high bandwidth, but they are not changing the world.


3 Responses

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  1. Anna McAlea-MacQueen said, on February 4, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    No publicity that ive seen in dunbar tho

    • liz adamson said, on February 5, 2011 at 4:20 pm

      Hi Anna,
      You’ll find posters in the library and swimming pool and cards at The Crunchie Carrot.
      Handed them in at John Muir’s Birthplace for The Townhouse too
      We posted it on the Dubar Art Trust web site and handed @ 200 cards to the 7.40 commuters. Also did a school bag drop at West barns primary. Dunbar’s bit difficult to find places to poster, but we’re trying.
      Really hope you’ll make it along Anna and spread the word. We’re open this weekend and next Thursday, Friday , Saturday and Sunday

  2. A MCALEA-MACQUEEN said, on February 5, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    cd also try the art dept at dunbar grammar. art teacher mr davies-jenkins, head master paul raffaelli.

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