Al­ways look on dark side of life

Broad-rang­ing show with 40 artists ex­am­ines the Scot­tish ‘En­dark­en­ment’

The Herald - Arts - - VISUAL ART - SARAH URWIN JONES The Scot­tish En­dark­en­ment: Art and Un­rea­son, 1945 to the Present Dove­cot Stu­dios, Ed­in­burgh, May 13-Au­gust 29, www.dove­cot­stu­dios.com A se­ries of as­so­ci­ated films will also be shown at the Film­house in July and Au­gust

THE Scot­tish En­light­en­ment is such a fa­mil­iar check­ing point in the his­tory of our na­tion that the sug­ges­tion of a, per­haps cor­re­spond­ing, “En­dark­en­ment” is one which has a cer­tain res­o­nance. Cer­tainly that was the re­sponse when Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity pro­fes­sors – and cu­ra­tors of this Dove­cot show – An­drew Pa­trizio and Bill Hare mooted the idea to a num­ber of artists. “As soon as they heard the ti­tle of the show, they were all in,” smiles Hare. “They just seemed to get it.”

Hare, who jokes that his his­tor­i­cal name­sake – an­other William Hare, known for mur­der­ous en­deav­ours with his col­league William Burke – gives a cer­tain grim res­o­nance to the cu­ra­tor’s work along­side that of his long­time col­league, Pa­trizio (“Mafia con­nec­tions,” says the lat­ter, darkly), has been mulling over their idea of the En­dark­en­ment for the past five years.

The im­pe­tus was a gen­eral con­sen­sus amongst the two cu­ra­tors that Scot­tish art had – quite sim­ply – taken a turn for the darker af­ter the Sec­ond World War; that rea­son was swapped for scep­ti­cal “un­rea­son”; that artists were re­assess­ing in­her­ited and pos­si­bly skewed moral val­ues; that low­er­ing world events res­onated within the work of th­ese artists in a way that com­mu­ni­cated on a more vis­ceral level than the High­land cat­tle-specked panora­mas of the Vic­to­rian era.

“It struck me, too, that mythic sub­ject mat­ter was quite preva­lent in post-war Scot­tish art. Paolozzi and John Bel­lany, for ex­am­ple,” says Hare, “I was think­ing about myth in re­la­tion to his­tory, and from that kind of dialec­tic be­tween art en­gag­ing with his­toric ex­pe­ri­ence and artists more con­cerned with the in­ter­nal di­men­sion, came the im­pe­tus to for­mu­late this exhibition.”

We walk into the bright space of the Dove­cot’s ground floor gallery, lit by the some­what at­mo­spheric gothic arched win­dows of the for­mer Vic­to­rian swim­ming pool’s ground floor. John Bel­lany’s The Ettrick Shep­herd, an imag­in­ing of the writer James Hogg, leans against a wall, half-un­packed in the week be­fore the show opens. In the mid­dle of the room, a clus­ter of boxes con­tain­ing screens is the only ev­i­dence, so far, of a newly-com­mis­sioned video in­stal­la­tion from Bea­gles and Ram­say. Next door, an early psy­che­delic work doc­u­ment­ing bod­ily flu­ids by the Boyle Fam­ily lies roughly ar­ranged on a ta­ble. Joyce Cairns’ sober­ing Shoes from Mad­j­danek leans against the wall. In an an­nex, Alison Watt’s dark Black Star dom­i­nates, partly un­wrapped.

The list of 40 artists is broad-rang­ing, says Pa­trizio, who says they’ve taken a very wide-rang­ing view of Scot­tish iden­tity from Scot­tish artists who have moved away to English artists who have trained in Scot­land. If Dove­cot’s usual ap­plied arts em­pha­sis is ab­sent, the exhibition ties in to the stu­dio’s long as­so­ci­a­tion with fine artists who have col­lab­o­rated in the cre­ation of their rugs and ta­pes­tries.

The rooms are broadly di­vided into themes which weave in and out of the whole. There is a room loosely based around the in­ter­nal and the psy­cho­log­i­cal; an­other cor­ner based on his­toric and so­cial is­sues and a sec­tion which is de­voted to med­i­ta­tions on med­i­cal sci­ence in which Alison Watt, Chris­tine Bor­land and Julie Roberts ply a course from be­fore birth to be­yond the grave. Some­where in the mid­dle, Hare tells me, as we walk up the steps into the main gallery space and come across Jock McFadyen’s Cal­ton Hill (2014) with its gi­ant moon dom­i­nat­ing a tiny vista of Ed­in­burgh mon­u­ments, is a se­quence of works on the moon and the “lu­nar at­mos­phere” of this imag­ined “En­dark­en­ment”.

Of the many big names here, there are names one as­so­ci­ates with “dark” works, but oth­ers, like Watt or David Shrigley, whose con­tri­bu­tion gives more pause for thought. “And about a third of the exhibition is made up of artists who are ei­ther not as well known as they ought to have been, or are emerg­ing artists,” says Pa­trizio.

Both Hare and Pa­trizio sug­gest that this exhibition is just a be­gin­ning, a rad­i­cal new way of look­ing at the re­cent his­tory of our art that mer­its fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion, fur­ther as­sess­ment. “I hope, too,” says Pa­trizio, “that peo­ple will find them­selves see­ing artists that they think they know very well in an en­tirely new light.”

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