There’s much to admire at Visual Arts Scotland’s annual Open
AT the Royal Scottish Academy, it seems, one Open Exhibition ends and another begins – and yet what different beasts they are. The imposing Playfair gallery on The Mound is the home of large exhibitions and these wintertime Opens are just as fascinating as the summer blockbusters that fill the halls.
Certainly there’s much to admire at Visual Arts Scotland’s annual Open, an exhibition – as the name suggests – open to both members and non-members, not just in Scotland but internationally. Only a few are chosen from the many pieces submitted (and sometimes more than one work will be accepted from the same artist), although all can put forward small items for the VAS Shop, which is continually restocked throughout the run.
The open submissions complement the curated sections of the show, which includes invited artists Paul Keir and Ute Decker – the former’s sculptural installations, Incomplete Inventory, which lean against the RSA walls, or are drawn on them, fully inhabiting the space; the latter’s spiral coiled neck pieces, made using an innovative technique that creates, as she puts it, “geometric poetry”. There is also the graduate showcase, a selection of works from artists which VAS picked out from last year’s degree shows.
Yet what is, perhaps, most admirable of all about this venture is that it can manage to cohere something as small as an artist’s book or a piece of jewellery with large-scale sculpture and installation. Nothing is lost. And this is no small feat, for the exhibiting artists are as diverse a bunch as one might expect from an organisation which, while once a meeting ground for women artists, has, since the 1980s, been open to all Scotland’s artists.
Partly this is to do with the curation. The display is never crowded, areas of densely built-up paintings are balanced with areas of white wall. Colours are carefully considered so that, for example, in Room VII, into which you might first walk, if you turn back on yourself after coming up the front stairs, a low table of artists’ books, including Liza Green’s diminutive Linescape and Susie Leiper’s Through the Clouds, holds its own under the implied mountains of the latter’s large
oil on canvas (Ranges) and the brightly coloured abstract landscapes of Kara Kirkwood and Ewan Robertson, stacked up on the far wall to the ceiling. Here too are graduate Ailsa Morrant’s 16 Medals of Everyday Life and Kennis Macleod’s intricately worked embroidery piece Falling Summer, the diversity of form and media in this beautifully hung room held together by subtle contrast and a notion of landscape.
What gives the VAS show a depth, too, is the healthy proportion of applied arts and craft, from ceramics to textiles. The lofty central gallery of the RSA is given over to Craft Scotland in large part, dominated by the Hirta walk-in wooden installation designed by Naomi Mcintosh, a malleable, free-form structure that can be assembled and resassembled in many different ways to produce a space configured for whatever it is showcasing. Mcintosh’s
main work is wooden jewellery and wall pieces, the necklaces like the spines of unknown creatures, interlocked and flexible.
Charlotte Barker’s Flotilla installation is an elegant balance somewhere between functionality and sculpture, large hand-thrown pots balanced on three-legged benches, beautifully carved from freshly sawn slices of tree, with spindly carved “stool” legs making the installation seem even more weightily fragile than it did in the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop’s Edinburgh Art Festival exhibition a couple of years ago.
Elsewhere, continuing the woody theme, Thomas Hawson’s Shrink-wrapped Dreams is a wooden cube of maritime memories, while Beth Legg’s wonderful and evocative birch and driftwood jewellery and “nests” of forest gleanings have their own weight alongside the larger pieces. You can see the joy here in the marrying of material, inspiration and making.
The day after I view the exhibition, a VAS representative tells me that, in a departure from the usual run of things, the VAS has won the £4,000 W Gordon Smith award, one which is normally given to one artist for a work in the show. It was awarded, she tells me, “in recognition of the outstanding exhibition they have produced in challenging circumstances”.
The award-givers recognised that the award could have gone to a number of individual works, and so gave the whole to the organisation, to help it to continue producing what is an incredibly costly yet wonderful annual survey of Scottish design and art.
Alight: Visual Arts Scotland, Open Exhibition, Royal Scottish Academy, The Mound, Edinburgh, www.visualartsscotland.org, until Feb 22, Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 12pm-5pm, free but donations welcome
Above: A large piece by Gosia Walton is installed. Left: Some of the items on show, including ceramics by Tricia Thom