Sea­son’s com­ple­ments

There’s much to ad­mire at Vis­ual Arts Scot­land’s an­nual Open

The Herald - The Herald Magazine - - ARTS | VISUAL - SARAH URWIN JONES

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

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