Juergen Teller is a slippery customer. In the early 1990s, his work for the style magazines turned fashion photography on its head. Reflecting the haute couture set's adoption of grunge by focussing not on clothes, but on the model, snapping away with a point-and-shoot camera, Teller exchanged the artifice of the high gloss pose for a no less artificial aesthetic of studied nonchalance. Then, effortlessly, the commercial photographer became a fine artist, changing the context in which his work is shown, and his subjects, but not, importantly, his methods.
The result, spread over four rooms of Inverleith House, is no less slippery. Awailable is a survey of sorts, six year's worth of work selected by Teller, it seems, to show the breadth of his practice, which takes in portraits of artists, models, designers and actresses, shots of his children and family, and, in the Nürnberg series, a pseudo-documentary look at the environs of his family home in Bavaria.
Vivienne Westwood appears twice, both images playfully subverting her public image. In Vivienne At Home, the designer appears as the wild-eyed bag lady of tabloid opprobrium, in Boadicea Vivienne, she is the done up as a punk warrior. Similarly, Gisele Bündchen is shown in two lights, first writhing in faux-ecstasy at a fashion shoot, then, in Gisele In My Bath, she undermines any sense of vulnerability with a steely gaze. Along with the wit, there's a good dollop of sentimentality, but again, one suspects Teller is winking as he opens the shutter. Cherub sees Teller's son Ed striking an angelic attitude, Tante Elfriede shows his aunt and her poodle at home, in a style that seems to wilfully misunderstand the legacy of Martin Parr.
There's no question about the status of this work as art (it's in a gallery after all), nor does the photographer's commercial past taint it in any way. Instead, it seems that Teller is self-consciously addressing these uncertainties. His fashion work is like informal portraiture, and his informal portraits seem to be schilling a product, from happy family life to effortless glamour to snowfall in the countryside. Thanks to Westwood's presence, it is hard not to remember Johnny Rotten's ambiguous question at the fag end of the Sex Pistols' career: 'Did you ever get the feeling you've been cheated?'. Just as Rotten was asking himself the same question as his audience, so Teller's work is about his own role, as fashion world rebel or art scene interloper. That awkward status is not as troublesome as Teller might hope, but it is what makes his work if not powerful, then at least intriguing.
It's tempting to attempt a neat segue from Teller's exhibit to the work of Andrew Miller, which fills the lower floors of Inverleith House - they both delight in subverting modes of representation, engage in reconfiguring reality, and force awkward questions on their audience - but, really, they have little in common.
Sixes And Sevens is a set of new works, all completed in the last year. The first, Mirrored Pavilion is a meticulous recreation of a shack Miller spotted while working in Trinidad. It is a mysterious structure - it could be a small dwelling, a store house, even a signal box for some long-abandoned railway - and years of decay have further obscured its purpose. Miller has recreated it twice over, too. First, in Room 1, then again, as a perfect mirror image, in Room 3, an act that, in creating an imagined twin, simultaneously completes the building and raises further questions about its nature, heightened by the addition of mirrors to its frame.
Between these two halves sits another structure, titled Station, again of unknown purpose. Built from the memory of a fleeting encounter, this time in the lane behind Miller's studio, the object might be a desk, or a fixture from a hairdresser's salon, or something that could be put to more sinister ends. Miller also reminds us that he is a sculptor - the Station bears more mirrors, is lacquered in deep black, unlike the original object, and is awkwardly propped up on concrete block.
Outside the gallery, in a Secret Garden boxed in with high hedges, sits another reconstruction, Frame. It is the skeleton of a municipal playground swing, carefully aged with painted streaks of rust.
This last piece is, perhaps, the key to understanding Miller's work. It is immediately evocative, a musing on time and place, but also undeniably sculptural, a formal piece with nods to Modernism.
Miller is not turning the real into art, or revealing the beauty in overlooked objects, he is questioning the nature of reality and of art, dissolving the distinction between the two and, with his careful alterations - the mirrors on Mirrored Pavilion, the lacquer on Station - turning acts of remembering, his and ours, into a series of aesthetic choices.This review was first published in The Herald on February 23rd, 2007.