by Jack Mottram, a freelance writer based in Glasgow · About · Contact · Feed

Tender Scene at Changing Room

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A visit to the Changing Room always feels like a special treat.

This might be down its setting - the gallery is tucked away in a shopping arcade, rather than huddled together with other spaces in an artsy ghetto, or standing aloof on a grubby side-street awaiting impending gen­tri­fic­a­tion - or the layout, which has visitors clamber up a dimly-lit stairwell before entering the bright, light-filled ex­hib­i­tion hall. More than these accidents of geography and design, though, it is the Changing Room’s con­s­ist­ent and unerring knack over the last decade for mounting thought-provoking group shows that prompts such a sense of an­t­i­cip­a­tion.

And, with Tender Scene, they have done it again, present­ing works by Fiona Jardine, Alex Pollard, Clare Steph­en­son and Gregor Wright that fizz with un­ex­pec­ted con­nec­tions.

Pollard - who as well as ex­hib­it­ing curated the show, billed as a ‘col­l­ab­or­at­ive in­stal­l­a­tion’ - dominates the pro­ceed­ings. Building on Black Marks, his recent solo show at Edinburgh’s Talbot Rice gallery, Pollard continues to mine a rich seam of thematic concerns, centring on the seedy glamour the New Romantic movement, with nods to the Pierrot clown of the Commedia dell’Arte, and to jesters, clowns and fools in general. While Black Marks was a rather over­whelm­ing in­stal­l­a­tion, with a batch of three foot wide bronze medal­lions and a huge wall drawing looming over the huge number of paintings on show, the trio of new works here have a quieter, more med­it­at­ive air about them, as if, freed from the pressures of a major solo outing, Pollard has relaxed into this still-new strand of his practice.

These works, like all Pollard’s recent output, are mono­chrome, with a de­lib­er­ately limited palette ranging from deep black to dark grey. Comet shows a tangle of snapped lipsticks, wonky eyebrow pencils and heavily distorted lines and numbers, only just re­co­g­n­is­able as bar codes, with an over­lap­ping set of forms that might be the trail of the titular heavenly body, or the hairspray-stiff fringe of a New Romantic. Jester is a faceless en­ter­tain­er­ making himself up with the gooey contents of a make-up bag, while Grey Argot is Pollard in self-re­f­er­en­ti­al mode, present­ing an amorphous blob of a cartoon speech balloon made of more sticky lippy that might almost serve as a painted manifesto for his current work.

Fiona Jardine’s con­tri­bu­tion, They Became What They Beheld, runs alongside Pollard’s fas­cin­a­tion with masks and make-up. A pair of pho­to­graphs show a figure seated on a plinth, his two-piece suit protected by a paper boiler suit. In both images, the face is obscured by a bulbous spherical helmet, bearing a triangle in one pho­to­graph, a star in the other, a sinister update to the sock and buskin masks of classical theatre.

Clare Steph­en­son is concerned with theatre, artifice and disguise too. Miss Verily-Existant and Miss Quite-Tran­s­cend­ant are, a note informs us, a pair of ‘ex­ist­en­ti­al drag queens’. They star in two drawings, both clad in ruched metallic robes based on repeated forms borrowed from medieval church sculp­tures, both with sinister porcelain doll faces and awkwardly animated limbs, both per­form­ing beside mys­ter­i­ous wooden struc­tures of un­gues­s­able purpose.

And then there’s Gregor Wright, who knocks the whole show off-balance, like a past-tipsy gate­crash­er­ stumbling uninvited into a private party. An untitled work shows what appears to be a thermos flask rendered in dis­con­cer­t­ingly fleshy pink. Every Extend Extra sees a set of cubic forms piled up like refugees from a game of Tetris gone rotten, while Caffeine is a cartoon portrait of a grinning little chap, steam billowing from his head. In the centre of the room sits Metamorph, an awkward, lumpy con­struc­tion jury-rigged together from off-cuts of Styrofoam and wood panels, a low-rent Tran­s­former­ robot caught in the act of shifting from man to machine.

Wright is a peculiar pro­pos­i­tion at the best of times. His un­fin­ished aesthetic and de­lib­er­ately slapdash methods are hugely at­tract­ive, not to mention good fun, and the studied in­com­p­lete­ness of his work offers a winking challenge to the viewer, who is invited to finish off what Wright has started. Here, sur­roun­ded as he is by a trio of artists who are, if not party members, then at least fellow trav­el­lers, bound together further by subtle al­ter­a­tions to the gallery space - the floor is striped like an Everton mint, and patches of wall are covered in dazzle ship-like ca­m­o­flague patterns - he sticks out like a sore thumb.

And yet these blowsy works fit with the quieter, more con­sider­ed pieces around them, acting as grist to the mill, or sand in the Vaseline. Without Wright, Tender Scene might have been a rather ordinary group outing, a decent-but-un­in­spir­ing look at a group of artistic allies. With him, the lines con­nect­ing Jardine, Pollard and Steph­en­son are drawn all the more clearly.

This review was first published in The Herald in July, 2007.