It’s the quiet ones you have to watch. At Lowsalt, there are no big names, no bells and whistles, no overweening curatorial guidance, just a set of works that quietly assert themselves, and quietly assert the connections that bind them together.
That said, the first thing you see when you step through the door is a bloody great big black wing propped up in a corner, casting out a sickly red glow. The piece, by Douglas Morland, is, despite its size and the looming angle at which it sits, far from monumental. Instead, it is an absence with presence, its surface such a deep, matte black that at first glance it looks to have been cut into the wall behind it - a solid shadow that casts, impossibly, its own shadow made of light. The source of this unnerving thing is a drawing by a patient of psychoanalyst Marie Louise Von Franz, who depicted herself in a dream landscape, under the shadow of the ‘wing of Satan’. Morland matches this paranoid imagining made flesh with two drawings of branks, or scold’s bridles, the metal masks used to punish troublesome women of the 17th and 18th centuries by trapping their tongues in a spiked metal vice. One of the pair is mirrored along a central line, so that the spikes and chains of the brank become a Rorschach inkblot test with only one possible, horrible interpretation.
After that, Steven Anderson’s twinned works come as something of a relief.
On a knotted nylon mat of the sort designed to cost as little, and last as long, as possible, Anderson has placed snapped guitar strings, shattered drumsticks and broken plectrums, gleaned from a Glasgow rehearsal room. The items are arranged, too, not simply scattered, as if Anderson has taken on the role of an anthropological archaeologist of the present, digging through layers of contemporary detritus in a bid to understand and illuminate the cultural practices that surround him. On the wall above the mat, Anderson continues his studies from another angle, presenting a contact sheet full of impromptu portraits taken at an unnamed gig as they subjects walked through the doors of the venue. Somewhere between these two pieces a band is playing, but Anderson is more interested in the relics of rehearsal and the anticipation on the faces of an audience, putting collective experience on the stage, sidelining performance in favour of the bonds between creators, and between consumers.
Potential and past actions rise up again in the work of Javier Ferro. An untitled installation takes the form of a crudely cast concrete table, on top of which sits an unfinished letter in a shaky hand. It reads, ‘Dearest, I have to think about you everywhere I am. I am therefore writing to you from my boss’ office whom I’m representing at the moment’. On the floor, crumpled sheets are scattered about, suggesting that this inarticulate missive with its eccentric emphases has been slaved over and endlessly revised, only to fail. The piece is matched with two works on paper, one bearing crudely torn, cut and drawn circles - another quest for perfection doomed to failure from the start.
These are three very different artists, then, with different aims and methods. But the three are drawn together in this space by a shared sensibility, a focus on potential futures and fragmented memories - Morland’s borrowed dreams, Anderson’s shared experiences and Ferro’s dashed hopes are together greater than the sum of their parts. The works are also drawn together by this space. Lowsalt is housed in a rather dingy disused workshop, complete with a layered palimpsest of torn wallpapers, a scuffed floor and broken signage - it is a place that wears its working past on its sleeve, and, thanks to its new purpose as a gallery, points to a future of further collaboration.
The awkward but eloquent alliance of three artists, and the gallery itself, is furthered by the show’s unwieldy, hinting title - ‘Not a disentanglement from but a progressive knotting into’ - and a brief, suggestive text by Ruth Barker, which is presented on a par with the artists’ work. Barker doesn’t stoop so low as to explain the work before us, preferring to present a loose assemblage of ideas. She tells visitors that, in ancient Greek, the words for ‘truth’ and ‘not forgetting’ are synonyms, wonders whether the collective imagination might contain shared images of neutrinos as well as those of mythical beasts, and muses on passive and active modes of remembering.
Barker’s essay is a fitting coda to a show that finds its strength in ellipses and tangents, matching unconscious fears with expressions of hope and the ties that bind a society together to form an unspoken, unseen bond between the exhibiting artists.
This review was first published in The Herald on June 29th, 2007.