Work

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

Craig Mulholland & Camilla Low

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For her first solo show in Scotland, the Norwegian, Glasgow-educated sculptor Camilla Low has brought together existing works with a series of new pieces to craft a dis­t­inc­tly calm and collected display, one that matches a studied ex­am­in­a­tion of formal pos­s­ib­il­it­ies with a strong sense of place.

The new works are fashioned from concrete cubes, crafted on site from local materials, and a match for the in­dus­tri­al ar­chi­tec­ture of the Dundee Con­tem­por­ary Arts’ ex­hib­i­tion spaces. These cubes are piled and stacked, with the oc­ca­sion­al surface painted smooth, in hues chosen from a limited palette of mostly primary colours. Resting on the ar­range­ments of blocks are similarly precise rec­ti­l­in­ear wooden forms: squares and oblongs defined in space and, again, treated with a high-gloss, brightly-coloured coating that denies their rough, organic origins.

Low is working in a tradition here - the modular min­im­al­ism of Sol LeWitt springs to mind, and there are echoes of Malevich’s pared-down su­pre­mat­ism - but she is no copyist, conveying, instead, a deep un­der­stand­ing of the potential of simple forms to interact with each other and the space around them. In a rather neat cur­at­or­i­al trick, Low’s new works stand free on the gallery floor, while earlier works, many of which lean on walls for support or are suspended from the ceiling, gather around, as if looking fondly on their progeny. And those earlier pieces are less polished, less re­pet­it­ive. Diva is a col­lec­tion of unpainted wooden blocks, pulled up off the floor by a cord, which Sister sees a busy cluster of orange Perspex triangles pierced by a metal rod. Best of them all is White Steel, a bent and bashed sheet of metal that has been treated to a glamorous sheen.

If the ret­ro­spect­ive element of the show provides variety, it is the formal ex­plor­a­tion through re­pe­ti­tion and re­ar­range­ment of the new elements that gives the show its strength. At first sight, so many similar works might appear dull, but walk among them and the restraint that char­ac­ter­ises Low’s recent practice offers an almost med­it­at­ive ex­per­i­ence, a set of forms pushed to their limits.

Back in Glasgow, Craig Mul­hol­land is showing no signs of restraint, but proving once again that he is the most prolific polymath working in the city today. His new show is spread across two venues - the Glasgow School of Art and Sorcha Dallas - filling both to the gunnels, and is further fleshed out with a short digital film. Mul­hol­land’s concerns are similarly broad, resting on the idea in­form­a­tion in its many forms, from data storage to sur­veil­lance, en­cryp­tion to virtual realities and the social and political impact of in­form­a­tion tech­no­lo­gies.

The Art School’s Mack­in­tosh Gallery has been infested with an army of decidedly sinister tripods. Some bear the weight of rough-hewn pewter globes, others carry gobbets of dense, rubbery material, their rounded surfaces bearing traces of tightly-wound string, others still serve as easels, dis­play­ing framed works, “paintings” made of etched metal and poly­car­bon­ate.

More of these metal paintings - nigh on 20 of them - adorn the walls, ranging from finicky, precise geo­met­rics, to wild splatters. There is something in the ar­range­ment of the tripods that suggests a tran­s­mis­sion and reception of data, as if, when un­ob­ser­ved, they might twitch into life, their loads to be collected, examined and in­ter­preted, like physical man­i­fest­a­tions of the coded robots that crawl the web, reporting their findings back to search engines.

On the other side of the room, the silver and black of the tripods and etched works give way to white, with a group of 16 framed works made of pegboard. Arranged in a towering pyramid foun­d­a­tion, the first of them is dense, with layers of board piled up and torn away, and the last is barely there, with traces of board at its edges, and holes drilled directly into the gallery wall. If the grouping of the tripods and metal works hints at data in transit, the pegboard pieces suggest data loss, forming a eulogy to a failing hard drive, its stored in­form­a­tion edging away bit by bit, byte by byte.

Across town at Sorcha Dallas, there are more metal works, this time edging away from the math­em­at­ic­al ab­strac­tions of their peers at the School of Art to hint at the re­p­res­ent­a­tion of library shelves or half-broken sa­tel­l­ites in orbit. In the centre of the first ex­hib­i­tion space, a found metal globe has been etched with lines of latitude and longitude, and an im­pos­s­ible geography of in­ter­sect­ing curves. Next door, there is an immersive five-screen video in­stal­l­a­tion, Rising Res­ist­ance, in which images from the two ex­hib­i­tions flow around the room.

In the past, when Mul­hol­land has mounted sprawling shows like this - most notable Plastic Casino in 2004 - there was a sense that he was an artist in need of an editor: someone who would lock the doors of his studio and say, “Enough!” This time, though, the be­wil­der­ing array of objects offered up for ex­am­in­a­tion, and the almost im­pen­et­r­able layering of imagery are lent coherence by, of all things, a 12-minute digitally animated rock opera, Peer To Peer. It is a stunning, albeit brief, piece of cinema.

Mul­hol­land and his colib­ret­t­ist, Laurence Figgis, tell the story of a Camera and its Operator, both exhausted by the weight of the in­form­a­tion they must amass, sort and route around a system - what this in­form­a­tion is, why it is being gathered and for whom is never made clear - expressed in language that hovers beau­ti­fully between code and poetry. On screen, a hard-disk platter is suspended in space, its surface attacked by a whirling galaxy of digital detritus, tripods scuttle about, up to God knows what, and the Camera, a floating metal globe with a blinking aperture, moves to and fro through a Borgesian library of data.

There is a distinct air of hysteria about all this, and the film oozes a sort of to­tal­it­ar­i­an camp: in lesser hands, the piece might err on the sillier side of sci-fi, but Mul­hol­land who, for all the high ser­i­ous­ness of his projects, is not afraid to introduce a note of winking humour - makes it work. With his twin ex­hib­i­tions and superb film work, Mul­hol­land has, then fashioned a fully-formed world, an encoded vision that reformats a real world in which the gathering and retention of in­form­a­tion is spir­al­ling out of control, where the prospect of biometric identity cards and DNA databases looms, our every move is followed by sur­veil­lance cameras and un­desir­ables are moved on by speakers emitting a high-pitched digital wine.

You will not find a better evocation of the dystopian present than this.

This review was first published in The Herald on 29th February, 2008.