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

Jim Lambie: Forever Changes

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It’s been three years since Jim Lambie made an ap­pear­ance in Glasgow, and it’s fitting that Forever Changes, his return to home ground, is at the heart of the Glasgow in­ter­n­a­tion­al festival of visual art. It was Lambie, alongside his fellow graduates of the Glasgow School of Art, who re­vi­t­al­ised the city’s scene, and granted Glasgow an ongoing in­ter­n­a­tion­al re­pu­ta­tion as a hub for con­tem­por­ary art in Europe. Without that crop of artists and their work, dubbed ‘the Glasgow miracle’ by prominent curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, it seems safe to say that a festival on the scale of the Gi would not exist.

Typically, Lambie has chosen to kick off the festival with a blast. His first, arguably belated, show at the Gallery of Modern Art opens with Get Back, a brick wall placed, con­front­a­tion­ally, a few short feet from the entrance to the ex­hib­i­tion space. As an in­tro­duc­tion to the exhibit, it works well, slapping visitors in the face with a burst of Lambie’s trademark charity shop psy­che­delia. The bricks are formed by fabrics torn from old dresses, with garish floral patterns clashing with outsize houn­d­stooth checks, eye-popping geo­met­rics and plain fields of itchy polyester colour. As if that wasn’t a suf­fi­ci­ent shock to the visual cortex, the grouting between the bricks is par­t­ic­u­larly queasy shade of DayGlo pink, and the wall has landed on two pairs of patent leather training shoes.

It’s a defiantly ugly piece of work, and one that conjures up a skew-whiff retelling of The Wizard of Oz, with Lambie dis­mis­s­ing the Yellow Brick Road as overly mono­chrome and too-obviously ho­r­i­zont­al, and recasting the Wicked Witch of the East and her ruby slippers as a Glasgow scally, out on the town on a Friday night. While I doubt Lambie had Oz in mind as he gathered together the familiar detritus he utilises in his sculp­tur­al work, it also fits the un­der­ly­ing theme of the show, which hints at travel to unknown lands, and the nav­ig­a­tion of treach­er­ous seas.

This unlikely leitmotif is set in motion by The Strokes, a new vinyl tape floor work in the long-running Zobop series. Unlike the best known in­carn­a­tions of the Lambie’s floors, which see brightly coloured lines of tape tracing the contours of the room in which they are installed, this one is made of in­ter­lock­ing curves in black and white. This is good old fashioned Op art, with the integrity and stability of the floor upset by a curious visual effect, a strobing ebb and flow that flickers in per­i­pher­al vision, an illusion of waves in motion.

Bobbing in the black and white sea are eight cubes of concrete. Inside each block is a col­lec­tion of long players, plucked at random from the bargain bins of charity shops. But, before they can float onto the shores of some imagined South Sea island and spark a new Cargo Cult, the fos­sil­ised discs will have to make it past what is arguably the best work on show here, Seven And Seven Is or Sunshine Bathed the Golden Glow.

In the form of a cresting wave, this teetering sculp­tur­al assembly is made of wooden chairs, the sort you’d find around the average pub table, each one precisely bisected, painted in high-gloss pastels, and then bolted together willy-nilly. The structure is festooned with cheap handbags, their faux-leather surfaces obscured by shards of smashed mirror, which reflect the striped floor below, and the sickly shades of the chair parts from which they hang.

This is what you might call classic Lambie: everyday objects of little value have been tran­s­formed into something garish, glorious, and glor­i­ously mean­ing­less, an act of tran­s­form­a­tion made with an absolute certainty, with objects snatched from the artist’s sur­roun­d­ings and used as pure sculp­tur­al material.

So far, so good, but at the edges of the room, this show starts to unravel. Head Shadow is pleasing enough. The squat little con­struc­tion calls to mind the off-shore interzone of the Prin­cip­al­ity of Sealand, and is made of a cheap holdall resting on a dartboard, resting in turn on a set of spray cans, which disgorged their loads of paint across the floor at the moment Lambie completed the sculpture - a none-too-subtle reminder that he is no studio-bound con­cep­tu­al­ist, but an active sculptor who works in the spaces given over to him.

Next comes The Spell, a for­get­t­able wall-mounted cube fashioned from gilded sections of standard door panels, then, on the other side of the space, Warm Leath­er­et­te, which sees a bowling ball hidden inside ten leather jacket sleeves, sewn together to form, following the seafaring theme, something akin to a deep sea polyp, or un­ex­ploded mine. Both are com­p­letely over­sha­d­owed by Seven and Seven Is…, and feel forced, as if Lambie is filling space, adding un­ne­ces­sary adjuncts to the main business that fills the central strip of the GoMA’s main hall.

Between these two, propped against a pillar, rests A-side Forever Changes B-side The Gate. The lengthy title is a rather weak joke. The B-side, facing out into the room, shows a redacted image of three men - pre­su­m­ably members of Love, Arthur Lee’s psyche rock outfit, whose song titles Lambie has lifted for various pieces in this show, and for the show title itself - framed with cutout flowers. The B-side is, well, a gate, of the garden variety, painted bright red. Aside from the over-literal gag, the work falls flat thanks to the overly explicit musical reference. Lambie has been pegged as a latter-day Kandinsky by some, a sort of sculptor of music, but has always argued, con­v­in­cingly, that, just as his use of easily-re­co­g­n­ised materials is largely in­cid­ent­al to the finished work, so the co-opting of titles from the hip end of the pop canon signifies nothing more than the fact that he is sur­roun­ded by music, and naturally looks to familiar texts to fashion the textual elements of his works. By re­con­fig­ur­ing the 7” single, complete with carefully con­struc­ted A-side and an af­ter­thought of a B-side, Lambie’s claims begin to look a little dis­in­genu­ous, and, more im­port­antly, this work is stripped of the im­pen­et­r­able mystery of its betters.

Forever Changes is an awkward, off-kilter show. The loose, sug­gest­ive nautical theme provides a context that binds the best work together, supported by the shifting floor work that Lambie uses to mark his territory, and the best pieces - the ugly wall, the wave of chairs, the concrete blocks - sit well together, engaged in a bright, chaotic con­ver­sa­tion. It is a shame that Lambie felt the need to go further, lessening the impact of the pieces at the heart of his show with the second-tier efforts that surround them.

Jim Lambie: Forever Changes is at GoMA, Glasgow until September 29th.

This review was first published in The Herald on April 11th, 2008.