Interlopers exhibition review by Ian Stephen


By Ian Stephen
28 Jan 2011 in Outer Hebrides, Showcase, Visual Arts & Crafts

Foyer, Bar and Upper Landing, An Lanntair, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, until 12 February 2011

DONALD URQUHART has for many years been involved in making work in landscape. Often this is in collaboration with architects, and arguably this strand of the painter’s work reached one its most satisfying forms in the collaborative work An Turas, installed in Tiree.

It’s not so much a ferry terminal as an invitation. You are provided with sufficient shelter to look out on a landscape framed by the sensitive lines of the building you have entered.

Detail from work by Lauro Trujillo Munoz (photo Ian Stephen) 

He was also a key player in the sky-lining details of the rebuilt Eden Court Theatre and Reich and Hall’s groundbreaking approach to a huge scale public building, Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow, which opened last year.

But Donald is also an entertainer and a teacher. I’ve heard him tell a novel in a night, Jura-assisted, and I’ve also seen him as a sensitive teacher. He is joint director of an innovative Masters Degree course at Edinburgh College of Art. Recently, he has built on his long-standing relationship with An Lanntair to help form a bridge between the current course and the people of Lewis.

The Press and Journal recently carried a feature where Jimmy Jam Jars (a guy who has to wear very thick lenses) described his day out at Losgaintir, with a group of students met in the Criterion Bar the night before. He came along for the spin but no doubt contributed his own insights on fast-changing island life to the Art, Space and Nature group

This is how Donald describes the course: “Art, Space & Nature is an operational field of overlapping disciplines engaging with both site and context. As such, our pattern of operation allows an intense period of research through fieldwork, a period of creative response and then presentation. Prior to An Lanntair in Stornoway we visited Orkney and presented at the Pier from 2006-2010.”

In October I described an installation at ECA’s Tent Gallery, mapping a provisional response to what was the first visit to Lewis for most of a very cosmopolitan group. Some months later, the images and thinking have been filtered and absorbed. There is now an installation in the foyer and bar areas of An Lanntair, which is a completely different show to the one mounted in the Tent.

This process is interesting in itself. It’s not that the initial works were sketches or studies for later development – rather that one response was more immediate and the other more considered.

It would be good to see, as a future possibility in the course, the opportunity to show both of these in the same building.

I’ve always felt the entrance to An Lanntair is one of the best spaces in the building. It’s always a compromise when a shop and a box-office and the entrance to a theatre are combined with a gallery. But the exterior walls of the main gallery and the stairway present opportunities.

These were restored and skillfully used in the previous show (Echo by the Ullapool-based Peter White and Jon Miller). The Art, Space and Nature group, describing themselves in the current title as “Interlopers”, spotted the opportunities and grasped them.

Work by Lauro Trujillo Munoz (photo Kristina King) 

Not all the artists returned to Lewis this time. Some, like Sinéad Bracken, had a well-formed idea which needed determination and group-commitment to achieve. Others could send their pre-made work with installation notes.

It seems to me that this in itself was an exemplary process – a team game where those in Edinburgh saw to the meticulous labeling of work and a striking poster. And there are advantages in a smaller team carrying out the installation.

Sinéad, like many before her, was struck by that curve of Losgaintir, abeam Taransaigh and under Ben Dhu. She asked a certain island poet to make a short form of a published poem relating to the location. This was then traced by helpers by walking the language. The GPS mapping of that track is then shown.

Visually it’s as if the language has been translated into Japanese, and yet you detect familiar words. The action has remade the poem as another work.

Joseph Calleja and Rosalie Mono de Froideville have collaborated on another work based on remaking perceived images. You see a grid of stock Island images – the usual subjects. The catch which makes you think beyond them is how they were realized.

The artists sent their snapshots to an address in China. For a very small sum, these are then rendered as paintings on canvas and posted back. It’s a bit like prawns and salmon being exported from the islands for processing, then being returned to our own supermarkets for retailing.

The poster is also the interpretative material, and all the information required is there in a succinct form. Take Inbal Droval’s description of her successful minimalist meditation on perception: “If an open curtain reveals a view then an open sail blocks it.”  The experience of a team-building trip on the sgoth an Sulaire has also resulted in work by Christine Morrison. Her video takes the boat’s eye, forward looking. It is the constant, and the horizon changes constantly.

There’s a line like the horizon all the way through a triptych of works by Laura Trujillo Muñoz. This is one of the few works which is a development of the idea initially proposed in The Tent.  The idea of questoning the connotations of the words for “island” is elegantly expressed.

I-Chern Lai frames an image of a beach, but there are two beaches, from a polarized geography. And the reflections from across the road or your own shadow add further layers.

Work by I-Chern Lai (photo Kristina King) 

Queena Hsiung brings a “new tactic” to a 2D form by expressing it as a 3D form. Kristina King dramatizes the rich mix of Atlantic and Pacific cultures by showing her sufboard cover, in Harris tweed. Catriona Gilbert’s “Butter Black” is not a sauce for a skate but an observation of the landscape which is within a landscape by closely observing peat.

This is an exhibition bristling with ideas, but these are thought through and all have them have found coherent and interesting visual expression.

© Ian Stephen, 2011

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