Haegue Yang’s wide-ranging exhibition proves the Korean artist found Glasgow a place conducive to experimentation
Haegue Yang: Journal of Bouba/Kiki
Rating: * * * *
Glasgow Sculpture Studios
Rating: * * *
Patricia Fleming Projects, Glasgow
Sara Barker and Ryder Architecture
Rating: * * * *
The so-called Bouba/Kiki effect suggests that the naming of things may not be accidental whatever language you speak. First observed by psychologists in the late 1920s and later developed working with American students and Tamil speakers in India, the premise is fairly simple. Given a choice of names for a sharp star-shaped object and a rounded, blobby one, participants consistently called the soft shape Bouba and the jagged one Kiki, whatever their own native language. Thus soft and jagged sounds evoke similar physical forms.
The Berlin-based Korean artist, Haegue Yang, uses the idea of Bouba/Kiki as a kind of emblem of the time she has spent on a production residency at Glasgow Sculpture Studios, and for her first show in Scotland, where she has worked across languages that are verbal, artistic and practical.
Glasgow’s Whisky Bond is the newish home of Glasgow Sculpture Studios. It is a massive brick monolith on the banks of the canal, but its uniform exterior is home to a wildly diverse group of artists and to a wide range of technical facilities. Thus Yang has produced a show that includes modified found objects (in this case venetian blinds), laborious macramé, ceramics, prints (made offsite in Singapore) and text works.
It’s hard to draw a single conclusion from such a heterogeneous selection of works. But it does indicate that Yang has found Glasgow a place conducive for experiment and investigation.
The centrepiece of the show is Three Folds and Multiple Twists and is the work that art audiences will find most familiar. An elaborate conglomeration of venetian blinds in acid hues of lilac and violet, lime and pistachio is grouped around the building’s supporting pillars. The shuttering effect of the blinds creates a mini-citadel, as though Yang has built ethereal tower blocks onsite.
Blinds are simple but clever things: sharply defined objects yet somehow barely there, both Bouba and Kiki if you like. The construction is not static; every few minutes there is a sudden rush and creak. Their elaborate structures which, with their echoes of industrial design, found object installation and kinetic art, are firmly stamped with the heritage of modern and contemporary art.
In striking contrast Yang’s macramé would traditionally be described as craft, yet there’s a formal echo between the Venetian blind installation and Floating Knowledge and Growing Craft, which resembles the kind of roughly knotted plant pot hangers that filled European homes in the 1960s.
This is a somewhat confusing and dense show at times; an elaborate text and photography work alludes to a Victor Hugo novel and you can listen to podcasts chosen by the artist as you look at the work. But it does have an intellectual core and seems to be both an exploration of dualities: art and craft, industrial and handmade objects as well as a kind of injunction against such simple dichotomies. Yang finds both commonality and difference and her formal discoveries are underscored in a poignant coda to the works, a series of short notes she has made about her personal experience of crossing borders: “At the UK Border one is humiliated,” she writes, “one feels hurt, one feels refused.”
If Yang thinks in shapes, then Jacqueline Donachie, a senior figure in Scotland who works in sculpture and public works, has a small succinct show at Patricia Fleming Projects devoted to lines. The small drawings of Glasgow neighbourhoods seem simple, but they reveal much about the way we move through space.
In the drawing Fountainwell Handrail, for example, there is a set of steps and a railing that seem to go from nowhere to nowhere. Donachie has also made her first print since her student years, Community Centre, an etching of a goal post, that emphasises the lines of the net. Donachie has a football-mad family, and a few years ago welded her own proper competition size goalposts for her own back garden.
But there is also a terribly poignant subtext to much of the work on show. In that football net you can read the web of connections that keep communities and families together. And you can also read the genetic web that makes us who we are. Donachie’s 2006 film Tomorrow Belongs To Me was devoted to the phenomenon of “anticipation” in genetics, one aspect of the inherited muscle-wasting disease myotonic dystrophy that has had a devastating impact on her closest family.
Winter Trees II consists of a sculptural work, a long scaffolding pole that runs from floor to ceiling and is topped by an acid yellow, knitted textile and a shock of pink nylon threads that can be read as hair. Next to it a long drawing on a scroll of an ordinary urban lamp post seems irresistibly human. In the stooped figure of that lamp, Donachie has said, you can read an oblique portrait of her family. Jacqueline and her sister are both tall and angular, but these days her sister has a pronounced stoop. Donachie’s show turns out to be deceptive, you can read it as lines and you can read between them.
At Baltic, the Glasgow sculptor, Sara Barker is reaching high. Working with the architectural practice, Ryder Architecture, she draws on her first major outdoor work, which was commissioned for the Edinburgh Art Festival in the summer. Their room-sized installation draws on Barker’s customary homemade aesthetic and the way she negotiates between two and three dimensions.
There are two conjoined structures of brass and copper rods and the softly painted aluminium tubes that Barker has made her own. But collaborating on this scale, Barker is able to explore not only the delicate jewellery-like metal work she uses to make drawings in space, but the muscular late modernism that architects like Ryder have made their own, with vast glass panels set in poured and polished concrete.
It’s not an entirely easy mix: you sense at every juncture Barker has tried to keep the project lo-fi, maintaining bubbles in the concrete, keeping fixings simple and allowing the metal rods to wax and wane under the pressures of gravity. But it’s an exciting development testing the artist’s mettle and ultimately succeeding in its welding together of two different languages.
Haegue Yang until 20 December; Jacqueline Donachie until 21 December; Sara Barker and Ryder Architecture until 2 March