Art reviews: Florian Hecker and Tschabalala Self at Tramway, Glasgow

Work by Tschabalala Self at Tramway, Glasgow
Work by Tschabalala Self at Tramway, Glasgow
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Sitting in the cafe at Tramway, you would be forgiven for thinking that half-a-dozen films were being played simultaneously next door, minus the dialogue. A chase sequence in one seems to run into a moment of suspense in another and a helicopter landing in a third.

Florian Hecker: Synopsis **

Tschabalala Self ****

Both Tramway, Glasgow

In fact, this is Synopsis, a new acoustic work made for Tramway 2 by the German artist Florian Hecker. Four pieces are being played in four “environments” within the large space, synchronised (I’m told) in minute detail. The sound is generated electronically using algorithms, so any resemblance to a machine gun, helic­opter or lawn mower is entirely in the mind of the viewer.

One can’t help it, though. It is human to look for patterns, make associations, invent narratives. We start to cross-reference sounds to an internal sound-bank in the memory: a snatch of R2D2, a melon being rolled down a piano, someone playing Street Fighter II in the next room. It helps to do this because having four sets of apparently unstructured, unidentifiable sounds thrown at you from different directions is deeply disconcerting, much more so than the visual equivalent: you can shut your eyes, but you can’t shut your ears.

This is one of the things that Hecker is interested in, the emerging field of psychoacoustics. How we perceive sound is still not fully understood, but it seems to affect us deeply, playing with our understanding of time and space, of objecthood: what is me, and not me. An installation like this one tests this idea – and it works: it gets inside your head.

This seems to be what the artwork is setting out to show us. The result is that a lot of time, craft and money has been put into a piece of work which, after five minutes, makes you want to go away and put your head in a bucket. A nice, quiet bucket with no reverb.

One might take refuge, instead, in Tramway 5, currently hosting the first Scottish exhibition by Tschabalala Self, the young Yale-educated African American whose work is making waves across the New York art scene. She’s still in her mid-twenties, but her work has the confidence of a much older artist, both in her assured style and her sense of what she wants to say.

Realised in a mixture of painting and collaged fabric, her figures – almost all of them black women – are a kind of answer to the ways in which black women are sexualised in the mass media. These works, taken from the first five years of her career (ie her art school days until now) also include several monoprints which demonstrate her superb understanding of the figure and how figures move.

These flamboyant, sensual women are a blast of brightness on a dreich Glasgow day. Despite their exaggerated curves and provocative poses, they meet our eyes levelly, challenging our perceptions of them, resisting any objectification. Whether squatting, reclining or strutting their funky stuff on the dance floor, they are sexy for themselves, not anyone else.

Self’s work is consistent but never repetitive. More recently, she has started painting couples, examining the subtle power plays within ordinary relationships. One can only wait with anticipation to see what else she does before she hits 30.

*Until 20 August