I like Rachel Maclean’s work. I like it a lot. But I like it in a slightly masochistic manner. Maclean is a digital native, making green screen video works and moving easily through an online world of cat jokes, Day-Glo colours and Britney Spears hairdos.
I Heart Scotland
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Gabriel Orozco: Thinking In Circles
The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh
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Jeremy Deller With Alan Kane: Jupiter Artland, Wilkieston Nr Edinburgh
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Angela Ferreira: Political Cameras
She is a brilliant, funny, young artist who has just won the Margaret Tait Award. She can make art out of Simon Cowell or Katy Perry. She is 20 years younger than me, and sometimes, watching her work, I feel every single one of those 20 years.
At Edinburgh Printmakers Maclean’s I HEART SCOTLAND is a hilariously lurid set of prints and a funny, trippy film, The Lion and the Unicorn, set in the splendour of Traquair House. While the audio has been sliced and stolen from real recordings, including the Queen’s Jubilee speech and a parliamentary debate, it is Maclean, as ever, who plays all the parts in her film – although it’s impossible to tell this under the layers of white pan stick, wigs and costumed craziness. The production values and labour are insanely high for an artist who is, essentially, a one-woman band.
The film features a queen, who is one part Queenie from Blackadder one part Elizabeth Windsor, a Scottish unicorn, whose voice is often that of our First Minister, and a lion who is variously Jeremy Paxman and David Cameron. In a series of setpiece confrontations the characters sit around arguing about the future and drinking not red wine, but North Sea oil, out of Jacobite crystal.
The Queen, meanwhile, makes pleas for the Union while helping herself to vast slices of red, white and blue cake. It’s delightful and funny and its very existence is a riposte to all the current angst about art and the indyref, who’s making it, who’s milking it and who has their head in the sand. But the sound clip of David Cameron, famously mispronouncing the word “breastie” from Burns’ Tae a Mouse, will give me nightmares to my dying days.
There was something of the Paxman and Salmond confrontation, the Lion and the Unicorn too, in one of the most extraordinary events I witnessed at the Edinburgh Art Festival – a confrontation between two art historians, Professor Bryony Fer, the curator of a new show of the Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco, and Professor Benjamin Buchloh, the German heavyweight who has been the artist’s long-term champion.
At a discussion, to mark the opening of the Fruitmarket exhibition, they clashed over complex and obscure questions. Fer’s show places a new emphasis on Orozco as an abstract painter of circular forms and the show, Thinking in Circles, is full of them, on everything from acetate to envelopes. Buchloh has dedicated much typewriter time to a view of Orozco as an artist of everyday life and didn’t seem to like the idea.
You could read into this all kinds of things, not least an old world/new world transatlantic drama: Fer works in London and Buchloh is at Harvard and part of a crew of US-based art historians with world dominating positions in contemporary art. In the end the event resembled nothing so much as a family drama, in which a father, shocked that his heir has become attached to another parent figure, would rather assassinate his son in public than let him go quietly.
So was Buchloh right? While an art historical essay on this theme is totally justifiable, a chapter as it were in the big book of Orozco’s career, the exhibition feels a slender salami slice of the whole and a rather dry, repetitive experience. It starts with Orozco’s enigmatic 2005 painting, The Eye of Go, a constellation of five large matt black circles and lots of little ones, and it goes on and on from there. Big circles, wee circles, freehand and computer-generated.
It is only in works that refer back to the real world that the show comes really alive. Older art works, photographs of a foamy white puddle, a white ball in a pool of water, are enrolled into the argument. In a small cluster of tabletop sculptures – a soccer ball incised by the artist, carved stones and chunks of plaster – you sense the errant imagination that created such amazing works as Black Kites (1997), the ominous human skull that the artist once decorated with a dense graphite grid when trapped at home, week after week with a collapsed lung.
For years it felt like Orozco, a figure of global esteem in the international art world, was miles ahead of the rest of us: his mind and interests looping and labyrinthine. It would be disappointing if this new picture of what he does turned out to be the lasting one or to discover that he had just been going round in circles after all.
The longstanding project of the Mozambique-born artist, Ângela Ferreira, is the disentangling of another set of overlapping circles: the oppressive patterns of colonial encounters. At Stills she examines the brief moment when Mozambique flourished on independence before falling into brutal civil war, including the work of the French film-maker Jean Rouch who taught workshops to help rural Mozambicans tell their own stories. A new film, Mount Mabu, borrows footage from a Kew Gardens expedition to an “undiscovered” area of the country, and touches on David Livingstone, the textbook model of the explorer. This is interesting stuff, but it presumes a detailed knowledge of a history, and cultural history, that is barely familiar to a UK viewer, and its presentation and interpretation is dense and brutal. An intelligent, probing artist is rather left in conversation with herself on a rare UK outing. Whether by accident or design it’s not clear.
There is politics at play, too, at Jupiter Artland, where Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller and long-time collaborator Alan Kane show some signature works. There is the Steam-Powered Internet Engine, a sleek Apple Mac run by an ancient wood-burning boiler and the cheery members of Edinburgh Society of Model Engineers. There are the banners made by Ed Hall that Deller created for a Manchester parade, and cups of tea served from a customised tea urn. It is all slight but democratic fun and animates the courtyard like the best kind of village fete. Deller, as his Venice Biennale showed, is tired of the Britain of money and monarchy.
I Heart Scotland until 7 September; Gabriel Orozco until 18 October; Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane until 15 September; Angela Ferreira until 27 October