"In any conflict situation, photographs become loaded with meaning, but "truth" depends on where you stand"
John Goto: Mosaic
Edinburgh Printmakers ****
Tony Swain: Afterwards in Pictures
Modern Institute, Glasgow ***
Maximilian Zentz Zlomovitz: Rape Me
Mary Mary, Glasgow ***
WHEN the Israel Defence Force invaded Gaza in December 2008, the world's media was allowed little access to the conflict. But images emerged anyway, photographs taken on mobile phones and small digital cameras by first-hand observers and posted on the internet. John Goto's subject in this body of work made following the invasion is both the act of censorship and the nature of the images which did emerge.
He takes found pictures posted online from Gaza and subjects them to "mosaic", a standard graphics filter used for censoring digital images, for example, blanking out faces in legally sensitive contexts. The technique divides the image into a grid and averages out the colour in each section. Applied to a whole picture, it creates a grid of coloured squares with the elegance of a geometric abstract painting.
One example is enlarged to wall size so that the original photograph, already pixellated and grainy, and the mosaic version face one another across the room: a scene of destruction, buildings, a fire, rubble, figures running, black smoke, becomes a tranquil abstract of muted shades of beige and grey pierced by a shock of red. The "real" situation is beautified but also concealed.
The others in the series are presented recto-verso, a photograph on one side, the abstracted mosaic version on the other. But there is a further layer of complexity. The photographs have the immediacy of their context, blurry and indistinct, taken while the bombs fell, posted under the radar of the censors. But they are, at best, generic images of conflict: a woman and child in what looks like the wreckage of a building; a young man in a hospital bed; a city which may be being bombed. We need more information in order to understand what we are looking at and what it means.
John Goto's prints make an elegant juxtaposition between two types of image: the candid image and the censored one, but more than that they remind us how difficult it is to read any image in these circumstances. In any conflict situation, photographs become loaded with meaning, but "truth" depends on where you stand.
While the subject matter and context of the original images is central to Goto's work, Glasgow-based Tony Swain takes a different approach.
His works are collages of found images cut from newspapers which he augments or transforms with paint, but each is completely removed from its original context and fused into compositions of his own invention.
Swain's collages, which are made directly on newsprint pages, have grown increasingly ambitious in size: the largest work here is more than three metres long, a fantastical landscape panorama which moves from bright blue lake into tropical rainforest. Found images are juxtaposed or interwoven into new contexts. This can be subtle and precise, concealing the point at which the photograph ends and the painting begins, or rough and painterly, drawing attention to the artist's hand.
Swain is less interested in the previous life of his images than he is in the fact that they had one. All his pictures come from newspapers, but "news" images are mixed indiscriminately with those from advertising. The transitory nature of newspapers appeals to him, and he seeks to place the images in a more lasting context, though given the speed at which newsprint ages, "lasting" may turn out to be a relative term.
Meanwhile, Berlin-based Maximilian Zentz Zlomovitz collages both images and objects. He is interested in the power of suggestion certain images create for a viewer, and there is no shortage of suggestion in what he presents here: ripped black latex stretched over panels like laddered tights, shrivelled rose-buds painted in gaudy colours, the sleeves of porn videos, a provocative title: "Rape Me".
Yet the idea of something dark and sexual is juxtaposed with the context of a humdrum office. Mary Mary is a former office, with the ceiling tiles and striplights to prove it. Zlomowitz adds a thin, grey, wrinkled office carpet to complete the look. The pieces work together to create a single installation, but it is more nine-to-five than after-hours strip-joint.Then there are hints that what he is getting at is something else altogether: the mirror effects created by the use of shiny black enamel painting and solar protecting foil; the black candles mounted on scaffolding poles which suggest something more mysterious. He is interested, perhaps, in the act of looking, and the power of association, but without clearer signposting he may be in danger of leaving his audience behind.
• John Goto until 19 March; Tony Swain until 26 March; Maximilian Zentz Zlomovitz until 2 April