Art review: Michael Sailstorfer, Liz Magic Laser and Marco Giordano at Jupiter Artland

Primal Speech by Liz Magic Laser. Picture: Ruth Clark
Primal Speech by Liz Magic Laser. Picture: Ruth Clark
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Jupiter Artland’s unstuffy approach to art makes it a great place to see new work

Michael Sailstorfer, Liz Magic Laser and Marco Giordano Jupiter Artland, Wilkieston, near Edinburgh ****

A pile of bricks is a pile of bricks. Put it in a gallery and it becomes art. But that was Carl André in the Tate 40 years ago. In the intervening decades, the magic has worn very thin. We are no longer so ready to suspend our disbelief and so the fight has gone from the artists to the curators to try recapture that state of innocence. All those labels written in impenetrable, high-sounding language are trying to turn back the clock. They really are mumbo-jumbo, spells and incantations in a vain attempt to recover lost magic. There is another and better way to do it however: change the context, and that is what Jupiter Artland has done. They have taken the art out of the gallery and put it in the garden – or at least that is mostly what they have done. There are some gallery-type spaces there, but in the steading, a dovecot or a garden room, once a ballroom, they don’t seem piously set apart. All the earnest self-importance, whether of artists or curators, is dispelled in the fresh air. The greenery is too much for it and so instead of Art with a capital ‘A’, the art displayed joins the tradition of entertaining garden furniture going back to the Renaissance and beyond. The children are witnesses to the truth of this. There are lots of them and they seem as much at home as the donkeys grazing in the field. Maybe they pay little more attention to the art than the dumb beasts, but if they do they can take it or leave it. It cannot seek to impress them with its earnest self-importance. The environment is too big for it and it is on their side.

Michael Sailstorfer, Liz Magic Laser and Marco Giordano are the three artists holding temporary exhibitions this summer. Marco Giordano, described in the cant phrase as an “emerging artist” – I always wonder what sort of a primeval artistic swamp they are supposed to be emerging from – is evidently the youngest of the three. Perhaps that is why he seems so much in tune with the place. Certainly he joins wholeheartedly in its cheerful spirit. His work is installed in the hedges on either side of the road leading to the old outbuildings which house the ticket office, restaurant etc. A disembodied golden nose peers out at you from the hedge. Nearby what might be a pair of golden ears, or perhaps they are shells, may or may not be connected. The ears/shells are encrusted with translucent and iridescent pebbles, so they also seem like odd, precious objects. There are more ears, eyes, several wigs made of rope, one made of sponges and a head that looks as though it had strayed from a scarecrow in a nearby field. One dubious object looks as though a dog had had pebbles mixed into its Pedigree Chum. Another which might be either a phallus or a rocket is made from a bathroom loofah. An encrusted spade is simply a thing of beauty. Playing hide-and-seek along the hedges, this array is all very lively. It is different in form, but not in spirit from the stone nymphs and satyrs who, somewhere, might once have chased each other round an 18th-century garden fountain.

Michael Sailstorfer has three indoor installations. The first of them, Brenner, is in the steading, but it also emanates as smoke from the roof. The black painted carcasses of three identical cars sit in a row as though on an assembly line, but their status is sufficiently ambiguous for them equally, perhaps, to be the stripped down wrecks of abandoned vehicles. The source of the smoke outside is revealed as three wood-burning stoves installed where the cars’ engines should be. An alternative to the combustion engine as a source of energy, the stoves are nevertheless forever static. They do however make it very warm. This suggests, too, that perhaps these really are wrecked cars and they have become a home for homeless ghosts gathered invisibly round this welcome source of heat. Either way, the cars are clearly not going anywhere. The title, I was told, comes from a holiday destination of the artist as a child and so perhaps this immobility rather charmingly also reflects a child’s impatience at car journeys that seem endless: “Are we nearly there?” and there are still hours to go.

Traenen in the Dovecot is a film of a small house in the German countryside being demolished by wrecking balls. It is straightforward enough except that the wrecking balls are disguised as gigantic raindrops and apparently fall directly from the heavens without human intervention. The house starts wholly intact and ends up wholly flattened. An ancient, half-timbered house adjoining seems also in peril but remains untouched. It could be a metaphor for the pointless destruction of the bombing in the Second World War, or simply for fate’s devastating arbitrariness.

Smell is important to the artist, we are told. This film obviously has no smell, although a certain plastery aroma in the dovecot does chime with the dusty destruction in the film. There is, however, the smell of woodsmoke in the steading and the ballroom where Sailstorfer’s third piece, 1:43-47, is installed is filled, like a cinema, with the smell of popcorn. The title apparently represents the ratio of expansion when corn pops and becomes popcorn. In the ballroom, a machine pops it grain by single grain. As they pop, the grains shoot about the room gradually covering the floor.

Primal Speech by Liz Magic Laser is a performance/installation upstairs in the steading. The room is made out like a padded cell, though to visiting children it was obviously a soft-play, and a film is projected of a performance staged there. This, performed by a group of actors, presents people undergoing “primal therapy”, a process whereby you are encouraged to feel your emotions through your body. Led by a professional “life coach”, the performers are invited to process their feelings about Trump and Brexit in this way, though being American the opinions offered are mostly about Trump, both pro and anti. The result, predictably, is a lot of inarticulate rage. “You can punch, you can kick, you can scream,” says the life coach, but of course it won’t make any difference. A man bangs his head against the wall. Who can blame him?

Finally the latest commissions added to the Jupiter Artland collection are Rose Walk by Pablo Bronstein, installed in the woods, and Cafe Party decorating the cafe-restaurant by the aptly named Nicholas Party. The latter, in the spirit of Rex Whistler’s restaurant decorations in the old Tate, is a bold and cheerful set of murals of simplified and brightly coloured trees and bushes interspersed with portraits of fruit and a single overseeing person. Bronstein’s Rose Walk is a large, white-painted gazebo planted with rows of standard roses and hedged with beech. Built in a mixture of Georgian neo-gothic and chinoiserie, it really is classic garden ornament. Charming, it looks as though it might have been there forever and so is very much in the spirit of the place.

Until 1 October