Rehana Zaman’s films cleverly tease out issues of identity, while Walter Price’s energy and confidence can’t overcome a lack of technique
Rehana Zaman: Speaking Nearby, CCA, Glasgow ***
Brandon Cramm: A Crypt of Living Timbre, Intermedia, Glasgow ***
Walter Price: Pearl Lines, Modern Institute, Glasgow **
It is the business of art to be concerned with ways of seeing. Some of the best art, from the Old Masters onwards, gives us not only a sense of what is being looked at but of who is doing the looking, and how they are doing it.
The same questions engage many contemporary artists. After all, the business of looking has never been so complex. Never have there been so many media through which we absorb information and images, each with its own particular loading. Art which does its job well brings something fresh to this discussion: invites us to see differently, makes us perceive our own perception.
British artist Rehana Zaman, who works principally in film, and is currently enjoying a major solo show at CCA, aims to show how perception is conditioned particularly with regard to gender, race and class. Her 2017 film Tell me the story Of all these things, is based on an interview with her sister Farah, in which she talks about her identity as a British-Asian, and her attitudes to love, relationships, work and her sense of self. Zaman films her in her kitchen as she cooks, and we warm to her frank confiding tone.
A common means of exploring issues of perception is to juxtapose one narrative or set of visual references with another. In this triple-screen film, Zaman shows Farah’s story next to an animated female figure, a kind of graphic everywoman in a desert landscape, and alongside sequences from the Government’s e-learning ‘Prevent’ website, designed to raise awareness of radicalisation. By juxtaposing films on how to spot “extremism” in innocuous settings with the confiding narrative of a British Muslim woman, she invites us to see more clearly the dangers and subtleties of the judgments one person might be tempted to make about another.
Lourdes is a new film made following a residency in Mexico which focuses on a market trader in Tepito. Lourdes, who sells knickers and T-shirts, is on-screen gold, a frank, opinionated woman, with a magificent throaty laugh. She is also a bit of a local celebrity, having won a competition in speaking Albures, a form of slang developed as political resistance but also loaded with sexual double entendres. What Zaman presents is a piece of rough-edged documentary film-making; in fact, attempts to introduce other elements undermine the strength of the central subject, a voice not normally heard, a working-class woman with plenty to say and no compunction saying it.
Apart from a room of ‘Citations’, texts, prints, films and books which “frame and extend the conversations”, the other piece of work here is Some Women, Other Women and all the Bittermen, a six-part “soap opera” made in 2014. Again, the artist splices two contrasting elements: a soap, made with actors, set in the Tetley Brewery in Leeds, and documentary footage filmed during meetings of the group Justice for Domestic Workers (J4DW) in the city.
Filmed and edited using all the tropes of soap opera, Bittermen relentlessly focuses on the personal storylines, while a sense of hopelessness builds about take-overs and restructuring within the company. The women from J4DW, by contrast, all from overseas, and disempowered in numerous ways, draw strength and determination from sharing their experiences. The contrast of these two portrayals of working-class experience makes us more aware of how our perceptions are manipulated.
Meanwhile, upstairs in Intermedia, Brandon Cramm also uses contrasts and juxtapositions in his intriguingly named film, A Crypt of Living Timbre. Here, footage of people interacting with screens is mixed with live screen shots of the artist using Photoshop to add ghoulish make-up (known in the trade as ‘corpse paint’) to stock black-and-white headshots, and an animation showing a game of shogi (Japanese chess). There is also an audio text, a narrative in which the protagonists are in a cave scattered with manuscripts, which is echoed by the pages scattered on the floor of the gallery.
This, too, is an exploration of looking. Our interactions with the world increasingly happen through screens, creating a realm of pretend and make-believe in which the boundary between ‘real life’ and ‘fantasy’ is increasingly blurred. Even the notions of ‘dead’ and ‘alive’ have been added to the dressing-up box. Cramm, a Glasgow-based American who opted to stay on after graduating from Glasgow School of Art’s MFA course, has created an atmospheric work with an impressive aesthetic unity. A greater degree of clarity would help us grasp his ideas more assuredly.
Walter Price, currently showing a new body of work at Modern Institute, is a young American painter based in New York. He has painted the walls of the gallery a deep shade of blue, and laid a carpet in a similar shade, to create the right environment for his pictures. Indeed, his use of vivid colours is one of the most pleasing features of this show. Price’s style is graphic rather than painterly, laying down blocks of colour next to one another and adding simplistic shapes – palm trees, buildings, sofas, people.
He seems to be one of those young artists who is painting with energy and confidence without having learned some of the things paint can do best. This is all too common in a world in which few art students learn the discipline of painting, lest it interfere with their spontaneity. The naive, child-like execution, we are told, creates a sense of the dream-like, a personal lexicon of imagery which we almost but never completely grasp. But while deliberate vagueness has its place, evasiveness can, at times, feel like a smoke-screen for a lack of learned skill and technique.
Rehana Zaman until 25 March; Brandon Cramm, run ended; Walter Price until 24 March