Ilana Halperin: Minerals of New York, Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow ****
Joana Vasconcelos: Gateway, Jupiter Artland, near Edinburgh ***
Alice Boyle: Coming Alice, Linlithgow Burgh Halls ***
Much of the work of Glasgow-based, US-born artist Ilana Halperin has been about finding ways to connect geological time – the almost unfathomable timescales of rocks, glaciers, volcanos – with our own human perception of time. Early work focused on the Eldfell volcano on the Icelandic island of Heimaey, which “came alive” in the same year Halperin did (1973). She intertwined its history with her own in a way which was as profound as it was whimsical; they even celebrated their 30th birthdays together.
Her new body of work, at Glasgow’s Hunterian Art Gallery, is perhaps even more personal, an excavation into her own and her family’s past by way of mineral discoveries under the streets of Manhattan, where she grew up. A chunk of garnetiferous gneiss, unearthed near the street in which she lived and now in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History, proved a starting point for an investigation both scientific and metaphorical.
In the first half of this exhibition, she presents a quasi-scientific catalogue of mineral finds, each drawn meticulously in pencil and paired with a more abstract representation in colour. The information provided is frustratingly restrained, only the geological name (stilbite, tourmaline, malacolite) and the precise location it was found.
In the second half, the stones become the starting point for a web of memories, associations and stories beginning with a handwritten mind map and finishing with a slide show and audio; as Halperin herself writes: “Everywhere another narrative.” She unfolds layer upon layer of personal excavation: photographs taken by her mother of the shops in their street in 1986, just before they were demolished to make way for luxury apartments; a panel salvaged from the Hall of Gems & Minerals in the Museum of Natural History where she and her sisters played hide and seek as children; early work from her Eldfell project; a collection of rocks from the Hunterian Museum, two of which came from New York, 70 years apart, only to turn out to be two halves of the same stone.
The points of connection, of serendipity, seem limitless, and what begins as cool, museum-style documentation of rock samples opens out into a rich and surprising treasure trove of stories which remind us how surprising and satisfying it can be to delve down into the past.
Joana Vasconcelos has been digging deep too, in more ways than one. The Portugese artist’s new swimming pool artwork for Jupiter Artland has involved literal excavation, and is also the product of the artist’s in-depth investigation into history and ley lines (one bisects the site, taking in Rosslyn Chapel and Schiehallion among other sacred places). She has been looking at the stars, too, and elements of the pool’s colourful design incorporate her personal astrological chart.
The pool is the major new commission to be unveiled at Jupiter this summer as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, and great care has been taken to maximise the visitor experience. Two rusted metal gates designed by Vasconcelos for entrance and exit feature sun and moon, and the pool is set within a walled garden, surrounded by dome-shaped topiary, with a glass dome as a poolside indoor space. The pool itself, nine metres in diameter, sinking to a depth of 2.15 metres at one side, has taken years to engineer and build, with each of its 11,500 tiles hand-painted and fired by craftsmen, and fitted in to Vasconcelos’ complex design.
All this is impressive – how could it not be? – and no doubt it will be more so for those who have managed to snap up advance tickets for timed slots to swim in it. Meanwhile, a great deal is also being done to imbue it with meanings and metaphors, including the title, Gateway, and descriptions such as “a secret garden that beholds a suspended universe”. One is left wondering, however, if, as a work of visual art, it can support such grandiose claims, or if all its considerable style is sufficient to merit what can only have been enormous costs. While there is no reason, on the face of it, why a swimming pool can’t also be a work of art, the reality seems to sit awkwardly between the two.
Meanwhile, Edinburgh-based painter Alice Boyle has been engaged in a different kind of deep digging. Seeking to free up her artistic practice, she began to sketch daily immediately after meditating. The creatures she drew – messengers, she suggests, from the subconscious – then became part of larger compositions, vividly coloured and painted on wet plaster of Paris, a process which demands speed and enforces a kind of spontaneity. They are large and bold and look well in the spacious rooms of Linlithgow Burgh Halls.
Boyle set out to “think less and feel more” and these works feel like expressions of raw emotion, whether laughter, sadness or anger. The clues might be in the titles: This is not a love song, Do you still find me attractive?, I’m mad as a hell and I ain’t gonna take it no more. The subconscious, of course, also feeds on what we see and experience, and the forms and creatures evoke a spectrum of associations from mythology to cartooning, cave painting to graffiti.
Jung’s contention was that one’s own subconscious was a gateway into the collective unconscious, which held universal meanings for all humanity. The surrealists held with something similar. For sure, Peace in the Middle has a beautiful sense of calm about it, and simple forms reminiscent of Picasso or Miro. In Only time will heal, a fluorescent pink figure seems to curl around two halves of a broken heart. Perhaps not all these paintings communicate universally, but they are nonetheless interesting as one woman’s brave journey of discovery into her inner self. n
Ilana Halperin and Alice Boyle until 13 October; Joana Vasconcelos: Gateway is a permanent installation at Jupiter Artland, which is open to the public until 29 September