Art reviews: Practicing Landscape at The Lighthouse | Toby Paterson at the Modern Institute

The artists featured in Practicing Landscape like to show their workings, writes Susan Mansfield, but Toby Paterson remains rigorously minimalist 
Scotland at my toes and England at the tips of my fingers, by Shauna McMullanScotland at my toes and England at the tips of my fingers, by Shauna McMullan
Scotland at my toes and England at the tips of my fingers, by Shauna McMullan

Practicing Landscape: Land, Histories and Transforma-tions, The Lighthouse, Glasgow ***

Toby Paterson: Atlantic, Modern Institute, Glasgow ***

Landscape in art is far from straightforward these days. There are artists who still paint landscape in the traditional sense, and do it well, and their work is appreciated and collected. And there are those for whom the idea of a traditional landscape painting is unbearably last century, yet landscape remains a live concept in their practice.

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The artists in Practicing Landscape – all members of Glasgow School of Art’s Reading Landscape Research Group – are firmly in the latter camp (though thank you, Marianne Greated, for flying the flag for brushes and canvas). They are concerned with exploring the different ways artists might engage with landscape in contemporary practice (hence the creative misspelling in the title).

Bringing together the work of 16 members of the group, this is an academic show, and visitors would be well advised to read the extensive notes provided in order to get the most out of the work. Some are works in progress, many seek to complicate rather than conclude, but for those who enjoy observing the process –what gets an artist from A to B – this show has much to offer.

A new work by Ross Sinclair draws on repeated walks along the spine of the Rosneath peninsula – scenery straight out of the West of Scotland sublime, but also uncomfortably close to Scotland’s two nuclear submarine bases at Coulport and Faslane. You can almost see Sinclair trying to work out how art can best address these contradictions.

He does it in his own way, with a brightly coloured enclosure emblazoned with tartanry, banners and disco lights. In it, he attempts to bring together what he is seeing in the landscape with the lectures on the history of philosophy he listened to as he walked, the prospect of nuclear annihilation perhaps bringing one a few steps closer to the big questions of life. While the work might not yet have reached its final destination, trademark energy and irony abound.

Some of the artists celebrate the beauty of the landscape in a relatively straightforward way. Christina McBride’s photographs of trees in Mexico, made using a series of analogue processes, are strong, evocative images. Amanda Thomson filmed an alder tree near her home for a year and a half, witnessing it changing through the seasons and making both a study of landscape in time and a fascinating nature diary.

Gina Wall’s photographs combine pastoral elements of landscape with 20th century concrete interventions, such as military bunkers. Marianne Greated’s paintings of renewable power infrastructure in India challenge conventional ideas of landscape painting, while exploring the irony of these “green” resources which themselves create enormous industrial blots of pylons and machinery.

Some of the artists have a specific interest in contested landscape. Susan Brind and Jim Harold make photographs and text works out of a long association with Cyprus, divided in 1974 by a UN de-militarised Buffer Zone. Shauna McMullan has been in Cyprus too as part of a series of “Gone Sitting” works in which the artist is pictured bearing witness to places with complex histories. Her most recent work was made on Brexit Day, 31 January, on the border of Scotland and England.

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There is a range of other approaches: Lesley Punton presents a collection of rocks, along with the story of each find. Justin Carter makes ink from oak gall, tree bark and rust, which he uses to create a series of mirror-image pictures which suggest biological forms. Alan Currall presents images of mountain pools in the Southern Uplands, with a soundtrack of poetry by Colin Cruise, drawing on – and questioning – the romantic tradition. Michael Stumpf’s sculpture is strong but seems to have more to do with Brecht than any kind of landscape practice.

Nicky Bird presents two hidden histories: a series of postcards which celebrate the worldwide reach of a radical lesbian network in the late 1990s, and Heritage Site, an investigation into the ornate Victorian mansion which once stood on the site of the “Five Sisters” spoil heaps in West Calder.

Architecture is also the raw material in Toby Paterson’s new solo show, Atlantic, at the Modern Institute. Paterson draws on the urban landscape to create sculptures, reliefs and paintings, tracking down remnants of brutalist mid-20th-century architecture in cities all over the world.  
While we are told these new works draw on glimpses and memories, perhaps like buildings noticed from a passing car, they don’t feel provisional, incomplete or subjective. What is most striking about them is their precision. Paterson uses materials associated with the era is he exploring – sand-cast or machined aluminium – and panels of solid colour (nothing says the 1970s like orange-mustard-brown). At one point, a fly alights on the gallery wall and stands out a mile in this space of clean lines and assertive geometry.

The reliefs are like pure, distilled echoes of buildings, imbued with some of the confidence these structures would have had when they were first built. However, unlike the artists in Practicing Landscape, he isn’t tempted to show his process. The buildings he looked at and the research he undertook are kept well away, leaving a show which feels rigorously minimalist. One is left to admire – and one does – but the often fascinating journey from A to B is kept from us, and these austere forms don’t do much to invite the viewer into further engagement. 

Practicing Landscape runs until 22 March; Toby Paterson: Atlantic runs until 4 April



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