“I really wanted to go to Taigh Chearsabhagh up in North Uist because it’s such an elemental landscape,” says Cheryl Field of her decision to apply for the Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture’s residency programme. “To give you a good example, Stanley Kubrick used the Isle of Harris, which is the next island up the chain, as the moonscape for 2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Artists can have all sorts of reasons for taking up a residency, whether it is the opportunity to experience an unfamiliar landscape, or simply the chance to use facilities they’d otherwise have to do without. It can transport them to an unfamiliar context – often a great stimulus for making art – while giving them the opportunity to research something integral to their art practice.
Field is first and foremost a sculptor. She makes kinetic works that include the twitching, anthropomorphic found object – such as her pathos-riddled broken umbrella that schleps around the gallery floor – or floppy, mutant willies that pathetically lurch in darkened corners. And so she decided to go to North Uist and harness the elements to power her sculptures.
“Seeing as I make work using lots of movement, I really wanted to use energy sources that I hadn’t used before, because everything had been plugged in or switched on, or relied on batteries. So, I wanted to play with solar power, wind power and wave power. Not in the traditional sense of here is a solar cell now I’ll make a little motor. I’d rather use them as materials themselves.”
And so she did just that. Among the works made in North Uist, Field produced a video of a temporary installation set in the island’s landscape called Scomber Scombrus. Mounted on poles, three reflective, Mylar tubes blow in the fierce Highland wind. There’s something quite sublime about the intensity of the conditions and how the Mylar alludes to the exposure you’d suffer if subjected to these conditions for any length of time.
Meanwhile, in the East End of Glasgow, video artist Erica Eyres was subjected to an entirely different set of conditions. She had taken up her residency at the Wasps Studios in Dennistoun and had persuaded a group of children aged between 7 and 13 to re-enact an episode of the American soap opera Dallas.
“It’s based on this particular episode where the character Pam wakes up and finds it was all a dream,” Eyres explains in her Canadian drawl. “There was this one season where Bobby had died and the ratings went really far down, so they had to bring him back. At the end of one episode she [Pam] just wakes up and it was all a dream. So things just go back to the way they were.”
So absurd a solution it reminded Eyres of children’s literature, such as Alice in Wonderland. And so, after making a replica set she found herself a child cast and started filming. “It’s so ridiculous, I guess – so over the top. And then just to use kids that knew nothing about it. I mean they knew more about it than I thought they would. I don’t know, they are just really awkward – making this thing that was just over the top, about money and power, and having it be played by kids.”
The video will be on display this month at the RSA along with works by nine other artists, including Cheryl Field, as a conclusion to the year’s residency programmes. A varied group of artists with diverse research interests, the show will likely keep you on your toes. It’s also a cross section of some of the most interesting artists working in Scotland today – and for this reason shouldn’t be missed.