SURVEY-ing past, present and future
Hidden away at the northernmost tip of the city, the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop has never been the most visible of institutions, despite its workshops and much sought-after studio spaces serving as the creative headquarters for some of Scotland's best creative talent. If its location has served to obfuscate it to some extent, then surely its name provides yet another layer of concealment, for most of the work on display here is not sculpture. As has been evident in art schools for an age, trying to confine individual practice within the realm of a single discipline is ultimately counter-productive, and the fantastic breadth of work in SURVEY exemplifies this philosophy.
Choosing to celebrate its 20th anniversary by focusing on the new era ahead for the ESW, curator Colin Greenslade has put together a show which possesses a vital, aggressive thrust and is characterised by a real inquisitiveness and a bold, questioning approach. The visceral, confrontational work of Jessica Harrison is emblematic of this, and Greenslade has chosen well in opening the show with her work. Her reinvention of Gentileschi's Judith Beheading Holofernes replaces the victim's head with a single, gawping, giant eyeball that seems to leaven the memory of Bunuel's similarly violent gesture with an endearingly comic helplessness. Although fear is the subject of her work, Harrison realises that we can most easily approach its depths using humour as our vehicle, and in a sculpture entitled Peep Show featuring a lascivious mound of eyeballs jostling to catch a magnified glimpse of their own greedy physiognomy she succeeds with wit and economy.
Where Harrison deals with the mechanisms of perception, sensation and revulsion, Lara Green has deconstructed the very process of breathing with a work entitled Cage. Animated with the help of a motor, a few cogs and some bicycle brake cables, this impressive kinetic sculpture transmutes the automatic ease of human breathing into a laboured, mechanical process that climaxes in the model's prosthetic jaw arching into an unnatural robotic rictus. While it would be easy to read the work as a comment on the folly of our lust for technologically-aided immortality, the curious elegance of the work takes it beyond mere satire and creates an altogether more engaging dialogue with the viewer.
Created during his time in residence at Belfast Print Studio, Scott Laverie's series of photo intaglio prints serve as a glimpse into the creative landscape from which his fantastically outlandish sculptural works originate. These images, showing figures engaged in bizarre practical activities, are densely atmospheric and mysterious, possessing an almost fairytale-like sense of wonder. His accompanying video work showing a series of wooden beams efficiently organising themselves into various formations is similarly compelling. Like many of the artists in SURVEY, we are left wanting to see more of the worlds that Laverie creates: a clear indicator that the exhibition has succeeded in what it sets out to achieve.
Of the rest of this generous show, special mention must go to Ettie Spencer's sensitive investigation of depopulation in the Outer Hebrides, in which the artist has employed sculptural intervention as a catalyst for social reflection. As a taste of what to expect from the next 20 years of the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, such work is encouraging to say the least. And with over 65% of the funding raised for a brand new sculpture facility, prospective workshop users can look forward to expanded education and outreach programmes, new IT facilities and twice the number of studios. For an organisation with such a rich past, the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop must be applauded for keeping both eyes firmly on the future.