Scottish Collective - Subverting Expectations

the hoary old cliché of the tortured, solitary artist toiling away in his garret is a concept that is increasingly alien to many emerging artists

Feature by Lucy Faringold | 13 Oct 2006
Whilst the hoary old cliché of the tortured, solitary artist toiling away in his garret may be seductively romantic, it's a concept that is increasingly alien to many emerging artists. Rather, it is the artists' collective which is central to the working practice of many young Scottish artists – providing a DIY network of support that bypasses the traditional gallery system and provides help with finding exhibition space, selling work and above all, evolving new ideas.

It is with this in mind that the Royal Scottish Academy – established in 1826 and seen by some as the oldest Scottish collective – has decided to curate a series of exhibitions showcasing work by collectives from across Scotland. The first show, by Aberdeen based Limousine Bull, has been brought together under the title "The Opposite to What You Thought it Was" and features the work of five artists.

Rowena Comrie is the only one of the five to exhibit a painting. Entitled Boys Toys – A Sublime Solution, Comrie presents a scene of drama, terror and danger. In the foreground sit two menacing figures – one wearing a balaclava – who are manipulating toy planes whilst an actual airport smoulders in the background. By means of explaining her work, the artist quotes Alain de Botton: "'it's only terrorists who get the measure of the wonders of our civilisation – however perversely they choose to respond to them by attempting to blow them up." This is indeed a foreboding image which creates a sublime sense of unease by engaging with events that are continuing to enfold around us.

Fraser Denholm's subject matter is much less malign, and revolves around the artist's fascination with music paraphernalia, as well as the way in which musical products are consumed and perceived. Denholm has created an installation of microphones which he has rigged up 'in reverse', so that his recordings (of music fans talking about their interests) are piped through them at very low volume – essentially using the equipment for the opposite of its original purpose. It's a simple yet effective conceit, forcing the listener to get down on their knees and strain hard if they wish to hear the ramblings of these obsessive music fans. This is an ingenious installation which poses questions about our fetishism of music and musical subcultures.

Richard Simpson and Anita Haywood both employ photographic works in an unusual way. Haywood interprets the show's title by exhibiting works produced using infrared film taken at St Nicholas Kirk in Aberdeen. These spectral images (actually taken in daylight) depict the exhumation of bodies which are to be reburied inside the church, and touch upon moral issues of ownership. Richard Simpson explores the world of tattoos, creating a sequential slideshow which first shows us the owner of the tattoo, before allowing us to glimpse the art that adorns their body. Fired by indignation that most tattoo photography fails to acknowledge the identity of the tattoo's individual owner, this sensitive work restores humanity to the practice by insuring that the subjects are portrayed as more than a human canvas.

The most powerful work in the show, and the one which responds most successfully to the brief, is Tamsin Greenlaw's installation of a network of pitch black corridors. By forcing us to grope carefully through the darkness, the artist questions the primacy of our sense of sight, and asks in what way a work changes when we cannot rely on this faculty. Although initially perturbing, this is, paradoxically, a hugely illuminating work of art which yanks away the comfort blanket of vision and plunges us into an alien environment. The eureka moment comes when we realise that these are the same corridors we are surrounded with our entire life – in schools, institutions and places of work – and thus we are forced to re-evaluate the way in which we understand and relate to our whole environment.

This is a fascinating snapshot of a vibrant collective, and will be followed by further exhibitions throughout October and November:
Generator Projects (Dundee) exhibit from October 7-22, Market (Glasgow) exhibit from October 28 to Nov 12 and members of Edinburgh's Embassy Gallery exhibit in a show entitled 'Young Athenians' which runs from October 7 to November 12. All take place at t