Society of Scottish Artists 117th Annual Exhibition
Visual Art: Giles Sutherland
Society of Scottish Artists
117th Annual Exhibition
Edinburgh
5-20 December
STAR RATING **** (FOUR)

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Historically, the Society of Scottish Artists has been seen as an upstart compared to its venerable, elder cousin, the Royal Scottish Academy (with which it shares exhibiting space). There are good reasons for this. The society was set up to represent the ‘more adventurous spirits in art.’ Its current strapline emphasises an open outlook: ‘international art in Scotland, Scottish art internationally.’

As if to underline this, there’s no shortage here of contributors from other countries. But this has always been the case, ever since the society invited the likes of Edvard Munch and Paul Klee in the 1930s, and, before them, the Futurists and post-Impressionists, to participate in their annual exhibition.

But there’s also plenty of home-grown talent here, such as Graham Fagan, a Scot, like many others, whose work is widely known elsewhere.

At the entrance visitors are greeted by a series of hovering, dark, skull-like images. At first glance, these appear to be X-rays of a badly damaged skeleton. Closer inspection reveals pencil, enamel paint and Indian ink. Fagan has explored ideas of perception and reality — in this case, sensing his own teeth with his tongue, and sketching the results, in what might be called ‘synaesthetic drawing’.

This feeling of the quirkily macabre extends to Marina Burt’s installation comprising living (and dead) silk moths, amid tiny ceramic jars and containers, which fill the drawers of an antique dresser. The moths’ entire life cycle is contained here in this intensely paradoxical, morbid — yet delicate — microcosm. The work finds a strange and compelling echo in Jo McDonald’s The Story Kist, which consists of a textured serpentine form, apparently emerging from an antique coffer.

Burt is one of a number of recent graduates from Scotland’s art colleges whose work, in a long-standing and visionary policy, is included here. All of the work by these up-and-coming artists has something of value to offer, including Morgan Cahn’s Nail Soup, a celebration of the Dundee arts community.

By design or happenstance the catalogue uses the term ‘cocooned’ in relation to Nicole Heidtke’s and Stefan Baumberger’s exhilarating work, ‘ink,’ which celebrates five-hundred years of printing in Scotland. Inscriptions from texts spanning these centuries have been etched inside five glass spheres, which rotate on approach, causing an intense blue ink to move inside the bulbs. This becomes a pale lilac stain as they slow to a stop. The faded inscriptions include excerpts from the Bible and the Arabian Nights. Another, from Holland’s 1603 translation of Plutarch’s Moralia, reads: “With one sole pen I writ this book, / Made of a grey goose quill ; / A pen it was when it I took, / And a pen I leave it still.‎”

‘ink’ is part of a section of the show, assembled by guest curators Sarah Cook and Mark Daniels, under the auspices of the ‘Alt-w Fund,’ which promotes artistic and technological collaboration. Other elements include the fantastical and transparent ‘Palace’ by Gina Czarnecki. In a curious echo of Fagan’s piece, Czarnecki has used human milk teeth as a ‘decorative’ addition. The work evolves through time as visitors ‘donate’ teeth at successive venues.

The exhibits in Gallery IV give the room a dark, dystopian feel. Ross Andrew Spencer’s installation is a topography of war contained in a model landscape. This is augmented by a pair of relief paper prints, Bleeding Brain, by Ingrid Bell and Ade Adesina’s dark narratives, Contradiction and Adaptation.

Thoughtfully assembled and democratically chosen, this lean, uncluttered show brims with fresh energy, ingenuity and intellect.

[With thanks to Rose Strang and SSA staff for help with research]

Read this article on www.thetimes.co.uk

Image: Gina Czarnecki, ‘Palaces’

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