You Do Voodoo
26 March–14 April 2007, West Barn Studios, Dunbar
Don’t let the title of this show by 13 artists working in a variety of media confuse you. Although advertised as work which ‘involves aspects of magic, ritual and supernature’ there is very little, if any, direct reference to the kind of religious customs which originated in Africa and became widespread in the African American population following the introduction of slavery. The label is really a convenient tag under which to group a number of artists whose practices are widely disparate and whose messages and thought processes are often at variance.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that there are no interlinking themes and that the work in question clashes dissonantly; in fact, the diversity is to be welcomed. Takaya Fujii, who is based in Kyoto, works in a typically Japanese idiom and links ideas of Zen Buddhism, nature and mortality. Fujii’s text, ‘a lotus flower leaves the seeds/after having been scattered…’, is accompanied by actual lotus seeds mixed with salt dispersed in small containers on the gallery floor. It’s a quiet, contemplative and spiritual work which seems in direct contrast to Rabiya Choudry’s colourful, even garish, acrylics and ink drawings. Choudry works in a faux naïf style whose currency is by now devalued, given its over-popularity. But the artist’s connection to the colours and traditions of Indian art is unmistakable. A drawing reproduced in the catalogue contains a scribbled text (it’s far from poetic or well written) but it does provide a link with some of Fujii’s concerns: ‘And a plant grows from the dead trees. First a seed. Feed yer heid. Fuck your heid.’
The show’s curators, Liz Adamson and Graeme Todd, make an interesting pairing. Todd has gained an increasingly wide international profile and his work is deeply layered, both literally and metaphorically. Here two paintings, ‘K.W.A.N.G’ and ‘Two Heads are better than One’ (made using his trademark acrylic on varnished panels), show his skills to good effect. In ‘Two Heads’, for example, the predominant tone is black—occupying around two thirds of the surface area of the work; a series of horizontal lines punctuate the painting, some are monochromatic and others combinations of colour. They resemble the flickering movements of a badly tuned TV. Beneath are visual references to artists such as Bosch and Dürer; it’s painting about art which attempts to locate itself within a tradition.
Adamson uses the mirror as a central motif. Here there are two; one actual and one represented. The first is a negative, an inversion of function and expectation because, in place of the mirror’s reflective surface is a dense black façade with almost no reflective qualities. The metaphorical possibilities here are legion and are only extended by the juxtaposition of an image of a strange figure staring into an eerily baroque mirror surrounded by flickering candelabra. Just as in the negated actual mirror, no face can be seen in the image. Neither the photographer’s, nor the figure’s, nor our own.
Hazel McLeod (along with a number of artists) studied under Adamson at Edinburgh College of Art but her voice and talent is unique. McLeod takes randomly patterned inked paper (made by herself) and uses the resultant shapes to superimpose delicate, intimate and mystical landscape drawings which might depict a churchyard or a lone deer. There’s something indefinable about these works: poetic, absorbing and beautifully crafted.
In a part of Scotland not over-endowed with cutting edge and challenging visual experience, this show is a bright spark.
Giles Sutherland is a writer based in Dunbar