Sputtering into life for just a few brief seconds, the 16mm projector then proceeds to promptly shut itself off again. The flickering image remains just long enough to catch a glimpse of Marcel Broodthaers’ futile attempt at writing poetry in the rain; as the water cascades down, his words are, inevitably, washed away. The downpour in ‘La Pluie’, 1969, (provided, incidentally, by off-camera assistants with watering cans) is as comical as the malfunctioning projector and though this humour is unintended, there emerges a pertinent relationship between the two.
This is all rather distracting, however, from the intended connection, or ‘conversation’, between Broodthaers’ film and adjacent work by Cornelia Parker. It’s one of 15 such pairings, originally curated and shown as separate installations at Edinburgh’s Ingleby Gallery during a year long series of one week long exhibitions. Each presented a contemporary artist’s work alongside other artworks or objects of their choosing. Many rich combinations were produced and this is the first time they have been shown together.
Conceptually, ‘La Pluie’ is the perfect accompaniment to Parker’s ‘The Negative of Words’, 1996, an unassuming pile of leftover silver threads salvaged from an engraver’s workshop. There is ample space here to consider the interplay of the pairing, though elsewhere we are deprived of this generosity.
Two celebrated films by Fischli + Weiss are projected so close together that they do a good job of cancelling each other out. While they vie for your attention, Peter Liversidge’s quiescent Polaroid snaps of animals at a Barcelona zoo are easily overlooked, rendering the intended conversation somewhat one way.
Giacometti’s small bust, ‘Tete de Diego au col roule’, 1954, seems more interested in fraternising with Ian Hamilton Finlay’s poetic wall painting ‘Star/Steer’, 1966, than his intended counterpoint: Sean Scully’s deadpan photographic series, ‘Walls of Aran’, 2005.
Similarly, the proximity of Callum Innes’ and Hiroshi Sugimoto’s sublime monochrome surfaces to Robert Burns’ breakfast table, paired with a modest Rachel Whiteread, creates a confusing four-way colloquy. Without the gallery guide for assistance, one may well question what antique furniture has to do with black monochromatic seascapes.
Nearby, the wit of David Batchelor’s ‘Found Monochromes of London Volume I’, 1997-2003, paired with Nikolai Suetin’s ‘White Square (Suprematist Volume)’, 1924-6, is a breath of fresh air. Batchelor’s quotidian monochromes (slides showing sun-bleached signs and empty billboards), mischievously undermine suprematist pretensions. This wonderful pairing is one of the few that survives unscathed.
The strength of the Ingleby shows lay in the intimate space in which the installations were originally displayed and in the fact that each pairing was shown individually. The diminutive spaces at Kettle’s Yard feel overhung; too often the once quiet conversations become noisy gabfests with raised voices shouting over one another. It’s unclear whether this is a deliberate strategy, designed to open up the dialogue between pairings, or simply a case of unrestrained curatorial zeal.
Like Broodthaers’ words, carried away by the rain, so the subtle nuances and artistic integrity of several couplings are compromised, ultimately lost in the milieu.
David Trigg is a writer based in Bristol