So consistently good have the shows at DCA been in recent times that I step into the space with a real sense of curiosity and anticipation. What this time?
The first gallery, which is often used as an adjunct to the main space, contains a video installation: projections of the same size appear on three walls. To the left of the viewer, a Japanese drummer responds to his experience of contemplating water. To the right, Elizabeth Ogilvie disturbs the water in a pool in response to the drumming. And in front, there is a plan view of the pool alone, jagged lines and moving shadows (see Studio page 20). It takes a while for the competing images and waves (sound, water, light) to settle down in my mind. But when that happens, I become aware of a keen appetite for more.
The lighting is low in the main space, which has been divided into two wide, shallow pools. It’s a bit like walking around an indoor swimming pool, only here the walkways and pool-sides are cool black: the water-filled rectangles are for the mind to swim in. In one pool, the still water is ‘acted upon’ by a projection of mist onto an adjoining wall. Standing poolside, you can stare down into the ‘depths’ of the water and make out the architecture of the gallery (as in Richard Wilson’s ‘20:50’) or study the reflection of the projection—either the hard edge of the projected rectangle or the soft edges of the mist. The formal qualities of the view—intersecting planes in particular—are engrossing, semiabstract and minimal.
With the second pool, there is a more complex relationship between floor (water) and wall (light). Here, a pump and pipe system are dripping water into the pool. The drips produce ripples on the body of water, and these are reflected onto two adjoining gallery walls by theatre lights. There are few things more conducive to contemplation than dripping and rippling water. Given time, the whole gallery becomes a notional landscape.
Unseen beyond the long windowless wall, the River Tay flows past. The river may have been sparkling under a bright sky before I entered the gallery, but might a sea-mist have rolled in while I’ve been in here? Or might it even be raining in the estuary? Ultimately, I don’t need to know because the elegance of the installation, with its elemental qualities, is satisfying enough.
Having said all that, in a final ancillary space there is a small pool where the viewer is invited to ‘experiment and create their own water effects’. I feel I’m being patronised. Nor am I taken with the ‘talking head’ video in the Information Room, where Ogilvie doesn’t go beyond her fascination with water itself (what about her interest in art or aesthetics?), and concludes with the truism that water is precious. Perhaps these anomalies are just signs of the artist/gallery making an effort to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.
Duncan McLaren’s new Journey: the Thames appears on page 22