The Erratics borrows its title from the geological term for boulders which, through glacial displacement, end up resting on another rock type. The union of incongruous materials evoked by this term aptly describes the effect of encountering the very different works presented by Lotte Glob, Nick Evans, and Ruth Barker in this exhibition. Though an interest in bringing the archaic into the present can be detected in each of these artists’ works, through geological, anthropological or mythological registers, what is most interesting is that their three, very singular languages and approaches, are allowed to become congruent and coexist here without the imposition of any overbearing logic or schema. The Erratics provides further evidence that Jenny Brownrigg’s bold and thoughtful curatorial approach is delivering one of the most interesting, unpredictable exhibition programmes in Glasgow right now.
Glob is a Danish-born ceramicist based in Sutherland—a landscape that deeply informs her practice. Displacing her strange, dense work from its usual home at her Loch Eriboll ‘sculpture croft’, inevitably risks domesticating it and reducing its impact. Nonetheless, a careful selection of pieces of particular intensity, humour and plain weirdness successfully militates against such an outcome. Works such as ‘Rock Eyes’ (2010) lumpy clay forms with milky, eye-like, and iridescent glaze pooling at their tops, suggest a visceral sensibility at the heart of Glob’s practice, while more directly figurative pieces such as ‘Dolly the Sheep’ (2001) or ‘The Loch Eriboll Chorus’ (2008) reveal a playful sense of hybridity, perversity or mysticism. The philosopher JL Austin urged aestheticians to “forget for a while about the beautiful and get down instead to the dainty and the dumpy”, and any sustained response to Glob’s works would require a lexicon fluent in terms which similarly get down to earth and deal with the language of awkward physicality and the mythological oddness they embody. Her own wonderfully suggestive titles might be as good a starting point as any, with the likes of ‘Baluba Muse’ (1966), ‘Siamese Cyclop’ (2007), ‘Loyal Beast’ (2008), ‘Journey to the Unknown’ (2007), ‘Bog Doll’ ( 1966) and ‘Chocolate Kebab’ (2008), giving a fair sense of the variety of tones and affects to be found in her work.
Nick Evans’s contribution to the exhibition is two-fold. Two frieze patterns, ‘Acephale’ and ‘K Figure’, both 2011, decorate the walls of the gallery, bringing forms and symbolism derived from the applied arts into play, and also, perhaps, associations with the Bataillean surrealist interest in ethnographic cultures. Evans is also responsible for designing the tables upon which Glob’s ceramics sit. For his recent exhibition Anti Autonome at Mary Mary, Glasgow (September–October 2010), Evans likewise created decorative wooden plinths, adorned with screen-printed patterns, to support his abstract plaster forms. His exploration of the play between the putative autonomy of the sculptures proper and their functional supports is extended here, as the tables, in directly serving Glob’s works, are arguably further removed from any claim to autonomy (indeed, they are not credited as art works in the exhibition guide, but as designs by Evans). The applied arts seem to be offering Evans fertile new areas of investigation, and yielding intriguing results, with hints that there is more to come.
Ruth Barker’s performance, ‘And The Three Mothers Ask: Don’t You Know Me?’, 2011, closes the exhibition with a monologue delivered three times, each iteration being given a distinctive tone, ranging from the plaintive to the commanding. The artist, wearing a striking red garment by Lesley Hepburn, allows the context of the exhibition to add further nuances to her performance, already rich in meaning thanks to its multi-layered text. At times, Barker seems to address her words less to the audience than to the array of sculptural personages in the space, from Glob’s ‘Chocolate Kebab’ to the somewhat forlorn copy of the 2nd century BC, ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace’, which looms over the gallery. The monologue itself offered a poetic take on the iconographic theme of the ‘deae matres’ (three mothers) as it appears in Romano-British sculptural objects, with their links to maternity, fertility and the domestic transferred unmistakeably into contemporary culture through references to Hovis, Radox, and ‘little pre-rolled sushi’. Consummately prepared and performed, Barker’s piece chimes with the archaic and elemental aspects of Glob and Evans’ works, speaking in an otherworldly voice to address fundamental, worldly experiences and our erratic attempts to make sense of them.
Dominic Paterson is a lecturer in History of Art at the University of Glasgow