Strange things have happened to the bodies of both humans and animals at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop (ESW): disembodied hands are cupped in supplication on a square of grey carpet; eyeballs melt across branches; a tiny black skull hangs by a thread; and the hard white fat around the kidneys of cattle has been melted down and reformed into peach-pink “suet sprinkles”. It’s hard to know what to make of it all.
Hemispheric Phases stems not from a curatorial or artistic concept; it is the culmination of a six-month exchange between Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop and La Ira De Dios (The Wrath of God), a gallery and residency space in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Two Scotland-based artists, Birthe Jorgensen and Scott Rogers, travelled to Buenos Aires in February of this year. Then in June they, alongside the Argentinean-based Santiago Poggio, took up residence at ESW, where the works for this exhibition were produced. A vitrine in a side room shows photographs from their research.
For Jorgensen, the journey to Buenos Aires was more than a residency. Before departing, she discovered that she had family in Argentina. Some of the work that she made for Hemispheric Phases is a direct response to the experience of visiting them in their small town, 17 hours by bus from the capital. A folkish wooden bust depicts the youngest member of her newly discovered family (‘Good luck now…’, 2018); a crochet shawl that she was given as a gift of fertility and womanhood now hangs on metal hooks from the ceiling in a diamond-shaped wooden frame (‘When the children comes’, 2018). It is beneath this that those hands lie, ready to receive the gift(s).
Dominating the gallery space and sprawling out into the courtyard is Poggio’s elaborate, mysterious sculptural installation (‘Untitled’, 2018). Not only is the work untitled, but the accompanying list of works declines to include any material information. Outside is a metal frame weighted down with sandbags made of children’s clothes. Ceramic (I think) bones form a kind of train track leading up to the gallery where a metal figure leans up against the window; a microphone on the other side then leads, via a series of broken bottles, to a precarious wooden structure, held together with wire and plastic cable ties, and bedecked with warped plasticine birds, severed body parts, and droplets of blood and water.
The work enacts a process of material translation, both internally (bone to metal to wood) and externally: its form is a loose three-dimensional recreation of imagery from one of Poggio’s Hieronymous Bosch-esque paintings. Unfortunately, the two works on the wall nearby are both digital prints on canvas rather than paintings. Possibly it’s an oblique point about the translation of one kind of artwork that exists IRL into another via a process of digital scanning and printing. But I’m told that it was simply due to the prohibitive costs of shipping paintings from Argentina. A more imaginative solution may have been preferable.
Where Poggio’s work revels in its own exuberance, Rogers’ is much more subtle. In fact, it’s easy to walk past some without really noticing. The largest is a recreation in Plaswood (a recycled plastic that looks like wood) of the benches in Costanera Sur, a bird reserve on the edge of Buenos Aires; outside, a small white structure mimics a bird hide in a similar reserve in Musselburgh. Like Poggio’s, these works play with approaches to material and formal translation.
Most intriguing, however, are four small sculptural objects placed on the floor. In opposite corners of the gallery are empty dog bowls moulded out of soap and nettle leaves (a gesture to the stray dogs of Buenos Aires perhaps?). Then, a pair of found-object ‘Feeder Stations’, each making use of a hefty, black, rat poison trap as a sturdy base. One is just outside the entrance to the gallery, where a nettle is gradually dying in a compostable coffee cup (‘Feeder Station 02’, 2018). The trap inside the gallery (‘Feeder Station 01’, 2018) is formed of a stainless steel dog bowl perched atop a plastic water bottle, in turn atop the trap. Inside the bowl is, we’re told, RSPB No Grow Bird Feed. This, I later discover, has at least two interesting properties: the first is that the mix has been specially designed not to germinate, thereby ensuring that life grows only in its proper place. The second is the addition of “suet sprinkles”, full of protein no doubt for little suburban wrens, but a weird way for industrially produced cow meat to re-enter the food chain.
With poison traps as pedestals, both of Rogers’ works are founded (literally) on a squeamishly commercialised love of control via the outsourcing of death. But on top of that is the desire to feed, water, nurture, manage – both ourselves and (some of) the nonhuman animals we live alongside. While ‘Feeding Station 02’ hints that these competing impulses could be separated (at least in theory), the origins of the food in ‘Feeding Station 01’ suggest, perhaps, that the industrialised entanglement of living and killing is not one that will be unthreaded any time soon.
Hemispheric Phases, Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, 28 July - 26 August
Tom Jeffreys is an Edinburgh-based writer, who is especially interested in art that engages with environmental questions. He has written for numerous publications including Apollo, art-agenda, The Daily Telegraph, Frieze, The Independent, Monocle, and New Scientist. He is the author of Signal Failure: London to Birmingham, HS2 on Foot (Influx Press, 2017) and editor of The Learned Pig, an online magazine with four areas of interest: art, thinking, nature, writing.