The Intermedia Gallery at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Art is dark, lit only by the three pieces that comprise the exhibition, A Temporary End, by Glasgow-based Irish artist, Leonora Hennessy. In addition to this use of art-generated lighting, there is a notable emphasis on the frame in each work; a neat rectangle repeated across the space providing a visual alliteration of sorts. As well as providing formal coherence, these are conceptual devices that together focus one’s attention on the individual works in a manner best described as cinematic, an effect that resonates with the artist’s interests beyond art-making. Hennessy’s second solo show comes at the end of an extended period of studio practice, during which time she also developed a distinctive curatorial practice as co-curator of The Open Eye Club; an event-based exhibition forum for moving image art, running in Glasgow since 2005.
Fluxus artist Dick Higgins coined the term ‘intermedia’ in his seminal 1965 essay of the same name, to describe a post-disciplinary art that fuses a variety of media (both art and non-art). Over 40 years later, this type of art is ubiquitous, now involving both traditional and new media, and provides a useful context for Hennessy’s practice. However, in a playful gesture that simultaneously invokes the gallery’s name and rejects any straightforward categorisation of her work, the concept of intermedia is here both attested and contested. Photography, video, and sculpture are all present but separated into discrete artworks, which are also pointedly separated within the gallery space. Yet, on closer inspection, even within these apparently single-medium works, we find the principles of intermedia in operation: the photographic transparency takes on a sculptural presence through the use of a lightbox which sits on the floor resting against a wall; the video is a TV monitor’s visualisation of an audio recording (a Radio 4 interview with singer/ songwriter Leonard Cohen), which is then transferred to DVD and projected directly onto the gallery wall; and the sculpture uses a combination of conventional art materials (wooden frames) and non-art objects (plastic mesh and an industrial work lamp). Add to this the fact that only one of the works is titled, and we find further evidence that it is in their relationship, and the space between media, that these pieces become meaningful. Self-contradiction, asserting very explicit boundaries only to contest them, emerges as the show’s principal preoccupation.
What at first appears to be an exemplar of minimalist abstraction reveals itself as much more complex and contradictory when subjected to the quiet rumination the darkened uncluttered space invites. The photograph is an abstracted skyscape that contains two tiny flat black silhouettes enveloped by a grey expanse, with a bright white circular area in the top right corner. Although small, the shapes are clearly recognisable objects—a distant aeroplane coming in to land, the top of a streetlamp and the sun. In other words, although the works seem to formally adhere to the principles of abstraction, human activity and culture (travel, work, conversation and music) are implied in all. The constant oscillation between the abstract and the concrete is disconcerting, all the more so because of the physical and temporal distance of the human activity implied.
If the clean, confident frame used here as rhetorical device is a tongue-in-cheek challenge to the expanded field of contemporary art practice it also activates the Derridean concept of parergon, which describes what is around and beyond the frame, exterior to it, but which necessarily comes into play because the interior is lacking. The supplementary, in other words, is essential. Once again, through a kind of bluff achieved through visual hyperbole, we return to a deliberation on the futility of framing as a device to exclude, and we must understand this both literally and metaphorically. Such unsettling paradoxes are pervasive and are signaled by the exhibition’s incongruous title; surely things either end or they don’t. Mocking the certainty of endings and the tiresome contemporary concept of ‘closure’ this exhibition asserts the constancy of states of flux and uncertainty.
Sarah Smith is a writer based in Glasgow