Curator Gordon Schmidt gave Fowler and Hammond two directives for this exhibition at his Glasgow flat—‘Show new work and keep the shutters closed’. By good fortune or intuitive design, this stage-managment has brought about an illuminating theatrical gloom which serves the works well.
In a perhaps predictable concession to galleryness, the screening room for Fowler’s five-minute 16mm film has all domestic clutter removed, save for three ailing chairs and a piano covered in a sheet. But gallery normality gives way to unease. In this dim, emptied space do we witness the visual evidence against the now evicted tenant?
Ambiguously titled ‘George’, 2008, the film contains some unmediated footage of (real kids) playing at the (real) school across the road: a snippet enough to unsettle; a little boy appears, immersed in playground games, an object of attention. Perhaps George and his proclivities lie just out of sight.
Other sections of the film might be George’s records of malevolent reconnaissance trips around the neighbourhood. Back in the flat, we are shown the clutter of a once lived-in room—this room. Suddenly we are aware that we are sitting on that very furniture, just as we hear what sounds like sawing through something. Lyrical plinking on the piano accompanies cuts and transitions of more urban snapshots. All is disturbingly enhanced by the mute presence of the piano behind the viewer.
Hammond selects an appropriately lugubrious palette for his carefully chosen oil paintings. ‘Bureaucrat with muted tones’, 2007, depicts a weird entity composed of various diameters of pie charts. The canvas seems to have been contaminated with the visual thinking of the accountant: formal breakthroughs of yesteryear, Cubism, Futurism, Orphism, are subjected to a morbid fiscalism, a synthetic aesthetic which cannot redeem itself despite its formal care.
How much of past painting does Hammond regard as bureaucratic one wonders? Once-hopeful geometric abstraction has found its natural resting place in the spreadsheets of the office functionary. ‘Bureaucrat with confused expression’, 2008, admits the same thing, but this time a grey wash partly obscures the pie charts and reveals the artist’s wit.
‘Conversation over bottle of new world’, 2007, couples pie charts with a ceramic wine bottle on a shelf in the hall. The bottle appears deflated. Perhaps the risk implied by in vino veritas is lamented by the artist: the bureaucrat has outbragged the drunk.
The darkened flat and the creepy variation on curatorial minimality lend weight to a positive if speculative subtext for both artists. The bureaucratic as a paradigm of system fetishism can readily spawn an overly internalised agenda, one which can lead to dark and dysfunctional self-centredness. Akin to a pie chart fiscalist, George sees the components of the outside world as but units to covet and control.
Schmidt, then, has closed the shutters on the world only to reinforce the idea that the imaginations of Hammond and Fowler keep them wide open, and keep us with others in the unpieable open air.
Ken Neil is head of Historical and Critical Studies at Glasgow School of Art