Sitting in the Monty Cantsin armchair—an armchair painted Neoist gold with the name MONTY CANTS IN painted red on its backrest—one sees as if through multiple perspectives: three TV monitors, a golden tent and pram (containing a small video monitor), a large video projection, and another small video monitor suspended from a golden bough. For those whose art history bypassed Monty Cantsin, Monty Cantsin was a concept/persona coined in 1977 by David Zack. This persona, as ‘open pop star’, was available for anyone who chose it. And perhaps it still is.
From this position of multiple identities and open Neoist conspiracies, Moving Images from The Attic Archive is an exhibition with the weight of expectation. In 1988 Stewart Home, in his now cultclassic, The Assault on Culture, wrote: ‘Peter Horobin, working principally out of Dundee, Scotland, shot a massive amount of video as part of his 10-year ‘data project’; but has yet to find the money that will enable him to hire enough time on a video suite for this work to be edited down into a publicly presentable format.’ Moving Images… makes some of that video footage available and adds to it a further 20 years of activity; that of Marshall Anderson (1990–1999) and Peter Haining (2000–2009).
Bureaucratic in its staging, the visual impact of the exhibition is at once formal and mildly disturbing. This disturbance comes to the fore in a variety of works. ‘3 Memories’, 2009, for example, is visually alluring and sadistic in its narrative. It juxtaposes the imagery of three wind turbines with a short text by Beckett, and fragments from the Story of O: ‘she’d be whipped and whipped and whipped… the word whirled in her brain’. Like many of the works in Moving Images … there is a tension, often through word-play, between the visual and audio component. And it is here that Haining, in particular, excels—often with political bite.
While ‘3 Memories’ tempts one to infer a personal narrative, the deeper narrative interrogated by Moving Images… is that of protestantism: its influence on Scottish (and in the early work of Haining, Irish) politics and culture. ‘A Celebration Of…’, 2005, is the most obvious example. Singular concrete words appear against a backdrop of water, accompanied by a congregational Free Kirk psalm recorded on the island of Lewis. A celebration of protestant identity: its work ethic and morality; it can also be interpreted as a credo for the artist and a critique of the double-bind that constitutes Scottish identity: ‘discipline’, ‘stoicism’, ‘rectitude’, ‘self-awareness’, ‘self-reliance’, ‘routine’, ‘oneness’, ‘endurance’, ‘independence’, ‘worthlessness’ etc.
Although explicit in the work of Haining, this theme also surfaces in Horobin’s work. Indeed, it is this protestant counter-narrative that makes a number of the early works more than the sum (or son) of their Neoist parts. While works like ‘London Correspondence Exchanges’, 1984, and ‘PRAM—Pedestrian Rambles Around Myland’, 1984, deliver on Home’s expectation; the works that can be classified as ‘RAW DATA ’, and which appear in the form of conversations and interviews, are perhaps the hidden treasures within this particular decade of The Attic Archive . Offering insights into the underlying activities of ‘key players’ within mail art and Neoism, these works also document a very personal enquiry: Horobin’s idiosyncratic relationship to, and search for identity within, these movements.
It is perhaps for this reason that we learn of the birth of Marshall Anderson (in a video edit by that name), born in a tent in Stornoway, Lewis, at the age of 40. Unlike Horobin, who actively pursued an international correspondence and collaborative practice, Anderson restricted himself to Scotland, as a ‘studio without walls or limits’. While most of Anderson’s creative output consists of plein air drawings, daily journals, collaborative bookworks, and art journalism, there are also photographs and video footage which, along with footage shot by Horobin, have been edited by Haining to create powerful video assemblages. ‘Fire’, 1986-2008, is one such work. The most haunting ‘chapter’, entitled ‘Dysart—05.11.1988’, is a digitalised piece of super 8 (from the Horobin decade) showing a bonfire burning backwards. Set with terrifying affect to the music of Luigi Nono, this ‘chapter’ could serve as a standalone work. Here, however, it is one of six: a fragment to be sampled back into the wider body of The Attic Archive.
This theme of the wider body—whether artistic collaboration, the body politic or cosmological myth—haunts Moving Images…. Yet the real coup is the way in which Haining’s work since 2007 has edited and re-sampled earlier works into a ‘publicly presentable format’ (Home): not an archive of dusty boxes stored away for occasional research purposes but an interactive archive assuming the identity of a publicly presentable exhibition.
Jonathan Baxter is an artist/curator whose current projects include D-AiR (Dundee artist in residence)