Whose surroundings? The seven international artists represented in this show were given privileged access to elite institutions. Not the average citizen of Dundee’s everyday surroundings, that’s for sure. But the great thing about this exhibition is that it brings these special places to the attention of anyone empowered enough to walk into the contemporary art gallery.
Mark Dion has designed a bear broch for Camperdown Wildlife Centre. That is, the area in which visitors can watch the bears in their redeveloped enclosure. The artist’s work—drawings for the show, permanent installation by October—highlights how western society’s view of the bear has become more sophisticated and humane over the years, while also, in itself contributing to that ongoing process.
Matt Stokes’ film set in St Salvatore’s Church gives music, movement and northern soul to the otherwise quiet and serious gallery. His imported dancers—at their peak in the north of England a decade (or two) ago—provide intensity, commitment and a gritty aesthetic which seems utterly at home in this still more northerly city.
Jordan Baseman’s work at Dundee University’s Satellite Receiving Station— films playing back-toback and consecutively—reward repeated viewing and listening. They contrast some kind of objectivity—the huge amount of information received by the satellites—with one woman’s personal and idiosyncratic view of the messages that come to her from aliens.
Bridget Smith’s work at Mills Observatory seems the only damp squib in the gallery. However, at the glass meeting place erected by Apolonija Sustersic on the waterfront close to the Tay Road Bridge, talking to the invigilator—as one would do, it’s a positive space full of plants and light—I realise that I have missed the point of Smith’s piece. Or, rather, I have not looked at it long enough or thought about it with enough empathy. Her photographs of the inside of a lecture room and the outside of the observatory dome under a starry sky led me to think that the accompanying video projection was—rather predictably—of the stars wheeling through space. Instead it shows clouds of dust released by the process of the wiping of the blackboard. Knowledge comes and knowledge goes: see the little glimmers of understanding sparkling in the darkness of infinite ignorance!
About half the works are situated off-site, hoping to grab the attention of passers by, art lovers or not. This is most likely to happen for Olafur Eliasson who’d skilfully set up an urban waterfall beside the university’s department of chemistry building. The latter’s coat of arms features an open book motif, and from it enlightenment just seems to flow off the page.
Whose surroundings? Our surroundings, of course. The artists were attracted to Dundee to make work drawing on the resources of local institutions. But it’s universal questions and quasi-answers that they joyously communicate to us all.
Duncan McLaren is an arts writer