When complex epistemologies of sound and vision are translated into art, it is common for the viewer to switch off due to frustration, boredom or information overload. When the art created is as accomplished and elegant as that found in Michael Fullerton’s solo show Suck on Science at the CCA, then it becomes impossible to be untouched. Fullerton’s work explores the relationship between art and mass communication, representation and information, examining the ideological and economic contexts that the materials he uses emerge from. By arranging or augmenting these materials, aesthetics becomes an emergent property rather than a quality implicit in the medium, a cynical but realistic take on ‘high art’.
A glut of paintings, sculpture, film and prints are presented for our consideration, unified under correspondences that while obviously perspicacious in the mind of the artist, come across as slightly fragmented and obscure. This is an observation rather than a criticism, but does point to the current fashion for multidisciplinary installations rather than unified and resolved statements. Yet, it is refreshing that Fullerton does not suffer from the paranoia of exhibiting the final, finished object, a fear that so many of his contemporaries lost in ‘project art’ flounder on. There is nothing contrite or evasive in most of the work shown, and an air of understated confidence pervades.
Fullerton’s sculptures are reminiscent of George Wyllie’s best work, where Dadaist wit is melded to Scottish gallousness . Enormous rolls of newsprint bearing the legend ‘Silence is so accurate’ dominate the gallery foyer, pregnant with the phantom of future creative usage. In the main space oversized wind chimes dare the viewer to nudge them together (you’d be thrown out) or ineffectually blow on them. The metaphorical weight of the materials used generates a synaesthetic reaction, where sound and vision are conflated and represented, conveying aesthetic and non-aesthetic fodder for the heightened senses. Grids of monochromatic prints take up much of the gallery’s wall space, but add very little to the overall weight of the show. Nietzsche’s house and John Peel’s recording studio are repeated until breaking point (a nod to Warhol), where distortion or ‘visual noise’ bites into the images, replacing easy, flat representation with unintentional gestural abstraction. The process by which the print signifies as art is confused with the traces of the process of making, which could be read as a late-modernist gimmick rather than a contemporary resolution.
The paintings exhibited do not immediatley fit into the show’s thematic – the fact they bare that which is traditionally read as ‘the expressive touch’ of the artist jars with teh mass produced feel of many of the other elements. Then again, their presence plainly demonstrates that art is just another form of mass communication, with the surface of the canvas acting as its medium. The paintings can also be placed into a wider art historical context, enmeshed in an expanding web of information: art’s system. Fullerton’s painting of ‘John Peel’, 2004, for example, relates strongly to the artist’s explication and fascination with broadcasting, but can also be understood as part of the wider Scottish portrait tradition. The canvases of Ramsay and Raeburn may seem unlikely predecessors, but they share stylistic similarities in their compositional simplicity and painterly qualities. Fullerton’s fascination with science, theories of knowledge and the familiar faces that present these ideas to us are also subjects that are shared and explored by his ‘Golden Age’ forefathers.
An untitled film skims the side of a diagonal wall, mirroring and commenting on Vasarian models of perspective, where Man is placed at the centre of this privileging theory of vision, and the universe. By literally looking at this theory from another point of view, we become aware that neither the viewer nor the thing viewed are ever as knowable or as ontologically fixed as we want them to be; every position becomes a random tangent rather than an indubitable truth. We know this, of course, but Fullerton eloquently demonstrates that knowing it for sure contradicts the premise.
Alexander Kennedy is an art critic and tutor at the University of Glasgow