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Susan Philipsz, Seven Tears 2016 7-channel soundinstallation, vinyl records 12”, 17min., loop Installation view Kunstverein Hannover 2016 Photo: Raimund Zakowski, Courtesy Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

        'It was the tone I recognized, the touching quality of some half-remembered and tender event, even through the static, the sonic mist.' [1]

It finishes in a stairwell in a different gallery. In a space where silence is interrupted by melodic chimes sounding from speakers in the clerestory. The melodies, which originate from the interval signals of radio stations from across the globe, are here re-recorded and compiled by Susan Philipsz to make ‘You are Not Alone’ (2009/2017). The work is transmitted from Modern One and received by an antenna on the roof of Modern Two where it plays in the building’s East stairwell. The elegance of the melodies conjure thoughts of idealistic programming, filling the work with utopian potential. Its location reflects the liminal nature of the interval signals, and encourages one to linger in the thoroughfare.

Philipsz’s other works in NOW likewise reanimate spaces, in particular, ‘Seven Tears’ (2016). This work comprises seven automatic and synchronised record players, each in turn silent and then sounding one note from John Dowland’s musical composition ‘Lachrimae’ (1604), a work based on the motif of a tear. In response, Philipsz’s notes are recorded from water filled glasses. The melancholic music opens up the room and focuses attention on the entire situation and context; space, acoustics, architecture.

The cumulative effect of the notes playing concurrently provides an analogy for the ambitions of NOW, which places together artists working with a diverse range of both content and media. Each artist occupies a space in Galleries 1 - 5, preceding the five galleries occupied by Philipsz.

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Untitled (North African Toys Series, dolls), 2014-2015 by Yto Barrada Musée du quai Branly, Missions Dakar-Dijbouti, Charles le Couer Paris, Therese Riviere c. 1930s. On loan courtesy of the artist and Pace London; Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg, Beruit; and Galerie Polaris, Paris

The exhibition begins in a wallpapered corridor lined with photographs by Yto Barrada. These are part of the artist’s ‘North African Toys Series’ (2014-2015) which documents toys collected by French ethnographer Thérèse Rivière during her journeys to Algeria in the 1930s. Shot on a light blue background, the pictures highlight an inventive use of quotidian materials to depict various garments and figures and animals. Barrada is clearly interested in the vibrancy and imagination of children evidenced in their making, and also the academic impulse to collect them. The wallpaper, designed by Barrada, makes the corridor feel domestic, and the work oscillates between contemplation of the collection as a serious study and a playful indulgence.

Barrada’s series relates to Kate Davis’s work in Gallery 5, which also employs a toy collection. The space is again somewhere between the museum and the domestic, with the blinds drawn and walls painted dark. At opposite ends of the room, two glass display cases host dolls collected by Edward Lovett (1852-1933) from London slums, along with a group of Davis’s drawings of the dolls, ‘Eight Blocks or a Field’ (2016). Like Barrada, Davis is enamoured of the toy’s material qualities, and Lovett’s dolls composed from old shoes, bones and rags also speak to poverty and adversity. Davis’s drawings relate in style to a drawing displayed in the gallery by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres of ‘Mademoiselle Albertine Hayward’ (1802), the daughter of an artists’ materials retailer. The inclusion sets up a dialectic between wealth and poverty that meditates on the desire to preserve or ‘collect’ childhood, as both reality and ideal. 

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Hiwa K, The Bell Project 2007-2015 Video still Courtesy of the artist, KOW, Berlin and prometeogallery di Ida Pisani, Milan/Lucca

Hiwa K’s ‘The Bell Project’ (2007-2015) in Gallery 3 uses a topological narrative to describe a particular political moment, by instigating and documenting the transportation of material across borders in the production of a bell. The work comprises two videos playing simultaneously. In one we tour a metal and munitions recycling yard in Iraq and in the other a bell factory in Italy. Tin and copper recycled from the remains of the Iran-Iraq and Gulf Wars are sent to Italy and melted into bronze for the bell. The material present in the scrapyard paints a depressing portrait of the fallout from the global weapons trade and also the ingenuity of people in war-ravaged edgelands. The project makes a poetic protest against military-industrial production by reversing the historical norm of bells being melted down to make canons.

Sarah Rose’s ‘Memo to Spring’ (2017) contrasts intimacy between persons with their relations to and understanding of their environment. Rose’s voice speaks sporadically between three speakers, interlacing passages quoted from correspondence between biologist Rachel Carson (1907-1964) and her lover Dorothy Freeman (1898-1978) along with, amongst other things, descriptions of a tsunami threat and hormone biology. The intimate passages focus on descriptions of a meeting place called ‘the shore’, which comes to represent a space that should be defended both for its value to their relationship but also as a complex and sensitive ecological site. Rose’s sculptures form an impediment or boundary across the room, placing us, as it were, on the shore to absorb their anthropocenic narrative. 

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Michael Armitage, Giraffe grows a Doum Palm 2014 Oil on Lubugo bark cloth: 64 3/16 x 48 1/16 in. (163 x 122 cm) © Michael Armitage. Photo © White Cube (Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd)

Michael Armitage’s paintings in Gallery 2 draw on Gauguin through the prism of Peter Doig, and focus on ideas and imagery relating to Kenya. There is a concern with censorship, social media and the politics of images which relate to the concerns of Davis and Barrada’s works: what is collected, what is seen and what picture does this build of a subject. However, the consistent ‘house style’ of Armitage’s paintings does not always successfully convey the range of his sources and, therefore serves to flatten the compelling discrepancies and ambiguities between them.

Much of the work in NOW is involved with recycling and repurposing the actions of non-artist producers or makers, as a means to re-examine the past or form a critical perspective. In spite of this, the connections between the works are not always clear-cut. Yet its complexities and global scope evidence a wilful conversation with difficult histories, environmental damage, inequality and alternative modes of communication.

Back in the stairwell, the chimes speak of a different world, lifted from the music, silences and hesitations of the past. 

*** 

[1] Don DeLillo, ‘Human Moments in World War III’ in The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories, (London: Picador, 2012), pp. 25-44, p. 32.  

Calum Sutherland is an artist living in Glasgow. His work and writing can be found on his website