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terribly modern mini

The Modern Institute in Glasgow has three cracking mini shows on at the moment. It is a commercial gallery that is the royal seat of the artists basking in the warm waters of the Glasgow Miracle, and the gallery stable list reads like a who’s who of contemporary art.

The current shows are a Simon Starling chainsaw bike, a group show and a gallery of paintings by Sue Tompkins
The chainsaw bike is a replica of a found object; a Cuban piece of invention which anyone who has visited Cuba will recognise the spirit of. It is a bicycle which is powered by the motor of a chainsaw, the blade of which is attached to the rear of the bike. Using the device it is possible to ride to the source of the wood, remove the motor from the bike and reattach the chainsaw blade, cut wood and then reposition the motor and use the bike to transport the wood home. The bike is exhibited with a neat pile of wood and more wood strapped to the back. The information and mood of the piece hovers in a shared space between a kind of ethnographic archive and formal juxtaposition of man and nature.
The group show is curated by an Oslo gallery to explore notions of the maritime. It manages to capture the different facets of experiencing the sea in a way which I found hugely successful. There were so many different materials, methods, perspectives all arranged together in a way which seemed somehow very elegant and poised. Maybe it was a bit chic, like an interiors magazine where the owner of the featured beautiful home appears to only have blue and white possessions.
Sue Tompkins is interested in language and personal expression, through the spoken, sung, and written word. She uses text, sound, installation and live performance and works with the fragments of words, phrases and lyrics gathered from everyday encounters and experiences. She did a performance on the opening night, but what remains is a set of brutal paintings which make Willem De Kooning look like Laura Ashley. I found the way they related to each other textually quite interesting as they all had scraps of sentences on them and some seemed make sense as a row although they were not displayed together. You could use the paintings to make several different potential statements about the artist. I tried myself to make an ugly painting really, thinking about humility and abasement. I found it is difficult to unlearn gesture and awareness of formal things. Abstract Expressionism now looks so elegant and knowing, even though at the time it was an attempt to transcend a certain awareness and self consciousness. Sue Tompkins appears here to get more down and dirty. Her work could almost have been made by an animal. It is interesting to see the lush paint, struggling to make beautiful relationships in this ‘stammering and stuttering ‘incoherence.
Tompkins ’til 2/11, Oslo ’til 19/10, no date given on the site for the Starling.


Posted by author: Emma Drye
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  • Is that Sue Tomkins work in the first image? It doesn’t look ugly at all. I know what you mean about unlearning formal things. it is a useful thing to try as it can open new avenues. What is ugly now might not be considered so in the future, though. Ugliness may be in the eye of the beholder.

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