Publication: The Times.
It’s become fashionable in recent years for artists to show their work, not in pristine galleries, but, rather, in derelict industrial or commercial spaces. This show, curated by Gayle Nelson and Alan Bond, by 20 members of the Society of Scottish Artists follows this trend. The venue is an abandoned rope works, formerly occupied by the Montrose Rope & Sail Company. The main building, stretching for well over 100 metres in length, but only four metres wide, was built to accommodate the manufacture of long lengths of rope. It retains many of the fittings and fixtures, including whalebone pillars that facilitated the rope-making process. Boarded up, smothered with creepers and with a suitably leaking roof, the space has a unique atmosphere.
The curators have settled on the theme of ‘Empire’, which offers the artists maximum room for creative manoeuvre. Montrose, as a substantial port, was active in the vibrant trade that was the cornerstone of the British Empire. Here raw material such sisal was made into rope.
Carolyn Scott’s installation, Considered Cargo, is in a room which resembles a ship’s cargo hold. There’s an eerie rope ladder, and audio recounting details of the ‘slave triangle’. According to Scott, ‘Snows’ (a type of ship) would leave for European ports, where they would trade local products such as salmon, textiles and tobacco. They would then travel to West Africa. Africans were taken aboard and carried over the Atlantic to The West Indies and America, to be sold as slaves. The ships would then be loaded with tobacco and other goods for the homeward voyage. At one time over thirty Montrose ships were involved in the Slave Triangle.
Deidre Robertson makes a bleak reference to the way in which imperial justice was often meted out. Her construction includes a chair and a hangman’s noose. There’s a chilling eeriness in the stark simplicity of photography, lighting and object – as well as the idea that rope made on these premises was probably used for hangings. Gayle Nelson makes references to the whaling industry in which Montrose, again, played a willing part. Small niches in the whale bones have been transformed into votive shrines, complete with scented oil and lights, offering supplication for past atrocities against humanity and nature.
Empire invites many interpretations and associations. Juliana Capes deals with what she describes as the ‘empire of carbon’. Dozens of balloons filled with water have been suspended from the rafters in a sweeping curve. The balloons, painted with graphite dusk, gradually turn from dark grey to gold, representing the way oil and other forms of carbon become ‘capital’. Koralia Maciej creates a semi-abstract visual narrative using a series of large, bold, photographically derived screen-prints representing industrial and engineering structures. In contrast to some, Maciej sees empire as “…structure, an opportunity, an emerging condition… construction, destruction and reconstruction – an ongoing process of creation of new entity, new quality. The space between.”
Empires can be imagined, conceptual, territorial or mercantile. All of these, and more, are offered as an interpretation by a group of dedicated and highly professional artists and thinkers.