Matière, or its English equivalent, “matter”, is a noun with both abstract and concrete readings. In the context of this small but highly considered collection of work by 13 artists, some well established and others less so, the term refers to the “matter in hand” — what is under consideration, as well as the physical material from which the artists have made their work.
The show is linked by a number of rich veins of meaning, association and connection. One of these is familial. Matière has been curated by Janet McKenzie, who along with her husband, the late Michael Spens — author, architect and soldier — edited the internationally famous art journal Studio International.
McKenzie, and her daughters, Mariota and Christiana Spens, have also contributed works. All, in some respect, have been formed by the pain of loss. McKenzie’s prints, made with a chainsaw and router, have sharp and jagged lines, raging against the injustice of terminal illness and the frailty of existence.
Christiana’s work appears delicate, decorative and feminine at first sight. Closer inspection reveals an intensely political agenda where maps of the Middle East are intertwined with complex collaged narratives of war and oppression. Mariota challenges the orthodoxy of traditional picture framing and display by using a canvas stretched on a frame constructed of tree branches, collected in the woods around her home in Fife. The painting itself, which shares a sense of outrage with the work of her sister and mother, is a critique of what she calls the “fat white men” whose political and cultural legacy so many appear to be questioning.
McKenzie’s prints were realised through the technical expertise of Arthur Watson, president of the Royal Scottish Academy and an accomplished artist in his own right, who has been described as a “poetic conceptualist”. Here Watson evokes a life-changing visit to Venice in 1990, binding a number of long seed pods with a spoke shave (a tool typically used by cartwrights to fashion wheels). From these dangle labels with the names of those who so significantly influenced Watson 26 years ago.
The Australians GW Bot and Irene Barberis have contrasting techniques and styles. Barberis has contributed a luminous pink cross, Reforming the Line, fashioned from plastic sheet roofing and cut acrylic sheet. Bot has worked tirelessly in her exploration of Aboriginal culture, and in particular, the way in which it employs mark making. Her “glyphs” — signs and ciphers, almost intelligible, but just beyond understanding — seem archetypal, intensely rooted in the mysterious land and landscape.
In a similar way, Susan Winton, Will Maclean and Marian Leven all celebrate the links between culture, landscape, light and a sense of place. Maclean’s work alludes to nuclear weaponry and naval submarines which have become so identified with the western seaboard of Scotland, and so forms a link with the work of Christiana Spens, for one.
Richard Demarco links the primeval landscapes of Scotland and the work of Joseph Beuys in a rare editioned print celebrating Beuys’ Celtic Kinloch Rannoch Scottish Symphony performed in Edinburgh in 1970.
Despite the limitations of the venue, which is rather cramped and off the beaten track, this show is one to search out.
Until March 14.