Summerhall: Various exhibitions including The Dark Would and Jerry’s Map

Publication: The Times.
January 2014  

Summerhall  has an ambitious visual arts programme, which sees groups of up to ten shows changing every seven weeks throughout the year.  You’d need to be a dedicated art professional with a lot of time and energy to keep up. The quality of these shows varies enormously from the excellent to the disappointing. Among the current batch, An Inexact Science by Sally Webber is in the latter category while Ryoko Tamura’s cartoon narrative involving a bear and his ‘ninja’ wife are fun, if slight.

Jerry Gretzinger’s deserves praise for sheer inventiveness and a persistent, bold vision. Gretzinger’s has created a painted map of imagined space. He uses individual magazine pages which are over-painted, often only partly obscuring the original text and images, creating a kind of palimpsest. Each page is numbered and coded, forming part of an integrated whole consisting of thousands of such pages.

The entire installation occupies a large room and the audience looks at the work by removing their shoes and walking over the map, which has been protected by perspex. Like Tamura’s work, it’s fun, bright and engaging and, at this level, it works well. But it’s mainly spectacle and you may look in vain for a deeper meaning such as social or political commentary, or even a narrative on cartographic history or process.

The Dark Would, curated by Philip Davenport, has more substance. It’s title comes from Dante’s Inferno ‘Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita/ mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,/ ché la diritta via era smarrita.’

Davenport has based the show on his extensive anthology of the same title.  It includes work by Fiona Banner, Susan Hiller, Richard Long and Tom Phillips.

Each work takes written text as its starting point and uses this wide field as the basis for philosophical inquiry, observation, commentary and eulogy.

Ian Hamilton Finlay, who died in 2006, is implicitly remembered by his son, Alec, who uses his father’s artistic idiom but makes it his own. A phrase from The Dream Songs by US poet John Berryman, ‘Sing wild kind wood,’ has been used as the basis of four individual prints, each containing one of the words. These have been divided into their component letters and set into a simple cross grid.  This sylvan vision evokes the title of the literary tribute to Finlay, ‘Wood Notes Wild’ as well as a large part of his oeuvre.

Elsewhere there is an elegy to Finlay by Davenport, a postmodern assemblage of found text, with reggae and hip-hop rhythms:

“u will be ok Ian Hamilton Finlay it’s just a down down day/ it doesn’t mean you will continue to feel this/ im wishin on that star….”

Mounted as a text installation, the words need spoken performance to come alive. However, it’s hard to imagine what Finlay himself would have made of it.