Beck's Futures 2003 / Visions for the Future V

June 2003

Publication: The Sunday Herald

Beck’s Futures 2003

Imagine for a moment that the history of technology was different:  the development of the two most important visual media, painting and photography/film was reversed.  So photography and film came along first and developed over thousands of years while the upstart newcomer, painting, was a mere 160 years old.  Given the very different relationships of these two media to objective reality how would they be regarded as carriers of their respective artforms?

Would the crafts skills associated with painting in its mimetic pursuit be valued as much as the editing and framing skills of photography and film? It’s a big question and one which can only ever be dealt with hypothetically.  But given the way technology has unfolded inevitable comparisons are still made between painting and photography.  In some senses it’s a dead debate.  But enough shreds survive to make it a live issue.  Photography, it was thought, would usurp painting, making it obsolete because it could render mechanically what the craftsman-painter did manually.

So what are the skills of the filmmaker and photographer, aside from technique?  One answer might be ‘mind-craft’, the intellectual energy brought to bear on a piece of work, in the same way a painter would do.  Call it conceptual strength.  An idea bigger than the mundane.  It’s these qualities that you look for in any collection of art but more so in a show which prides itself at being at the cutting edge of visual thinking.

Of the nine artists nominated for this year’s Beck’s Futures Prize most, including Lucy Skaer and the artists’ collective, Inventory, use film, video and photography as an integral part of their practice.  Rosalind Nashashibi, this year’s winner, (whose work is also showing at Edinburgh Fruitmarket Gallery) is represented by two films - The States of Things and Dahief Al Bareed.  In much the same way as early conceptual artists such as Duchamp or later, the Surrealists, imbued ‘found’ objects with additional meaning, Nashashibi focuses, literally, on everyday life and looks for significance. 

Bolstered by critical writing Nashashibi’s work claims to be meaningful but there is scant evidence to support such assertions.  While no-one doubts that there can be poetry in the mundane (see the ‘polythene bag’ scene in Sam Mendes’ ‘American Beauty’) Nashashibi’s bleak and grainy imagery is merely prosaic.

Shots of a Glasgow jumble sale here, or model plane enthusiasts from the American mid-west, or street and café scenes (the last two in her Fruitmarket show) all largely unmediated, leave the impression of there being no authorial voice and no narrative, just images.  If that is the intent, then so be it.  But the results are unremittingly dull.

Alan Currall, David Sherry and Bernd Behr operate in similar ways.   Without a certain ironic intent and humour these works would assume a level of pretension.  As it is, they will appeal to a minority well versed in the antics of these artists and others like them.  Currall makes short films of himself talking to camera.  In ‘Now That I’m in Heaven’ he distributes his worldly possessions to his family and friends with deadpan straightness; in ‘Message to My best Friend’ he takes deliberate banality to new extremes by eulogising the qualities of a “best friend”. 

The show is leavened by two works which carry more artistic weight. In ‘Lines Made by Walking (After Richard Long)’  Carey Young shows herself walking against a tide of commuters and by doing so asks pressing questions about conformity and the structure of corporate Western society.  New Zealander Francis Upritchard’s  ‘Save Yourself’ consists of a small, mummified figure surrounded by models of Egyptian Canopic burial urns.  The mummy moans and groans, felled, perhaps, by the weight of posturing with which it has been surrounded?

Perhaps the quality which binds so many of these artists together is an apparently unassailable sense of their own worth.  Where others might easily dream up such ideas and then abandon them out of boredom or embarrassment, here they are carried to fruition by an overwhelming belief in their significance.  And the artists are right.  The very qualities which often make the work mediocre art are used to generate effective publicity.  It’s a win-win situation for the sponsors.  And they know it.

Beck’s Futures 2003

CCA, Glasgow

Until July 27



Visions for the Future V

Michelle Naismith’s  show consists of a large sign made of light bulbs with the words, “Au Revoir Moodle Pozart” and a film of the eponymous  absurd, mythical and fictional character – a combination of  poodle, a philosopher and composer.  Moodle Pozart is attended by two acolytes and the film charts his progress through ‘life’.  In the archive room two videos introduce background material into the making of the film which deliberately obfuscates rather than clarifies.  Here, the artist, sitting on a park bench solemnly details how she investigated the fictional character's tarot reading on the internet. 

Visually dull and intellectually lacking this work is trivial rather than humorous. Like a good deal of the Beck’s line-up the ‘mind-craft’ which is such a vital part of the process of making art is sadly absent.

Michelle Naismith/Rosalind Nashashibi – Visions for the Future V

The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh

Until July 19