March 2012

Publication: The Times



The artists collectively known as ‘Hanging Together’ – Nicola Carberry, Paul Eames, Carolyn Mason, Peter Russell, Val Shatwell, Karen Strang were formed 19 years ago; this show celebrates the 15th anniversary of the arts venue, The Tolbooth, in the city of Stirling.


This is an apt venue for such a show while its titles refers to both contemporary and historical issues (and alludes to an ealier show in 1995 in the same venue before it was refurbished, restored and reinvented.


For years, the Tolbooth languished as a derelict building in the in heart if the historical ‘top of the town’ adjacent to the city’s castle. Its current function, anticipated by the porescience of Angus Ogilvy’s Stirling Gallery, opened in the early 1970’s is welcome. The venue is vibrant, welcome and much needed as a social function as much as an educational and aesthetic one.


Hanging Togther is no amateur phenomenon. All are dedicated and highly trained artists with an international perspective and outlook.


Karen Strang, who has Polish roots and studied in the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, has contributed two works, ‘Even in Paradise I Exist’ and ‘Possession’. The first is a painting, a traditional landscape with references to Poussin, with the motif of an arm in vertical pose superimposed on the original image. An accompanying text reads: “Meanwhile the cognoscenti enjoy the fruits of nature. They peer down; look! They laugh as the poor wallow in the mire, scrabbling for a share of heaven.”  Despite its Hogarthian flavour, this is actually Strang’s literary pastiche – in essence it invokes the contemporary.  Locally witnessed but universally experienced, it expresses the artist’s revulsion and concern about the creation of a permanent social ‘underclass,’ drug use and humanity’s increasing distancing from – and abuse of -- nature.  Strang’s companion piece emphasises such concerns by displaying poppy seeds (the ultimate source of heroin) along side an ‘official’ sign which reads “ WITHDRAWN - This image has been withdrawn due to its material content”. Enigmatic, the artist is clearly toying with her audience while satirising the now all too coomon practice of artworks being withdrawn from exhibition because of their ‘offensive’ nature.


Peter Russell’s installation, ‘Artwash’, like Strang’s alludes to art historical antecedents, in particular George Stubbs (1724-1826) famously a painter of horses, commissioned by the powerful and influential to showcase their wealth. The installation, in the form of a small room, includes the original fireplace in which two broken cellos have been placed alongside the backdrop of a video of a blazing fire. Cleverly, Russell has included a catalogue of an Ian Hamilton Finlay exhibition held at the Serpentine Gallery in 1977 which contains a discussion of Poussin and Carl Wilhelm Kolbe’s ‘Auch ich war in Arkadien’ – forming a direct connection to Strang’s work.


Although Russell's installation is complex, politically challenging (it refers to the sometimes murky relationship between art and its sponsors) the variety of constituent parts and their inter-relationship make the piece difficult to read. Paul Eames is on safer ground with his series of four small acrylic painting, each of which follow a similar style.  In '.   ' for example 2 small dogs intertwine against a background of vertical stripes. But how does this connect with the 'criminal' theme of the show?

Nicola Carberry used the now revamped space as a studio eighteen years ago when the building