Nina Rhode, Cara Tolmie

July 2011

Publication: The Times

Nina Rhode: Friendly Fire  

Cara Tolmie: Read Thou Art and Read Thou Shalt Remain


Berlin-based artist Nina Rhode, who was born in 1971, has the uncanny ability to make serious points and discuss difficult ideas while neither being  too solemn – nor taking herself too seriously.


Rhode is fascinated by kinetics, geometry and colour so her absorbing, fun sculptures and installations prove both entertaining and thought-provoking.  Rhode is indebted to both arte povera  and the work of US sculptor Louise Nevelson, as demonstrated by ‘Procurator,’ which consists of hundreds of burnt-out fireworks assembled in the shape of a church organ. Getting close, it’s possible to smell the cordite and musty cardboard and to delight in Rhode’s passion for imbuing the discarded object with new form and meaning. In a similar vein, Rhode has fashioned ‘Gong’ from old rope, a large log and used stone-cutting disks. Inspired by more ornamental Japanese gongs this participatory work draws in a delighted audience of all ages.


Rhode’s ‘wheels’ are a more thoughtful, kinetic equivalent to Damian Hirst’s ‘spin’ paintings. While Hirst’s works remain  frozen in time, Rhode’s pieces – sometimes powered by electric motors – rotate to create endless combinations of colour and pattern. This is best seen in a work such as ‘Dreirad’ (Three Wheels) where the strobe lighting, triggered by a motion sensor, illuminates the patterned rotating disks.


Elsewhere Rhode’s shimmering, distorting optical and mirrored surfaces play incessantly with our perceptual mechanisms and instincts, wrong-footing us in surprising, unnerving and humorous ways.


By contrast, Glasgow-based Cara Tolmie, who is significantly younger than Rhode, indulges in a perplexing and at times impenetrable and incoherent intellectualism which eschews perspicacity – not because of its inherent philosophical complexity but rather because its core idea and the way this is expressed lacks clarity. Tolmie’s three-part work ‘Read Thou Art and Read Thou Shalt Remain’ (a film shot from a moving vehicle, a written description of the film and the translation of this into a video ‘opera’ involving three characters) seems to have real promise, but fails to deliver. It’s as if there’s a good idea somewhere inside struggling to find coherent expression.


A more engaging and approachable show at Hannah Maclure Centre plays on the dual meaning of ‘soil’  - as a verb conveying ideas of filth and despoliation and as noun, connoting a complex and sustaining medium for growth. Much thought has clearly been given to the rich possibilities offered by such meaning and the invited participants, who include the artists Dalziel and Scullion, Jonathan Baxter and Stephanie Bourne, as well as SIMBIOS, a multi-disciplinary research team at Abertay which works on complex environmental and ecological issues.


Since C.P. Snow famously invoked the notion of the ‘two cultures’ of the humanities and science facing each other in mutual incomprehension, the efforts of those who strive for intelligent discourse across the so-called ‘divide’ must be lauded. So here, for example, it’s worth being reminded, as Jan Hendry does successfully – in an installation of rock samples, pigment and colour studies – that the origins of art as an essentially mark-making exercise began with the use of soil as pigment.  One of Hendry’s samples is yellow ochre, collected in Buckhaven, Fife.


Such fundamental thoughts and connections are important, especially in the certain knowledge that without healthy soil, the biosphere would collapse irreversibly.