‘Affinity and Allusion’, the opening project at the new expanded Collective on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill, does not refer to a group show as such, as one might expect for the relaunch, or remaking and reimagining of an institution like this, but is rather a title of intention, focus and scope around the nature of exhibitions and displays, given to a cluster, or constellation (the theme of astronomy is in abundance here, given that the site is a former observatory), of complex activities. ‘Affinity and Allusion’ melds, with an emphasis on acts of looking, notation, observation and traveling, ongoing, evolving projects and practices, alongside a nurturing of research. It depicts the artist as studious explorer or archaeologist, astronomer, pioneer, and suggests a merging of library and archive, the written word, the material of the world, all things under the sun and sky, with the visual art thesis. It celebrates balance, dispersal, panorama and elevation.
James N Hutchinson, one of the participating artists echoes these intentions clearly and eruditely in his collection of commissioned essays ‘One Drop of Water Contains as Much Electricity as Would Make a Thunderstorm’ when he writes his motivation is about “setting limitations and seeking potentialities”. The exhibition he explores, is in flux, it revises and refines, it diversifies and deviates. The exhibition here is an exquisite rendering, and so as with all of these gallery spaces we encounter lenses, the exhibition-as-route or map, the exhibition as destination and departure. We see it in Hutchinson’s refined installation of drawings, and essays, in Tessa Lynch’s beautiful heavy/light solid form seating sculptures, annotations on pause, rest, the communal and shared (Lynch’s work makes reference to the idea of buildings and heritage, like this site, being entrusted to the ‘common good’) and in Dineo Seshee Bopape performative/material sculptural process cross-over. It finds form in Klaus Weber’s cheeky cigarette smoking drunken snowman ‘nonument’, a proposal for absurdist institutional wisecracking and Shona Macnaughton’s therapeutic part-script part-manifesto ‘We Nurture’. While more than once, in the buildings and artworks, are references to the Arte Povera movement, and its incentive to unify art and everyday life.
Hutchinson’s ‘Rumours of a New Planet’ consists of a suite of diaristic botanical studies, changing configuration over the course of the project, and linked to specific coordinates on a journey, a book of essays, with evocative titles like ‘Asterisms or absences’ and ‘Symmetrical echoes’, and a pencil drawing of ‘Dietro-front’, 1984, by Michelangelo Pistoletto who is perhaps best known for his work ‘Venus of the Rags’ from 1967/1974. Standing six metres tall and four metres wide, the sculpture consists of two figures, one vertical and one horizontal, the latter’s head resting on top of the former in a precariously unbalanced position. To my mind Hutchinson’s exquisite compiling of disparate materials for display finds kinship in the work of artist Carol Bove. ‘Rumours of a New Planet’ brought to mind her installation ‘The Foamy Saliva of a Horse’ seen at The Common Guild in Glasgow in the summer of 2013. The acquisition of knowledge, and the meanings and symbols that ‘adhere to objects through [the passage of] time’ can be seen as shared concerns in both these artists’ practices. In turn ideas of where rationality encounters mystical occurrences, a quality evident in Bopape’s project ‘[when spirituality was a baby]’ brought to mind the work on 16mm film of Portuguese artists João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva.
South African artist Bopape’s work, curated by Osei Bonsu, is sited in the City Dome, underneath the canopy of the former observatory, is about the percussion of images, the resonances of spaces and materials, the fragilities of encounter, the inevitability of change. In this circumference she brings together fermentation, dirt, muck and gum, hidden matter, chaotic intention, coal and clay brick, silver foil, and a rhythmic slide projector drumming out images. Sculptures form from suspensions of feathers, moulds, gold gauze, blue powder, seeds, water and wax, and through rough excavations and intricate lace. It is a hallucinatory studio documenting a sampling, exploratory mind. Landscapes are made in vitrines of dirt and satin, civilizations are brought about and crumble in an instant. She’s a story teller inducing narratives from the spaces between magic and rationality. Through these passages one recalls artists like Lucia Nogueira, Jimmy Robert, Lauren Gault and Cathy Wilkes.
‘Affinity and Allusion’, a project on the dispersed exhibition, proposes extremes and opposites, compatibility and incompatibility, heavy/light, sky and earth, wilderness and civility, abrading rough geology with dignified architecture and deep-time with the ephemeral instant.
The City Observatory, Edinburgh’s ancient centre of astronomy and timekeeping, is no longer gazing at the stars. Revived from dereliction and neutrality, woken from a kind of unconscious state, and from being out-of-focus, and out of bounds, for so many years, it has been reshaped as an industrious public campus to the ideas of contemporary art.