Artist collaborators Joanne Tatham & Tom O’Sullivan produce works that interrogate the roles and behaviours of contemporary art. At The Modern Institute, this is presented as a series of uneven, re-staged and re-positioned installations of past works that employ a limited palette of forms, motifs, patterns, titles, comic faces and images. They are reproduced, re-scaled and re-cast in new materials, unfolding as a quizzical and performative digest of self-referencing actions, which are often mysterious, abrasive or discomforting. Underlying much of this activity is an analysis of artistic value, of its impermanence or luxury, and channels of its consumption, agency and ownership.
A pink panel with the project title introduces the installation in the pristine gallery space. This is followed by a broad empty gap, giving time to allow the convoluted and ambiguous title to settle in the viewer’s mind. A single light bulb with a pink plastic cord is suspended over an S-shaped information desk. It has a lavish lilac tabletop, while its frontage is decorated with a black-and-white vertical stripes-and-circles pattern and a rainbow-coloured gradient motif. The table has a clown face: eyes made of cut holes, pink cone mouth and orange cone nose. This jester ‘reads’, in an atonal male voice a series of authoritative announcements. These are quotations from anonymous artists’ statements along with art institutions describing their purposes and ambitions: “I offer training and work experience”, “I present exhibitions at an international level”, “I have vision and great potential and am seeking representation”, “I work with major galleries and museums”. The accumulative sensibility of these phrases form a mantra of self-importance and self-doubt. Is this contradiction at the root of the anxiety to which the artists refer in exhibition’s title?
This S-shaped desk is littered with objects from an array of previous Tatham & O’Sullivan projects. These works have been scaled down, remade in new materials and given new function as domestic items - bookends and planters for flowers. This includes the face/tower with archway from ‘The Reiterative Grimace’, exhibited at the Northern Art Prize in 2013; the Loch Ness Monster from ‘Direct serious action is therefore necessary’, at the CCA, Glasgow in 2010; the red cat and blue boot from ‘The indirect exchange of uncertain value’, commissioned by Collective Gallery and sited at Edinburgh’s Fettes College; and ‘Are you LOCATIONALIZED’ sited on the Isle of Skye and North Uist, commissioned for GENERATION, the survey in 2014 of 25 Years of contemporary art in Scotland. Completing this set of reproductions are a rhino, functioning as a bookshelf, and a dragon, split for bookends. These serve to hold a new artists’ publication, a limited edition anthology of their writings as art school academics. In the evening, and set beside The Modern Institute’s building-sized glass frontage, this camp gala of colourful works takes on a sense of incongruent theatricality within its surrounding district, sited amongst decaying buildings, social deprivation and substance abuse services.
A second work reads as an anthropological report on a group of contemporary artists operating in Glasgow: ‘Easels’ is a series of black-and-white photographs in sturdy rough untreated plywood hand-made box frames. They show artists like Sara Barker, Anne-Marie Copestake, Martin Boyce and Roddy Buchanan among others as lone subjects in their unglamorous studios. The artists act like the dramatis personae for the visual art theatre game, with its Samuel Beckett-like absurdity, illogical speech and desolation that Tatham & O’Sullivan have enabled within the space.