After so many months of empty galleries and cancelled shows it was a relief to step into Saltspace Gallery on the High Street, Glasgow on 27 April and see some real-life physical art.
Curated by Saltspace member Lesley McDermott, an art teacher and visual artist currently studying at Glasgow School of Art, the show was a four-day takeover called After The Dinner Party. What stuck you immediately was the joy of installation work – with McDermott’s own deconstructed environmental piece taking up the smaller half of the room in a riot of green paint, wood, and piles of earth and salt.
Alongside McDermott’s work, the show brought together Chelsie Dysart, Alice Martin, Dawn McLaren, Val Martin, and Eloise Kerr – some of whom are members of Gossip Collective (Graduate Opportunities Supporting Sustained Independent Practice), an artist-led group based in Stirling. In terms of the curation, placing Dysart’s white rat sculptures carefully in the window was an inspired move – drawing the eye in with their craftmanship.
“We were going to put them on the floor,” says McDermott, “But they looked so good in the window, you can see them catching people’s eyes as they walk past.” The rats were made of what looked like wire and modelling clay, with details such as hair lightly carved onto them. You can see that Dysart has a background in drawing and painting from the delicate lines of the rats’ features. On the other window ledge McDermott had placed a series of unrefined handmade bowls, their ragged edges complimenting the messiness behind them.
McDermott’s work here is hard to describe. It looked like she’d taken apart a table and spray-painted part of it green. A canvas on the wall proclaimed the Extinction Rebellion symbol of a circle with a simple hourglass shape inside it (an ‘x’ with a line connecting its ‘hands’ and its ‘feet’). Fabric hung from the walls, and surrounding the broken table were piles of debris – rock salt, earth, stone… the materials of the earth. McDermott explained that the various piles represented earth’s resources and spoke of how she’d like to tie some of the paintings to railings with twine. Extinction Rebellion’s mission being to compel the world’s governments, through non-violent protest, to curb current consumption of fossil fuels and avoid imminent ecological collapse.
However, the piece wasn’t only about the environment. McDermott said; “After The Dinner Party is obviously a reference to The Dinner Party, the seminal piece by Judy Chicago. The Dinner Party was very much about celebrating the work of women who’d been omitted over history. I’ve been really interested in that piece for literally decades this is actually an ongoing series of works that I’ve shown at different stages. I think the first time I showed it was around 2008/9 and there were 12 pieces and there’s now 50 and each one is an abstract version of the plate of the women that I admire or have been influenced by in my own work. This really was a kind of homage to that, but in a sculptural and physical installation. I’ve thought about what the ‘dinner party’ as a term itself means in today’s society in terms of it being quite a middle class, sort of bougie. So the idea is that that whole notion is kind of exploded and smashed apart. The pieces that I have are composite elements of an interior space, so I’ve used furniture, curtains, dishes, but I’ve broken them down – either smashed them or burned them – or wrapped them or in some other way an intervention of some sort.”
When viewed through this lens McDermott’s installation serves as a warning – capturing our attention and then forcing us to confront our complicity – whether that’s due to our class, our gender, or some other aspect that divides us as human being. Yet the most poignant bit, for me, was a broken wine glass spilling red wine onto the floor.
The quiet violence of the broken glass was mirrored in Eloise Kerr’s work. Like Dysart, Kerr also chose to focus on animals – presenting three pieces on the subject of cows. The first work was a drawing of a few different cows layered on top of each other, which at first seemed ordinary until closer inspection revealed the hard grooves Kerr had made into the paper during the drawing process. The second piece showed drooping, bleeding udders, while the third was the outline of a cow done in red dots – the stance and technique emphasising the fact that these creatures are alive and we carve them up to eat. Picture the butcher shop charts of cuts of beef: rib, short loin, sirloin, brisket, fore shank, flank. Soulful eyes staring through you.
Sadly Alice Martin’s piece wasn’t working, because video art tech issues are the bane of small exhibition takeovers.
But it will be interesting to see what else these artists come up with, now that the galleries are open for takeovers again.
The next Gossip Collective show Attention will be at M Gallery on Keith Street in the West End of Glasgow from 15-20 of May.
Words and Images: Ana Hine & Luke Cockayne