Sketchbook notes from the drifting spaces

Exhibition Review – ‘JANUS’ – Stephanie Burt and Kirsty Palmer

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Upper image: Janus (satellite) as imaged by Cassini, NASA, 2008.
Lower image: ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’, 1975, Peter Weir. Screen shot.

A refreshing breeze moved through the Saltmarket in Glasgow in January, with a series of temporal, light and strangely magnetic works shown by artists Stephanie Burt and Kirsty Palmer. Being exhibited at 87 Saltmarket as one of the The Glasgow Masters Series for 2014-15 (both artists having graduated from Glasgow School of Art MFA in 2014), this collaborative joint show expressed similar themes of transience and materiality in each artist’s works, though with different styles, colour and relationship to the space, a bright, high ceiling refurbished tenemental shop in the Merchant City area.

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Inviting the viewers closer and closer, we discover fragmented shapes, half hidden in the gallery nooks and crannies and shadowed recesses, and tip toe around changed and unchanged materials of cloth and remnants of something with paint, or microcosmic remnants of past or future worlds, taking the form of something lunar, broken, battered or newly emerged from darkness. The exhibition title JANUS is apt, the name of the ancient Roman deity symbolizing change and time, and the overseer of impermanent transitions, laterally taking the form of a bearded two headed fellow – gazing firmly into time past and time future. The timing of the show in January is right too (the month is named after Janus) at the beginning transition point of the year. The sense of collaboration here is in artworks that are at their nature fleeting themselves as well as pointing outwards to temporary metaphysical realms.

This is seen in the image of ‘Janus’ reworked and torn by Kirsty Palmer – from an image of a satellite moon of Saturn named after the Roman god, aka Saturn X. There is the astronomical sense of movement and providing change seen in the ancient classical ideas of the heavens, where for instance Janus would provide the god Jupiter with the possibility of motion. The pieces ‘Janus I’ and ‘Janus II’ (digital print, plaster, fabric, both created in 2015) are small pieces on the floor surface or wall ledge, at first inconspicuous and seen from afar, in a way cleverly expanding the sense of the dimensions of the gallery space.


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Palmer subtly places pieces with plenty of breathing space and assymetrical, some laying flat and others standing, with or without delicate frame like structures, that are works in themselves and also serve to guide, question and protect, and these make up a constellation of ‘Studio Objects II’ (2015, plaster, paint, balsa wood, fabric, drawing). This installation of various media is unified yet with disparate elements. Something of her creative process is revealed in the accompanying exhibition info: ‘Through an apparent process of simultaneously revealing and concealing, it can be seen to draw attention to variations between certainties or extremes; the ‘big’ and the ‘small’, the vertical and horizontal, the solid and transparent. Works often refer to ideas of the ‘fixing’ of an image whilst acknowledging a temporality and precariousness.’


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The installation ‘Miss McCraw Loses her Skirt at Hanging Rock’ (2015, baby shoes, lamp, cactus, metal wire, ribbon, cloth, lace, string, paper, metal) by Stephanie Burt, image above, is contained in its own private space, lit by a lamp on the floor. It scales up the back wall on its frame of linear metal dynamics, overlaid with fabric, in a similar process to that of Palmer. The frame, wire and ribbon extends through the space opening up further negative spaces. This collaboration of concepts complements each artist.


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The hanging cactus is fun, and with the strange once forgotten baby shoe and personal items, questions about the origin and history of the materials and previous owners emerge. The exhibition info alludes to this: ‘…invites the viewer to explore dialogues between her sculptural installations and their settings through a fictional narrative at times referencing film and literature. Materials used in her works are usually abandoned and yet hold traces of their interior and exterior environment.’ There is a delicate balance in this collaborative exhibition that perhaps allude to a worldview of change, impermanence, critique of consumerism and indeed a movement away from grandiose artistic gestures whether in scale of work, longevity or sense of product, or dominance of message and reliance on language based communication. Rather a sense of flux, here and gone.

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