Artist Renee Rilexie’s first large-scale installation occupies the entire ground-floor room of Edinburgh’s Dundas Street Gallery. As you descend the stair from street level, you notice the gallery windows are blacked-out, and on entering, eyes need a minute to adjust to the new dark, almost subterranean environment. But it is welcoming, as you take in the view: what appears to be columns of glowing coloured light, suspended from the low ceiling, and wall-hangings suffused with rainbow light of saturated colour – not garish but subtle, luxurious and rich, and given a vitality under wall-mounted UV lights. You forget the street outside, and start to walk around a gentle, enveloping and relaxing sensory experience: sensory and relaxing because, although the visual impression is rich, you notice the languorous, dreamy ambient music and can touch the soft, hanging threads of suspended wool that make up the components of the installation. It’s all very gentle, like a garden in negative, inviting exploration, but very internal and involving.
As you make your way round the room, you can spend time, almost conversationally, with a wall-hanging tapestry, a large kaleidoscopic mandala, dream-catcher tapestries and a wishing-bowl partially obscured by these willow-like suspended wool threads, in addition to the pillar-like columns. Closer inspection through their almost-diaphanous curtains of thread reveals small, suspended translucent female mannequin torsos, front-of-body only, their interiors painted literally by hand in saturated and spectral colours. Other perspex female full-torsos stand on the floor, filling very gradually with luminescent coloured liquid, drip-fed by hoses entering at the neck, fed from ceiling-mounted tanks again in the form of torsos, and at this point you’re prompted to enquire after the meaning or narrative that must be behind the glowing visual impression. Talking with Renee, who’s friendly and on-hand to chat, reveals the practical and conceptual layers of intention behind the piece.
Over the course of more than a year, Renee has cut and crocheted more than 10 kilometres of wool (altogether it could be nearer 20, she says) in a variety of colours, to form these hanging elements, all inhabiting a single space: she had an exact plan of their positioning, and the spatial relationships between them (exhibiting in a larger space in London later in July, she will be adding more). Exactingly-selected, the colours were prompted by the form of Synaesthesia she experiences, which means she perceives music and sounds as colours, and this interconnection is a central theme of the installation, indeed much of her art (she is inviting visitors to bring along and play drums next week) – see www.rilexie.com. Through her art, she appears to be sharing her personal response to Synaesthesia in a way that everyone can relate to, thereby making it universal, and the installation seemingly as much about the personal experience of the artist, as that of the viewers’ own experience as they explore it.
She explains that she sought also to convey the relationship of our internal human energies with the external energy of the spaces surrounding us, represented by the hanging threads. She went on to tell me that understanding this, or Synaesthesia, is by no means essential to enjoying the installation, and young children have clearly enjoyed the experience, relating to the soft wool as much as the bright colours and light, and staying for more like an hour than just a few minutes, which demonstrates the richness of experience a carefully-conceived installation like this can offer.