The reopening of Talbot Rice Gallery begins with a new exhibition, The Normal – a real-time curated collection of work from contemporary global artists around the theme of pandemic. Matching the reflective mood brought on by our enforced lockdown, these artworks encourage us to think about how we co-exist on and with this planet and the consequences of human control and covert power structures.
There’s a diversity of artworks here. It’s a big exhibition, filling all the gallery spaces, yet there is a strong sense of connectedness. Each explores specific aspects related to the pandemic experience. The way it has been curated enhances the feeling that nature thrives through connection, despite our attempts to control and contain it.
It’s a fitting theme to re-open the gallery. The works are inspired by, reflect upon and tackle concerns raised by our collective experience of the pandemic. Many of the works are part of ongoing series – perhaps reflecting our current Covid situation. The issues highlighted are serious and emotive, yet sometimes complex. The artworks send a clear message that our experience of the pandemic has led to a tipping point for several long-overdue discussions.
Here’s a walk-through of the artworks:
Gabrielle Goliath, This song is for… (2019 – ongoing)
Intimate performances of popular songs chosen by survivors of rape are projected onto a large wall. Each song is locked down by a sonic disruption or is caught in a loop at some point, evoking the overwhelming sense of remembering a particular time and place of trauma. This installation comes with a trigger warning and discomforting text. This is the first work in the exhibition, taking up the large gallery space of the White Gallery. It has the impact to affect even those who may feel personally unaffected by trauma. Intense, emotional, relentless, it stays with you as you walk around the exhibition.
Larry Achiampong, Detention (2016 – ongoing)
A series of themed works is interspersed throughout the exhibition. This is another effective use of discomforting texts, in this case around anti-racism and the platform of privilege. Gallery staff were instructed to write out repeated lines in chalk on a blackboard as if in detention. The words were inspired by memes and hashtags around fleeting social media discussions of anti-racism. Detention opens up this discussion and gives space for us to reflect on punishment, teaching and comprehension.
Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan, The Delusion of the Commons (2021)
This 3D printed model incorporates the Tower of Babel with the form of a deep-sea vent. It’s accompanied by 7 drawings using natural pigment mixed with polymerase enzymes and pen on paper. Deep-sea vents harbour a diversity of microorganisms – one is the enzyme that is used to test for COVID19. These vents are under threat from mining companies interested in these valuable mineral seabed deposits.
Upstairs in the White Gallery:
Jarsdell Solutions Ltd, Solution for Normality (2020)
Filmed before lockdown, seemingly disparate images rotate on monitors to the soundscape of a roulette wheel. It comes together in a final montage that draws connections between humans and animals, nature and culture. The cables from all the monitors lie tangled together in the centre. The images show how our connections can make us all part of the same microcosm and ensure the survival of species.
Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg & Sascha Pohflepp, Growth Assembly (2009)
Seven prints of watercolour paintings illustrate our curiosity towards industrial production in nature. It serves as a reminder to be aware of the relationship between people, nature and power. Take time for a closer look.
Boyle Family, Multi Human Being (1971-8)
Photographic prints on Kodak lustre matt paper. The images map social density in populated cities. The images of crowded spaces resemble today’s thermal imaging. They highlight how we assume there is a void as we move through a seemingly ‘normal’ empty space. Yet that space is in flux, is mutating and has many realities – including that of facilitating the spread of a virus.
James Webb, There’s no place called home (2004 -21)
The appreciation of a diversity of birdsong in urban spaces has become a feature of lockdown that we all tuned into and enjoyed. Species that may have seemed alien to us have thrived in the quiet of lockdown. This curious installation series explores the perception of birdsong outwith its native environment. Visit the Royal Botanic Gardens to experience Webb’s latest local installation of an alien birdsong in Edinburgh.
In the Round Room gallery space:
Tonya McMullan,The lure of tomorrow’s harvests (2021)
This installation, inspired by beehives, is perfectly located in this space. The artist collected an archive of diverse types of local honey throughout lockdown. Each sample is encased in a clear glass lozenge built into a wooden slate with the name of the location and tasting notes beautifully carved into the wood. There were more varieties of honey during lockdown because people were not weeding and this encouraged the growth of wildflowers in our urban areas.
Also from this artist, look out for brightly coloured microscopic images of the collected pollen. They are scattered throughout the gallery almost as if nature had dispersed them. It acknowledges how the natural world flourishes around us whether it is in a virus or pollen from wildflowers.
In the Georgian Gallery:
Amy Balkin, A People’s Archive of Sinking and Melting (2012-ongoing)
Various objects have been collected for a global archive project which reclaims found objects and materials from landscapes suffering from coastal erosion. The artist asks people to inspire action by retrieving objects for the archive from affected locations. The archive aims to highlight a lack of preventative action in an environmental emergency. Talbot Rice Gallery is inviting submissions from the public in Scotland to add to the archive.
Sarah Rose, Open Source (crocodile) (2021)
Look up to see a brightly coloured representation of a crocodile made from plastic waste. The artist has founded a system to produce this artwork on-site. This system of sustainability in creating artworks prevents the need to ship them around the world.
Femke Herregraven, Corrupted Air (IBRD CAR 111-112), (2018)
Three lightboxes arranged vertically, the text showing a timeline of the spread of the plague from the middle ages to recent times. They describe some myths created around its spread, echoing some of those used in the context of COVID19 . The top image is of a flea, at first thought to be the organism that transmitted plague. The bottom image is of the bacteria later found to be the transmitter. It highlights how the growth of commercialisation had a greater role to play in the spread of the plague than myth-making would suggest. Risk mitigation often prioritises the economy over the spread of disease.
Kahlil Joseph, BLKNWS (2018 – ongoing)
This powerful work imitates a newscast, presenting an elevated state of awareness to black culture and experience. Through conceptual journalism, this media installation offers a way to experience words and images that cross cultural boundaries. It offers an experience that opens minds and is open to the mind of the individual viewer. The images are regularly updated from the artist’s studio in Los Angeles. Iconic figures from black history as well as everyday images and scenes are presented in a way that opens the doorways of the mind rather than to offer an assumed mainstream point of view as the media often does.
The Normal explores the themes we have become familiar with during pandemic lockdown: racial injustice, nature, humanity, economy and resources, climate emergency and how we can find connectedness to each other via our diversity and individualism. That is how species survive and thrive. There is hope here that individuals can come together and contribute to a world where everything and everyone can thrive.
With grateful thanks to Artmag Contributor Julie Boyne for this review and images.