press release

An echo is a sound that bounces off a surface and is heard for a second time. The title echo echo implies a further repetition of that repeated sound, signalling a feedback loop which, as well as emerging from a past event, extends its possible reverberations into the future like an aural premonition. Thus echo echo can be read both literally and metaphorically. Alex Pollard and Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan (along with Cathy Wilkes) were commissioned to represent Scotland at the Venice Biennale this year in an exhibition entitled Scotland and Venice: Selective Memory, and then again this autumn at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, in a related exhibition called Selective Memory: Scotland and Venice Biennale. The work showing at the Collective Gallery is a linking permutation in this sequence, echoing each of these two manifestations. Although the work currently on show at the SNGMA is related to the Venice exhibition, the artists have taken the opportunity to home in on elements that ‘sounded’ in their first show, and develop them into new sets of propositions. Crucially for the curators of all three exhibitions, Jason E. Bowman and Rachel Bradley, the artistic practices here are particularly concerned with time, and with the fact that meaning in art is found in the repetitions and differences that occur from one artwork to another. As each body of work expands through time, it is as if it generates a particular dialect that mirrors, but also distorts, the established language of art - like a play within a play.

Alex Pollard’s disembodied arms and miniature beasts are constructed with pretend brushes, pencils and rulers that he has meticulously crafted in jesmonite plaster. These creatures possess the uncanny mechanics of puppets or articulated models, and seem on the verge of twitching into jerky, primitive life. While Beast recalls Hollywood’s early, rather poignant, attempts at special-effects dinosaurs, Thing pays tribute to the disembodied hand in the Addams Family. The ‘portrait of an artist’ relief on the wall has the halo of exclamation marks that, in the language of cartoons, denotes surprise or alarm. Like Dr Frankenstein, he surveys his creations (and indeed himself) with astonishment, and some trepidation. Rulers and paintbrushes are the instruments of the rational enlightened practices of engineering and art. But broken apart and cobbled together in irrational ways, they become, like Frankenstein’s monster, a diabolical aberration of their former selves. If these scrapheap creatures were to start to move, their clicking and scratching would likely give us the ‘creeps’. Part of our ambivalence towards these toy-like figures is explained by the fact that, in order to move, a thing must either be sentient, or else manipulated telepathically by a force outside itself. Either way, such a consciousness cannot possibly be human – and therefore it threatens to collapse our whole scientistic world view. As Freud argued, our culture’s quest for mastery over phenomena has lead us to repress our ancestors’ belief in magic, thus any intimations of magic generate a shudder of uncanny fascination/repulsion. Like a troupe of acrobats, or the participants in a game of musical chairs, Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan’s objects, colours, materials, and their titles, are repeatedly replicated, dissected, disassembled, and reassembled in new configurations/installations. In a series of drawings (commissioned by the artists from Simon Manfield), some of their recurring ‘objects’ are represented in an archive of fantastical scenarios: an echo of echoes. Top-hatted Victorian gents act as the artists’ proxies - and ours - and despite being hampered by paradoxes and blind-spots, they are seen pursuing meaning up and down the avenues of engineering, thinking, pastoral landscaping, reading, chasing and gaming.

Each drawing re-stages one of Tatham and O’ Sullivan’s objects. In settings reminiscent of optical illusions or newspaper puzzles, they are revealed as conundrums. We are less accustomed to thinking of factual material objects as ambiguous, and yet, as Tatham and O’Sullivan’s work implies, that is exactly what they are. Constructed in the same way as closed boxes or open frames (or indeed a combination of the two) their cubes and open rectangles, pyramids and wedges, giant letters and stick-men all seem to be containers or apertures for something more important than themselves. Sensing this pregnant emptiness, we might look to the relationships between the objects for a sign of signification. Like pieces on a chess board, the viewer must try to decode the objects’ respective ‘value’ in relation to each other in order to enter into the game, and, as in chess, the same object will function differently in different locations and situations. Thus, with the shifting scale of Alice in Wonderland logic, the ‘Think Thingamajig’ (a cube each side of which is divided into a diamond and four triangles) re-appears as an absurd croquet ball in It is, it is, the way, that is, and as a costume/cage for the harlequin/philosopher in Think, think thingamijig, think. Whether this particular gent is venerated like Rodin’s Thinker, or mocked like Watteau’s Pierrot, we cannot tell, just as we cannot say which gent will win out in Now, this has reached the limit conditions of its own rhetoric. In these, as in every image, doubles and dichotomies ensnare the viewer in an eternal game of enquiry, where finding a definitive answer is not necessarily the aim.

Kirstie Skinner


only in german

echo echo
Kuratoren: Jason Bowman, Rachel Bradley

mit Alex Pollard, Joanne Tatham & Tom O´Sullivan