The title of this exhibition, meaning ‘the presiding spirit of a place’, plays out in a collection that aims to reconfigure the familiar terrain of urban and residential life through a diverse range of approaches.
Most striking in its execution of this aim is Rachel Lee’s ‘Good Mourning’ series, composed of ordinary clothing stretched across large embroidery hoops, like momentary snapshots held up against the window of a washing machine, mid cycle. The knotted sleeves of two men’s work shirts in the centre circle are the most captivating, standing out like a tense knot of domesticity, a point of tension contrasting the limp sleeve that hangs below the frame.
While Lee’s work deals with the domestic, elsewhere paintings by Alexandra Roddan take a wider view. The buzz of nearby Princes Street, which can be heard from outside the gallery, perfectly underscores Roddan’s ‘Seeing Sound’, where delicate line drawings of familiar Edinburgh buildings can be seen to emerge through a foreground of colourful half-controlled shapes. Some of the latter seem to follow the line of a ruler before being left to drip some way down the canvas: a balance is apparent between the control of the artist and the agency granted to the paint.
In opposition to the modern urbanity underpinning Roddan’s piece, Rebecca Heselton’s ‘Floating Villages’ alludes to a more ephemeral style of habitation, which contrasts to the scale and sophistication of the city. The work is a collection of canvas houses on spindly wooden stilts illuminated by string lights, the tallest barely reaching knee-height. This piece is not alone in making use of floor space: Sophia Pauley’s ‘Kantrida Blocks’ is a shoal of Perspex triangles in autumnal hues arranged on the ground, mimicking the painted composition on the wall above. The geometric forms of Pauley’s work in turn contrast the more organic ‘Hunter’s Bog’ by Phoebe Ryrko, in which found twigs and branches are attached to a wooden board, their natural forms overpowered by the paint that decorates them.
The convergence of the geometric and the organic in the exhibition seems to speak to the way ideas of the city are delimited; how the aesthetic of urban life overpowers more natural forms. The work is at its most interesting where these shapes make a resurgence: Fabianne Jones’s painting ‘Number 23, 18:07’, of the hazy interior of a bus, uses bright hues that are almost jungle-esque; the viewer could be peering through hanging vines in a swamp. The only flaw in this exhibition is the anonymity of the pieces. In an arts festival that gives great exposure to emerging student talent in a city centre location, it seems a shame that the artists themselves do not receive acknowledgement in the exhibition: almost none of the works are accompanied by the artist’s name or a title. Nonetheless, the overall effect is a success, delivering on the promise of a ‘reconfigured’ experience of urban life.
Genius Loci // The Texture of Longing
City Arts Centre
Photo credit: Adele Juraža
This article was amended on 12 March 2017. An earlier version failed to credit the artist.