NOW at Modern One is a six-part series which features contemporary Scottish artists alongside their international peers. The latest installation, the second in the series, exhibits most prominently two new sound sculpture works by Susan Philipsz, alongside works from Yto Barrada, Michael Armitage, Kate Davis, and others. While at times the exhibition feels both crowded and directionless, and Philipsz’s headlining ‘Seven Tears’ falls a little flat, other standout works make the exhibition worth visiting.
Philipsz, recipient of the prestigious Turner Prize in 2010, headlines the show with a disappointing ‘Seven Tears’. Based on John Dowland 1604 composition ‘Lachrimae’, the work features seven individual tones being played sometimes simultaneously and sometimes individually. Philipsz, interested in the relation of sound, place, and emotion, draws our attention to both our internal and architectural awareness at once.
‘Seven Tears’ certainly induces a sense of melancholy resonance with the listener’s’ surroundings. However, the piece feels anaemic and does not do justice to the opportunity given by the largest space at Modern One, presenting little more than a two-dimensional evocation of melancholy, leaving the listener unsatisfied. Her accompanying paintings – obtuse transliterations of the saltiness of tears to salt crystallised on canvases – do little to fill this gap.
More interesting is Philipsz’s smaller work, ‘Deep Water Pulse’, exploring the connection between communications and loneliness. A repetitive sonar pulse dominates black and white prints of the wrecked Elettra, a ship once owned by radio technology pioneer Guglielmo Marconi. The lifeless pulse colours our viewing of the grandeur of the wreckage, and the result is haunting.
Often, the piecemeal curation undermines the impact of the works being presented. The first room presents eight of Yto Barrada’s series ‘Untitled (North African Toy Series, Dolls)’, pictures of children’s toys from North Africa originally taken for sociological studies. Part of a much larger series, Barrada’s comments on serialisation feel watered down when taken out of the context of the entire work.
However, certain standout works make this exhibition a success. Michael Armitage’s vibrant canvases explore the relation of history and culture, using famous compositions from art history and rewriting them in the visual language of his native East Africa. ‘Nasame Nawe’ is an outstanding example. Armitage works with oil on Lubugu, a traditional bark cloth from Uganda, and when given his own room to display his work, the brightness of his colours and the tactility of his medium come together beautifully.
NOW fails to live up to the potential of the gallery space, but still offers some fantastic work. Many may be attracted by Philipsz as a headliner, but it will be the exhibition’s smaller pieces that will leave people thinking.
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Modern One
Until 18th February 2018
Photo credit: Raimund Zakowski