Sustain, Sustain

Vanessa Billy’s new show at the Collective City Dome space on Calton Hill is a surreal exploration into the exploitation of natural resources.

The City Dome is a small, intimate space, allowing Billy’s individual works to be seen more as one singular composition. This works in the favour of the artist as some of the pieces have a lack of visible power or artistry. ‘Spill’, for example, a scattering of batteries and vitamin pills in resin, which relates the human body’s energy with that of the mechanical, could easily be missed and misunderstood if it were not lying underneath a pair of glaring light bulbs. The bare brick walls and exposed black wiring of the room work in perfect harmony with the industrial materials and electrics of the show and yet the white walls, which have become synonymous with contemporary art, are still present. It is well thought through and ideally arranged.

The show is quite atmospheric: one looks at the works through a slight mist created by an occasionally smoking oil drum, as if the world is polluted by extreme air pollution. Intense hanging lights shine through this smoke creating a glare and haze like that of smog. This addition to the physical art is particularly effective when it begins to grow dark outside.

Two works of art particularly stand out, they are found leaning against the walls on either side of the room. The first, ‘No Place to Fall’, is inviting to the viewer in that it is a ladder you might just wish to climb. On further inspection, you realise this would be impossible as it is made from glass: something usually so strong and stable, is a fragile and breakable thing. Strands of straw are threaded through the hollow frame, evoking the natural resources at the heart of industry and reminding us of their delicate nature. This piece stands against one of the previously mentioned well-placed white walls and leads up to one of the windows, perhaps insinuating it is a means of escape. Leant against the opposite brick wall seems to be a wooden stick, a tree branch left to the side and forgotten. In actuality ‘Above and Below’ is a bronze sculpture resembling a branch, and cast at either ends into human fingers, pointing above and below. What or where it does point to is left unanswered.

There are a great variety of objects used by the artist, whether found in the everyday or created by hand, suggesting ideas of perpetuity and impermanence. Little appears to relate the sculptural materials to one another, but a broader look sees their connection with industrial materiality and natural resources that the artist is so interested in. These questions and confusions created by the artist is one of the aspects that make the exhibition so thought-provoking and engaging in such a suitably space.

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