Jack Mottram, '‘Performance’ that is anything but pants' (The Herald, 11/01/2008)

Sculptural forms that suggest movement have been brought together inspirationally

Every winter, Sorcha Dallas in Glasgow steps out of the usual round of showcases for represented artists and presents a group show, lightly curated around a theme suggested by the gallery’s roster. This time, it is Sophie Macpherson’s sculptural forms that inspire Re-Make/Re-Model, and the tie that binds the artists gathered here, albeit loosely, is performance.

Macpherson’s work tackles the idea of performance at a tangent. Her White Screen dominates the small gallery space in which it is housed, a zig-wooden construction, whitewashed on it’s front, the rear distinctly unfinished, with a surface marked by a repeated diamond motif. Next door, Untitled Set-Up suggests a temporary outdoor theatre. Two black wooden walls are set upon a white disc, the interior of the barely-sketched room facing a grubby curtain tacked to a roughly-hewn strut on the wall. A third, untitled, sculpture is more ambiguous. Again set on a plinth, this painted concrete structure might be an uncomfortable, restrictive piece of Brutalist costume jewellery, an architectural maquette for a theatre building, or another hinted set. This is either a set-design for a play that has not yet been performed (but might be) or the remnants of an imagined production.

A fanciful idea on paper, perhaps, but Macpherson’s slightly slapdash methods of making lend her work a genuinely evocative air: the unfinished reverse side of White Screen suggests that there was no need to complete a face that would never be seen by an audience, while the scale of Untitled Set-Up quickly indicates that it is taking a further step back from the stage, offering a model of a set that will never be built.

Taken together, the works here suggest performances somewhere between the am-dram and the avant-garde, and one can easily imagine the non-existent body of work for which Macpherson is playing set designer.

Macpherson’s work also sets the stage for a pair of real performances, rather, a pair of recorded performances, both of which tackle the usual problems of performance art, questioning the status of performance itself, it documentation and later presentation.

Babette Mangolte’s 1978 film Water Motor is a record of a dance solo by Trisha Brown, filmed twice over and projected first in real time, then again at half speed, the two sections divided by slow fades to black, like the curtains drawn at intermission.

Mangolte explicitly sets up her camera as a proxy for a rapt viewer – one is barely aware of Mangolte’s cinematography, which has the camera follow Brown’s movements closely by unobtrusively, without cutting – as if, in the first, real-time episode, she aims to present a ‘true’ record of Brown’s dance. This truth is quickly undermined by that distinctly theatrical fade and the re-presentation of the piece in slow-mo: if the opening section is true, the closing one is a faded memory, recasting Brown’s jerky, half-formed, high-speed gestures and sudden springs into a languid, graceful, more traditionally balanced form.

The idea of recording artist as proxy audience member recurs in the DVD presentation of a pair of performances by Linder, Nothing for Ray Johnson, filmed on the exhibition’s opening night. The anonymous videographer has made an unsatisfactory record of Linder’s improvised combining of music and gesture, but it is meaningfully unsatisfactory. We see the artist, backed by guitarist and double-bass player, her face obscured by a mask that bears a crude drawing of a rictus grin, make considered gestures and wild vocalisations to match the howl of feedback and tuneless textures produced by her accompanists. But the viewer’s view is never clear, with the original focus of the performance shifted to the obscuring arm of the bass man or, uncomfortably, to the engrossed faces of the original audience. The silent attention of the primary audience ends up serving as a barrier, like the roving camera itself, top experience: it is clear that, on the night, this was a powerful performance, but here, the secondary audience in the gallery is left struggling to appreciate it, more voyeurs than viewers. As a record of the performance, Nothing for Ray Johnson is a failure, but in failing it anchors Re-Make/Re-Model, firming up the deliberately non-committal presentation of disparate artists linked by a close theme. And, with these ideas bouncing off the gallery walls, the notion of performance begins to infect the other works on show, to the point that it is hard to tell whether looking at the works here with performance in mind is a useful route to understanding, or a gloss enforced by a context that, elsewhere, might well be irrelevant.

Martin Soto Climent’s humorous little arrangements – Detained Chain, a pair of lime-green knickers stretched between two beer bottles, and Parachute, a pair of mucky high heels suspended from a plastic bag – here become artefacts of performance, potential and past. The beer bottles threaten to break into a high-kicking burlesque, the suspended heels look knackered after their daredevil jump, while their assembly, and the hunt for junk, adds a further nod to the performed.

Alongside her performed and recorded piece, Linder is showing a brace of new collage works in the tradition of what remains her best known work, the sleeve for Buzzcock’s 1977 Orgasm Addict single. That image, a naked woman with an iron for a head and mouths for nipples, was an explicit attack on the representation of women in contemporary media; these latest pieces are subtler, more ambiguous and, here at least, take on the air of the remains of a performance. Charming Maid sees a soft-focus 1970s album cover with a woman’s torso burned out to reveal that she is stuffed with flowers. The Luminous Flux obscures twin images torn from a 1960s magazine. In one panel, Nureyev’s loins are girded with a garland, and John F Kennedy’s face is partially obscured by more flowers, but in this context, thoughts of feminism and femininity fade, replaced by a need to reconstruct Linder’s actions in making these works, the cutting and placing that make up the performance of the collage.

Like Mangolte’s slow-motion reprise of Brown’s dance, the interpretation forced on these works by the show around them is, if not exactly false, then questionable. And that’s where Re-Make/Re-Model reveals its strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, in tying together Macpherson’s suggestive sets Mangolte’s eloquent film and Linder’s performance and its presentation, the show is a taught one, a deep look at performance and the performed.

On the other, it is almost overbearing, the curatorial conceit leading viewers down blind alleys, nudging them towards considering collage and sculpture, first and foremost, as recorded actions.

Either way, this is a show worth seeing, whether you end up infected by its premise or not.

Subject Exhibition

Re-Make/Re-Model, Sorcha Dallas, Glasgow
With: Linder, Sophie Macpherson, Babette Mangolte, Jimmy Robert, …