Every bugger's a curator these days. What used to be a rarefied, aloof and ever so slightly dusty job title is now a ubiquitous, catch-all, access all areas kind of thing that implies a power, of intent if not always execution. This isn't just the case in the visual art world. There are curated music festivals as well as exhibitions, shows and events, while in other artforms the word curator can be substituted for other, equally nebulous but just as (self) important sounding worlds, with self-styled creative producers and creative directors occupying chairs where administrators and general managers used to sit.
That's not to say these jobs aren't essential for facilitating things and Making Things Happen. They are essential to the process, particularly in the wonderful and frightening world of the DIY, the pop-up and the shop-front, the temporarily autonomous zones made necessary to show one's wares in a nouveau recessionary climate. Some might call it Punk. But what was once a simple case of getting things together and putting on the show right here, right now, right or wrong, right on, has become a self-serving career path made in its own curriculum vitae.
But, hey, every bugger also loves an opening, so why the hell not? There may not be much art looked at, but it's where connections are made, networks opened up, plans hatched, dreams made flesh, people are bought and things are sold, gangs are formed, feuds are fought, accidents happen, drinks are spilt, inappropriate behaviour is deemed acceptable, exhibits are trashed, lies are told, grudges are harboured, ideas burst forth, legends are made and, ultimately, a space, a time and a place where lives are changed, possibly forever.
Imagine, then, nine openings on consecutive days all in the same space, each one put up and taken down in the same twenty-fours in a series of non-committal, permanently transient one-night-stand pop-up exhibitions. That was This Is Now, an idea hatched, dreamt up, pitched and made flesh (possibly at an opening, possibly in a moment of madness, probably both) by Stuart D Fallon, who, over nine days in June, commissioned nine curators (including, just to be inclusive, himself) to pull together a show apiece culled from work already on show in the vast megaverse that was Edinburgh College of Art's 2011 degree show, for which This Is Now was Fallon's own contribution.
The idea, too, for This Is Now, given that it would start, and possibly already had started, from scratch, was to create an ever-expanding archive of everything that happened, as it happened or if it happened, captured for posterity, the sum of its parts greater than its whole, as well as the holes that may well still need to be filled. Which, in part, is what you're reading right now, in a moment all of your own, either virtually online, or in some printed publication which may or may not have been published.
The idea of This Is Now for me, anyroad, was to write a separate, stand-alone review or response to each daily exhibition as I would with any other stand-alone show, and to see what came out as I free-associated with whatever context and meaning I saw was or wasn't going on. These didn't happen nearly as quickly or as immediately as I'd hoped they would, but sometimes life is like that, when you have to put some things on hold while another moment and another deadline takes precedence.
What did happen, though, and it happened quickly, was some eerie umbilical synchronicity that started linking everything up, in terms of not just the same artists chosen more than once by individual curators, but the same actual works appearing on consecutive days, and the same themes and concerns re-occuring time and again in different forms. This was done without consultation or discussion between the curators, Fallon or the artists in what rapidly became as little microcosm of a bigger world where six degrees of separation reigns and everyone becomes part of the same story-book.
If from the outside This Is Now looked in danger of appearing to nurture a clique, bear in mind that not only was this the first time many of the artists had shown work that didn't require any formal academic assessment, and not only was it the first time some of them had been written about, for most, it was the first time they had actually met. Which makes the one simple moment which for me summed up the entire This Is Now project in spirit as well as action all the more touching and revealing about the way things Happen.
Ultimately, then, This Is Now is, was and ever shall be a small but imperfectly formed experiment in social and creative inter-action which, Pied Piper-like, gathered up all those who followed in its wake. And that's curators for you the buggers.
As for synchronicity, coincidence, connections and all that stuff, one only had to wait a week after This Is Now and the 2011 ECA degree show ended for some kind of proof. That was when the 2011 Edinburgh Annuale opened. For those who don't know, the Annuale is the ultimate DIY art-fest, sprawling across a city-wide landscape of rough and not always ready found spaces and more regular independent and artist-run galleries cum dens of iniquity that revel in all the glories of what is essentially one great big opening party as laid bare in cover-blowing prose above.
In essence, Edinburgh Annuale is This Is Now writ large having smashed through its white cube walls and flown out of ECA's own boundaries. This was self-evident in a show that took place in an upstairs room at The Store, a club space off the Cowgate formerly known as the GRV and many other names besides. The club now known as The Store sits next to a gap site where the old La Belle Angele club once stood before it burnt down one night in December 2002, a victim of what's now known as the Cowgate Fire. As with This Is Now, it seems, nothing lasts forever.
The show at The Store that took place at the Annuale was rather waggishly called Two Shy Dwarves Pair Up and Take On the World, and featured work by graduates of ECA's Intermedia course. These included Manuela De Laborde, Emma O'Sullivan, Martha Richardson and Grace Sherrington, all of whom will be familiar by the time you get to the end of this. While Two Shy Dwarves Pair Up and Take On The World was undoubtedly already in the bag prior to This Is Now, it might not have been the same without it, even if it did run for a whopping two and a bit days, opening included in what would have been an extended run by This Is Now standards. One thinks particularly of a piece by O'Sullivan, in which two business cards, each with a black arrow on facing either up or down, are attached to toy plastic bugs and allowed to climb the length of The Store's windows seemingly at will.
All of my responses and reviews of This Is Now are featured either below if reading online or on a new-fangled Kindle thing, or else on successive pages if you're old-fashioned enough to be bothered to turn a page or two. As far as This Is Now goes, then, that was that. It's over, we've all moved on, and it already feels a long time ago. In terms of my contribution, it's been a long time coming, but this, I suppose, is it.
June 27th 2011
Day 1 – June 11th 2011
If all the world's a stage, as that most melancholy Jacques suggested in Shakespeare's As You Like It, it's what goes on behind the scenes that makes everything tick. Nowhere is this more apparent in this first of nine one-day pop-up shows that fall under Stuart D Fallon's This Is Now umbrella. Curated by tentilten co-founder Lindsey Hanlon, ACT V brings together a work apiece by Manuela De Laborde and Kate Edwards, plus a nameless, headless, footless and cockless statue by an unknown artist and which may or may not be a study of Apollo, god of poetry and the arts.
It is the latter that dominates This Is Now's roofless white cube, where, as with a stage after the set's been taken down, nothing is hidden, just as everything that follows comes all dressed up in disguise. The unknown Apollo in particular is such a bundle of contradictions, with what's left of his torso weathering the ravages of natural disaster even as he poses heroically in what in the context of ACT V appears like a monumental tribute to identity and artifice.
De Laborde's small, blue cardboard model of a stage she's titled Spectacular Studies leaves itself similarly exposed, a blank canvas which, chameleon-like, can become anything anyone wants it to be as they project their dreams upon it, just as the way toy theatres or 3D dioramas cut from old Weetabix boxes can become magical. Tucked discreetly on the floor as it is, however, moodily awaiting whichever maestro's touch, it too looks monumental, silently holding its counsel until its inner life bursts forth. And as everyone knows, it's the quiet ones you have to watch.
This process of reinventing oneself in one's own carefully chosen image is already ongoing in Edwards' close-up photograph of a young boy wearing white face make-up with rouged eyes. A still image later used with stop-motion animation in a video Edwards made to accompany Moby's song, After, seen in isolation, one wonders what's going on elsewhere, both behind the mask the boy is hiding behind, and below. What costume, one wonders, might he be wearing en route to some elaborate fancy-dress party? Harlequin, perhaps? Or knave? Is this handsome devil's portrait a new-media reconstruction of the executed Apollo in all his cherub-like glory? Either way, all dressed up as he is and with the world waiting, the stage is set for the performance of his life. In the morning, however, with his make-up washed off and the first night a blur, the magic will have gone and everything will be the same as it ever was. Only what happens next will be different.
Day 2 – June 12th 2011
There's plenty of bounce in the second edition of Stuart D Fallon's This Is Now series of daily pop-up shows, this time curated by Diana A Sykes of Fife Contemporary Art & Craft with a playful sense of thinking outside the box that suggests both works on show could go into orbit any second.
Dominating the space is Sophie Neury's De Arte Gymnastica (module 1 of 2), a suede-covered birchwood beam with one end balanced on a wooden box, the other graduating downwards before coming to rest on a small foam mattress coloured orange and green. Perched as it is in This Is Now's roofless white cube, De Arte Gymnastica looks for all the world like some giant cartoon catapult that Wile E Coyote might construct, and one can easily imagine daring young men and women being launched into some high-flying display, reaching to the gods of the Sculpture Court balcony before being brought back down to earth with a flourish in this most grounded of balancing acts.
David Fern's cork and wood-built Modular Shelving may be a practical conceit designed for living, but in this context, hung discreetly as they are on the immediate left-hand wall of the space, their all-angles construction becomes a touchy-feely totem of space-age bachelor-pad retro-future chic. Given Neury's gymnastic display, Modular Shelving appears similarly interactive, like some alien hula-hoop or else the conjoined rings of some parallel universe Olympic Games.
Together, with the plain wood offset by splashes of colour – the orange and green in Neury's piece, blue in Fern's - the works combine in what might be some mini playroom designed for leisure and pleasure in a conversation that proves to be more than just talk.
Day 3 – June 13th 2011
to be titled
It's day three of This Is Now, Stuart D Fallon's week-long series of one-day-only pop-up shows of work from around ECA's 2011 degree show recurated in a purpose-built white cube tucked into a corner of the Sculpture Court, and something is in the air. As curator Kendall Koppe's selection shows, some of the same concerns, artists and works are trickling down from This Is Now's roofless ether to make connections, both with each other and with the space itself. Performativity, gymnastic displays and a sense of the works being put together to create a stage set of sorts is as to the fore here as much as in the two previous shows.
So here for the second time is Kate Edwards' untitled photo-portrait of a puckish boy wearing pasty-white stage make-up with scarlet eyes, this time set to on the space's side wall as if the first entrant in a rogues gallery of strolling players captured for posterity before moving on elsewhere. Here too on the opposite wall is Dive, Hannah Knights' looped DVD montage of slow-motion championship divers in full acrobatic, double-pike-with-a-tuck-and-a-twist flight, which relates to Sophie Neury's De Arte Gymnastica (module 1 of 2) in A Conversation, This Is Now' second show curated by Diana A Sykes. Both pieces suggest the power of flight beyond walls, a liberation that comes directly from not being contained by a roof, with the Sculpture Court's high ceiling giving the illusion of limitless possibilities.
And all 1 minute and 35 seconds of Dive are beautiful, as where something normally seen in real time in a blur of speed and motion is blessed with an elasticity that lends each choreographed movement a captivating significance that would ordinarily be missed. It's as if the final sequence of Head, the grand big-screen indulgence by manufactured 1960s boy band The Monkees, in which the fab four leap off a bridge in similarly styled slo-mo, had been stripped of its trippy psychedelic trappings and given muscle and purpose, even if Knights' divers are similarly destined to repeat themselves in Sisyphean motion, never quite getting to make a bigger splash.
The first thing you see before entering to be titled, though, is Danielle McNeill's untitled banner draped down the full length of the far wall. Divided into three strips of multi-coloured arrow-shaped blocks stacked astride each other like open books, this suggests some mediaeval shindig in waiting, in which the boy in Edwards' photograph will finally step from behind what doubles up as a makeshift stage curtain and do a turn. All we need now are the fanfares.
Day 4 – June 14th 2011
Doubling The Others
Bodies at rest and in motion are the order of the day in the fourth day of Stuart D Fallon's This Is Now blink-and-you'll-miss-em series of one-day pop-up exhibitions, which again makes connections with the three preceding shows. As curated this time out by Fallon himself, Hannah Knights' DVD, Dive, makes a speedy reappearance, albeit this time contained within a large TV monitor set on the floor at the centre of the room rather than projected onto the wall. Margaret Malcolm's untitled stainless-steel sheet is laid out before it like a welcome mat that allows images to be reflect upon it in a way that, seen from above, looks like some faraway optical illusion of an actual miniature pool. In this way, just as the blue-screen miniature model stage of Manuela De Laborde's Spectacular Studies did before it in ACT V on the first day of This Is Now, Malcolm's piece itself becomes a blank canvas to navigate around, and which is much more than mere backdrop.
The high-diving board gymnasts of Knights' piece might well have come back to their old haunts a few decades later in Thomas Adam's photograph, the first in his Russian Series. Two figures, a man and a woman, both in bathing suits, strike a pose beside the wall of a pebbled beach. Whatever lies between them is painted out as the two figures pause for breath or else seek solace in the shade. Although taken recently, Adams' picture looks like some heroic vintage homage, with the central white-painted rectangle an alien intervention or else a ghost in the machine of a primitive camera lens that captures something other than what goes on during a brief respite from another sunny day.
De Laborde herself makes a second appearance at This Is Now, albeit with something quite different from Spectacular Studies. You could be forgiven for initially mistaking Untitled (turning gold ink) for an air freshener, so discreetly is this motorised container fixed to the wall. Kitted out with a small engine designed for a disco ball, the small contraption slowly but surely revolves, churning the gold inside it in an act of old-time alchemy reinvented for the age of the blender. Just as Knights' divers never hit the ground running or otherwise, whether De Laborde's precious Aztec liquid will ever be ready enough, however, to out glitter and outshine the flat solidity of Malcolm's piece, remains to be seen in this room where the streets are paved with silver rather than gold.
Day 5 – June 15th 2011
There's sound as well as vision on day five of This Is Now, Stuart D Fallon's bite-size series of daily pop-up exhibitions, this time out curated by Laura Simpson in a fashion that the whirs and clicks of Tommy Stuart's slide-show, Sample and Hold, and the swishes and whooshes of Grace Sherrington's Euroclean create a little Steve Reich style percussive symphony. First of all, though, in keeping with previous revisitations, there is another prodigal's return in the shape of the scorched statue of the wannabe Apollo. This time out, his blue-streaked ass dominates the room just as much as previously, except here his eunuch's torso faces the door in a classicist come-on rather than turning his back on potential viewers.
On the left-hand wall, the projected slides of Sample and Hold at first glance resemble baked potatoes seen in shadow and stabbed through with forks. On closer inspection, the images are actually of small stone-like constructions collected from some retro-future shocked archaeological dig of some arid post-apocalyptic landscape where no survivors are in evidence. As an accompaniment to the more monumental structures in Stuart's main show, one can imagine a hypnotic hum on a par with the rock formations seen at the opening of Godfrey Reggio's Philip Glass soundtracked cinematic adventure, Koyaanisqatsi. The regular beat of the projector's carousel as it turns, however, suggests some kind of order beyond.
Projected onto the back wall, Euroclean follows the cyclic journey of a rack-load of suits in a dry cleaners. Only occasionally do they move, however, so at first you wonder if the image is a photograph, a still life as immoveable as the stones in Sample and Hold or Apollo's battered but unbowed torso. When the suits move off at speed on its regular circuit, however, the surprise comes from watching something that only has the disembodied shape of bodies in its fabric without anything to fill them appear to take on a life of their own. As the unknown Apollo perches naked, such smart but casual ready-to-wears could be tailor-made for him.
Day 6 – June 16th 2011
the stars sang last tuesday – Sarah Hardie
At last. After almost a week of nudges, hints and tantalising if ultimately unconsummated suggestions of performance in This Is Now, Stuart D Fallon's series of one-day pop-up shows that go up and are taken down with the stage-managed verve of a cabaret club hosting a never-ending tour of one-night stands, there is some actual flesh and blood performance itself to grab hold of. As curated by Pat Fisher, Sarah Hardie's beautifully realised and elegantly delivered song cycle, the stars sang last tuesday, is also This Is Now's first off-site show.
Beginning with a processional on the sculpture court stairs, Hardie and her ensemble of five accompanists lead both a captive audience and some bemused but willing stragglers up to the balcony, with each singer placing themselves between pillars on all four sides. With a harmonic mix of male and female voices led by Hardie, an impressionistic narrative is unveiled in which the sheer spiritual power of song becomes something transcendent.
Following the processional version of the opening piece, nobody's song for anyone, written, as with two other pieces, by Hardie with composer Fraser Wright, Hardie leads her choir with an invitational song, i'm calling, and another version of nobody's song for anyone and a spoken litany by actress Angela Hardie before closing with a version of Kurt Weill (who knew a thing or two about music theatre) and Maxwell Anderson's Lost in the Stars.
Visually, the high-ceilinged formality of the sculpture court lends elegance and weight to what is actually a very carefully staged rendition. Sonically – and again the sheer brightness of the room adds hugely to the experience – it's a gorgeously exquisite midsummer choral evensong
Meanwhile, back in This Is Now's white roofless room, a text-based print spells out the words 'but mostly they wonder if and when their anyone will hear them.' This love-lorn mantra, full of yearning and loss but tinged with hope, is at the heart of Hardie's work. As is too a digital print on the wall opposite hung beyond the space's boundary. Also called nobody's song for anyone, it pictures two people on the walls of Edinburgh Castle peering across the city skyline. The sky is dazzling, the heavens appear to have just opened, and, if you believe hard enough, angels might appear and burst into song any minute.
Day 7 – June 17th 2011
Found Face Down And Other Works
After a week of daily pop-up shows that form Stuart D Fallon's This Is Now project, things are getting more playful and braver as they reach beyond the bounds of the roofless white room that in effect houses the shows but which is by now finding it increasingly difficult to contain things. This seventh show, curated by Fallon himself in conjunction with Andrew Gannon is a more wilfully loose-knit and instinctive affair in which the works may remain as disparate near neighbours, but which nevertheless resonate with more elemental shades of sand, sea and light.
The show's title comes from Joe Skilton's digital print of a swan with its head in the water it is swimming in. Captured like this, even while the swan's head is reflected in the water's ripples, it nevertheless appears as disembodied as the headless Apollo that's taken up residence at This Is Now twice thus far. The white of the swan set against a vivid blue lends the picture depth and dimension, so it appears like a cut-out shape pasted on collage-like. It also looks a bit daft and really rather comical. When you discover that the day before the picture was taken a dead body was discovered in the same patch of water, however, the title takes on a whole new meaning.
Also face down is Sandbag, Emma O'Sullivan's small canvas bag filled with sand and placed on the floor close to the doorway. While the bag may have its tucked-up opening at the top, the arrow on the side pointing towards the floor suggests its contents are looking downwards as with Skilton's swan, who may even be burying its head in the sand. There's a cartoon effect to O'Sullivan's piece, as if it's a piece of swag nicked and then dropped by some silent movie convicts on the run.
Perhaps it is they who made off at speed, slipping through the cracks of Martha Richardson's untitled realignment of the room itself. By dislodging one of the wood panels at the back of the room and tilting it just so, a sliver of light and space can be glimpsed on either side of the wall. As well as opening things out, it becomes a spy-hole to enable things to be seen from odd angles, so tantalising glimpses of part-works can be seen from either side of the barricades. This also makes it resemble the chink in the wall from the rude mechanicals botched tale of Pyramis and Thisbe in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, with the light cast across the floorboards a hint of locked-up loathing straight out of Dostoevsky Notes From Underground.
From the outside too, one can see Et bes nos inducas in temptationem, one of two figurative works by Patrizio Belcampo that are hung outside the white space. This first, a lithograph of a man sawing the branches of a tree is a colourful depiction of something that feels quasi-biblical even as it flirts with poster art. There's something going on here too about the earth's resources, hung as it is on the wooden walls and itself made of materials similarly sourced, the image of the man in old-fashioned school text-book style blocks of colour illustrating work practices from around the world as with a Phill Niblock film is itself getting back to its roots.
Jean-Philippe, Belcampo's second piece, is also hung outside the This Is Now space, on the wall opposite the entrance. It's a portrait of a young, bearded and very serious young man that reeks of Mediterranean classicism and is perfect for a 1970s living room.
Rachel Barron's series of eight untitled posters spread around the college interior are both trailers for This Is Now as well as busy bespoke works in themselves. Awash with tiny pink triangles pointing every which way as subliminal pointers on a circuit that you have to work out for yourself, this necessitates coming back round to start all over again on a search which, as with Skelton's swan and O'Sullivan's sandbag, leads you round and round the garden path until you can begin to see the light.
Day 8 – June 18th 2011
Most Fit For Purpose
There's something very personal about the work in this eighth and penultimate edition of This Is Now, Stuart D Fallon's ongoing series of one-day pop-up exhibitions sourced from the wider realms of Edinburgh College of Art's 2011 Degree Show. Given the connections made between Fallon and other artists and curators over the last week this shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, and today's curator Francesca Nobilucci's selections similarly reflects this.
The favourite shirt culled from fashion designer Danielle McNeil's collection of vivid ready-to-wears, patterned as extravagantly as her medieval style drape shown in A Conversation on day two of This Is Now, is a case in point. The deal is that, while most of the time the shirt hangs on the wall without a body to fill it, as with the suits in Grace Sherrington's Euroclean that appeared in SIGHT-SIZE on day five of This Is Now, whenever Fallon enters the space, he must put it on. In this way he not only becomes a piece of living sculpture or a catwalk model with all eyes upon him, he at last comes into focus as being at the heart of This Is Now, a brightly-aparelled Prospero figure on his own self-created island conjuring up magic from elsewhere into his realm, making things happen. It also makes Fallon feel extremely self-conscious, as attention is attracted to something that makes Fallon look part African prince, part cowboy. All dressed up or not, this sort of notice is probably something he's going to have to get used to.
Something that also comes marked personal is Calvin Laing's self-referencing video piece, Calvin & Metro, in which he too becomes a living sculpture. Shot between two stations on a Metro train, the viewer sees only Laing's skinny-jeaned legs and feet set at a sharp and possibly impossible angle to sustain without support. As the doors close and the train speeds off, Laing sustains his position, supported either by head or hands we'll never know, so his tight-limbed stillness contrasts with the motion of the train blurring through the door windows.
With the video monitor itself perched at a squinty angle, there's something of comic turn Harry Worth's leg-raising optical illusion of levitation in a shop window on the opening credits of his vintage TV show. Just what is it, one wonders, that's keeping Laing in place? Then, once the doors close, we're off again on the same cycle, a collision of horizontal and vertical hold, getting nowhere fast.
Joe Skilton's beautifully constructed book of photographs, Modern Geometry, and its accompanying poster are as richly observed as his digital image of a swan, Found Face Down, in his last appearance in This Is Now on day seven. If Found Face Down hinted obliquely at a life and death story, Modern Geometry is a lovingly captured series of moments that add up to an entire network of inter-personal relationships. Whether taken in bedrooms, backs of cars, on living-room floors, beaches or on sunny days in parks, the images in Modern Geometry are gorgeously unselfconscious evocations of those special little moments shared with others like the fags that are lit in some of the pictures.
Tender, intimate, private and secret, there's a gang mentality to Skilton's twenty-something subjects in its warmest possible sense as they throw shapes less sharp than Laing's in Calvin & Metro and less self-conscious than Fallon sporting McNeil's shirt, or else simply huddle together for comfort. There's no arrogance or posturing on show here, only a naturalness and a sense of people being comfortable around each other as they live through a certain time before moving on to something, somewhere or someone else.
Such a beautiful evocation of a generation is as if the characters in Geoff Dyer's Brixton-set novel, The Colour of Memory or Gordon Legge's array of Falkirk and Grangemouth-dwelling John Peel obsessives in his first book, The Shoe, had been made flesh in a tome that is an entire exhibition in itself and alive with a sense of care, both by and for its subjects. The dedication at the front of Modern Geometry, 'For my friends, Thank you,' may be simple, but it's perfect.
Day 9 – June 19th 2011
This Is Now / A Grand Tour
So that's that, then, as the final day of This Is Now, Stuart D Fallon's daily pop-up showcase of works comes to a rousing, all-inclusive finale, as all the slowly-gathering performative elements developed over the past nine days burst free to create a piece of promenade theatre led by a quartet of unreliable narrators in one almighty Happening. Even better is that it runs alongside a durational piece within the roofless white cube that This Is Now's series of curators have increasingly broke out of. Today, however, Megumi Fukae's painstakingly pencilled-in series of rectangles and circles are made in full view of the world and upon the walls themselves as they reference other works housed in the This Is Now archive over the week in a feat of zenned-out concentration. Not for nothing is Fukae's in-the-moment ten-hour extravaganza on a day of taking stock and summing up blessed with the title of the overall experience.
Curated by Fallon/Lochhead, the collaborative duo of Fallon and Ailsa Lochhead, A Grand Tour is ostensibly designed to see works in ECA's 2011 Degree Show that Fallon and his phalanx of fellow curators would have liked to have been part of This Is Now, but which were simply too unwieldy or too site-specific to be moved. In actual fact, however, this becomes a fantastic excuse to play with the formal niceties and protocols of heritage industry guided tours, which, over the course of four sojourns that follow the same route, usurp and subvert those protocols in very different ways depending on which guide, or Cicerone, if you will, is in charge.
So while lecturer and long-time thorn in the side of the ECA establishment from his time as a lecturer there Nicholas Oddy uses it as an excuse to look at the dying days of the institution in a scabrously satirical fashion, Neil Mulholland re-enacts an actual tour of Glasgow School of Art undertaken by his time as a real-life tour guide there, so what at first sounds like spectacular bullshit becomes a parallel universe mirror image of things that those in the know chucklingly recognise, while those who don't seem to see the sights anyway.
Margaret Stewart's quirkily minimal derive looks to Strategy Get Arts, the now legendary 1970 showcase of German artists led by Joseph Beuys housed here, and, in its understatement, features a pre-planned but still heartfelt moment so tender and so affectionate that it sums up the criss-crossing interconnecting spirit of This Is Now perfectly. As does too our final guide, four year old Rudy Walker, who, along with his mum Jennie Temple, a couple of girly playmates and a bag of lollipops to keep a steady supply of sugar in his system, runs riot in an anarchic and distracted fashion that sees the exhibits less as untouchable artworks and more as a series of rides in a great big giant adventure playground all of his own that seems to have grown out of the mini playroom of day two's edition of This Is Now, A Conversation. Both are far more fun than Disneyland, even if they're not quite so slick.
With each tour party gathering in This Is Now's white cube, and with Fukae invariably up a ladder and working on obliviously as introductions are made, we're then led down to the basement in the College's little-used lift before being led through assorted nooks, crannies and doors with bells on en route to the works themselves. These begin with sound monument – collaboratae, Mike McCallum and This Is Now alumni Tommy Stuart's large-scale piece boxed-in affair which emits increasingly loud hums at regular intervals in what looks part chicken-shed, part altar found in the same archaeological dig as Sample and Hold, Stuart's contribution to SIGHT-SIZE on day five of This Is Now. Andrew Mason's Potatoes places a couple of thousand spuds in a large sink as water runs over them, cleaning the dirt from their skins and possibly purging their souls. Pavlos Giorgiou's dark room with fake monuments (future nostalgia) users the trappings of museum pieces in glass boxes to explore indefinite articles that could have been culled from the props room of the same sci-fi flick that Stuart's work might have been referencing earlier in the week.
The entire contents of the Intermedia room then come under scrutiny, with This Is Now's most ubiquitous exhibitor, Manuela De Laborde, given space to breathe with a series of blue-coloured mineral structures laid out on a table like geological samples (again, akin to Stuart's slide-show in Sample and Hold), but with a surprising lightness to touch that points to altogether less precious materials. Next to this are tiny video stills piled high, while on the wall, mechanical structures lined up in a row whirr into life.
Martha Richardson's work too has been shown in This Is Now, as she reconfigured the space's back wall to leave a sole slanting crack for light to pour through in Found Face Down And Other Works on day seven. Here she upends space even more, by taking all the dirt from beneath a floorboard, then placing it just so on the now replaced board, effectively leaving nothing hidden in a pile of dust a million people have unknowingly walked on, and which are chock-full of history, archaeological or otherwise. This again evokes thoughts of Dostoevsky Notes From Underground, which was the inspiration for the self-loathing lament that was A Song From Under The floorboards by post-punk troubadours, Magazine.
There's gathering dust aplenty too in the tiny stone given pride of place on a white plinth by Peter Amoore, whose method of getting here was to kick it all the way from his flat in Bruntsfield. Such quasi-autistic diligence can be seen further in his films of things being packed away with similar due care and attention to detail.
Stephanie Mann fills one half of a room with Gold Fountain, a cartoon-style array of tangled-up pink tubing pumping out gold-coloured liquid into a circular hole in the floorboards, as Mann herself stands behind a makeshift bar sporting a garish pink wig as she hands out cocktails in a possibly nutritious feat of alchemy that seems to point to De Laborde's untitled spinning contraption filled with gold ink in Doubling The others on day four of This Is Now.
As Oddy leads us off for the first tour of the day, it becomes clear that he's using The Fall of the Roman Empire as a parallel for what her describes as the decadent demise of ECA as an institution between 1980 and its death as a stand-alone hub today. Oddy delivers a puckishly withering critique of ECA which, if he ever does teach here again, might well sound like the most public resignation letter ever. Unafraid to name the names of past and present Principals, he recounts ECA's hidden history of artistic vandalism by assorted managements in an unflinching litany of finger-pointing. A work with no content here becomes a metaphor for management policy, as works are painted over and libraries closed down, while the ongoing Artexing of history in the name of so-called modernity leads to bankruptcy both financial and moral.
In contrast, Neil Mulholland plays things hilariously straight, with his tales of tenements and kissing chairs, with his subject a kind of shape-shifting fortress with baronial inclinations and a clear male/female divide in a space where it's the janitor who actually rules the school rather than the students or senior management. It's an audacious piece of detournement that scales the east-west gulf before bringing it back home to roost, hen run, kissing-seat and all.
Margaret Stewart is more low-key, opening with a simple “Come with me” as she leads her tour party out of the This Is Me space where Fukae is still working before steering them into little reconstructions of Strategy Get Arts, whereby three of the party are placed to represent a famous photograph of Beuys, Richard Demarco and “a lady journalist from the Sunday Times colour supplement.” There are tales of recycled staircases, banging doors and of how Blinky Palermo's coloured frieze on the roof of the stairwell was painted over once Strategy Get Arts had left the building, only to be reconfigured three years ago once the error of the then management's ways was realised. Significantly too, Stewart singles out the much talked of castrated Apollo that has appeared twice in This Is Now.
It's in the inter-media room, however, where the most significant moment of Stewart's tour occurs. De Laborde has been hovering in the room throughout each tour, ostensibly invigilating her works, but actually co-opted by Fallon/Lochhead as co-Cicerone. Up until now, though, De Laborde has remained silent, keeping counsel as Oddy and Mulholland wax eloquently. Yet, on entering the room with her party behind her, Stewart goes straight up to De Laborde, and, despite only meeting that morning, they give each other a pre-arranged but still heartfelt hug that suddenly, in its touchy-feely, quietly demonstrative way makes full sense of the last nine days in an instant.
That one simple gesture might well be one of Tom Skilton's photographs in Modern Geometry, which appeared in Most Fit For Purpose on day eight of This Is Now, made flesh. Stewart and De Laborde's hug becomes an unforced though not attention-seeking little performance that's about co-dependence, collaboration and making possibly life-changing connections in a fleeting little epiphany acted out in a much bigger and far more solitary drama. Once the pair separate, De Laborde gives her own tour of the Intermedia room, her torrent of rapid-fire off-the-cuff words contrasting sharply with Stewart's spaced-out epistles. 'Love Is Very Good' reads the legend on the wall of the room housing Mann's Golden Fountain. On this showing, it is so.
All of this is upstaged again however by Rudy Walker, who, kitted out in blue and red, is afflicted with a rush of stage-fright once he sees how big his audience is. Having drawn his own map of the tour, where De Laborde's wall-piece becomes what Walker calls spinning toys while Pavlos Giorgiou's fake monuments become space rockets and treasure, a distracted Walker now prefers to hand out lollipops and whoop and holler his way along the corridors than look at art.
He does have his moments, though, as when he squats down in one of the Sculpture Court corridors to observe what might well be a giant mousehole, but which he declares more resembles his “mum with one eye.” Skipping Sarah Hardie's room in favour of the interior of Connie Viney's neighbouring and lush-looking House Made of Cake, Walker at last lands in Stephanie Mann’s Gold Fountain, where he drinks the juice, holds onto his lollipop and, with his other playmates in tow, looks for all the world like a character from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who's just won the golden ticket and is eyeing up the fountain with increasingly hungry eyes.
Then, just to show he's as plugged-in to what's hip as any other curator, Walker, like Stewart, Lindsay Hanlon and Laura Simpson before him, singles out that ubiquitous bruised statue of Apollo once more. “You can see the missing willy from here!” Walker yells, clearly delighted. Then, once back in This Is Now's white cube, with Fukae still putting the finishing touches on what has become five pieces pencilled about the walls, Walker shyly hugs his mum as the applause dies down, then runs outside to play with his pals, already in another moment beyond the one he's just so carelessly left behind, This Is Now forgotten.
Commissioned by Stuart D Fallon for This Is Now, Edinburgh College of Art Degree Show 2011. Completed June 27th 2011. Images etc can be found at http://thisisnow11.blogspot.com/