Monday, 15 May 2017

Polygraphs

Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow until September 17th

Fake News alert. All is not what it seems in this group show that questions the con trick of authenticity through a series of appropriations of history as modern myth-making. Taking Hito Steyerl's seven-minute film, Abstract (2012), as its centre-piece, a much bigger picture is revealed by the show's seventeen artists, who explore notions of colonialism, slavery, the arms trade and identity politics. This in turn subverts received hand-me-down narratives dressed up as truth.

In this respect, Polygraphs questions the show's own existence within the context it sets down for itself and GOMA's perceived complicity in the yarns it spins even as it critiques them. A polygraph, after all, is a lie detector, that pulse-racing gizmo beloved of pulp crime thrillers and daytime TV quiz shows, and itself questionable in terms of reliability.

From Peter Kennard's subversion of Constable with his now classic anti-nuclear montage, Haywain with Cruise Missiles (1980), through to Scott Myles' STABILA (Black and Blue) (2009), in which exhibits from an assault case between two construction workers are reconfigured as something more ordered, first impressions count for nothing in a show which requires forensic investigation. Graham Fagen's Plans and Records (2007) dissects the slave trade by way of reggae and Robert Burns. Gerard Byrne's Loch Ness-based images put himself in the frame and in the murk of the grandest of hoaxes.

Constructions by Alasdair Gray, Ian Hamilton Finlay, David Hockney and others all offer windows onto alternative realities or else challenge existing ones. In Know Your Enemy (2005), kenardphhillips do this through a backwards-facing image of Bush and Blair walking into 10 Downing Street as a torture victim is beaten behind them, the everyday lies of those holding high office laid bare.

Abstract itself is a twin-screen creation that casts Steyerl as both protagonist and author as she attempts to excavate the clues behind her friend Andrea Wolf's death in 1998 in Kurdistan. With footage dove-tailing between the scenes of the crime in Kurdistan and outside the Berlin offices of arms manufacturers Lockheed Martin, Abstract becomes both document and eyewitness in a drama that recognises its own sense of mediation. 'The grammar of cinema follows the grammar of battle' goes one caption on an otherwise blank screen as Steyerl is led through a bombed-out inventory on the other. In terms of truth being stranger than fiction, in the case of both Abstract and Polygraphs, the truth hurts. For reals.

Scottish Art News, May 2017


ends

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