NOW | Charles Avery, Aurelian Froment, Anya Gallaccio, Roger Hiorns, Peles Empire, Zineb Sedira
Fifth instalment in the series of contemporary art exhibitions is centred on a major survey of work by Anya Gallaccio
First among equals in this fifth instalment of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art's NOW series – which, in six parts with six artists in each, explores the work of well-known contemporary visual artists, particularly those associated with Scotland – is Anya Gallaccio. The Paisley-born sometime Turner Prize nominee's work fills four rooms of the show, and bears a particularly striking quality which ensures it's bound to be photographed and shared around by visitors.
In which case, it feels only fair to give prominent space to those showing alongside her first of all, for each of the well-curated sets of work here offers an unusual view of what might be possible in a gallery environment. The common theme, we are told, is their 'shared interest in the transformation of materials', a rather vague hook which nevertheless offers something different behind every door.
In the hall of the gallery wing where NOW is situated, Peles Empire (the German artists Katharina Stover and Barbara Wolff) have created 'Flat Moods', a new piece which is all around us; apparently taken from detritus associated with this gallery, they have turned photographic images into floor-to-ceiling wallpaper coverings and printed Jesmonite panel reliefs which have a transformative effect on the viewer's sense of the dimensions in the space, and give a new perspective upon what it is to 'view' something in a gallery environment.
The accompanying text recognises Zineb Sedira as a French-born Algerian living in England, and makes clear that a theme of identity exists in her work. Her photographs, however, bear an almost abstract visual sensibility, prints of silos, warehouses and patches of ground which bear the traces of the sugar industry, alongside a boat's anchor and propeller cast in pure sugar. Each is gorgeous and enticing to look at, but also mounts an uncomfortable juxtaposition between the relative ease of transporting goods internationally compared to the passage of human beings.
There's a mathematical rigidity to Charles Avery's piece, an extension of his Islanders series, which places a work of film and sculpture on top of a uniform carpet of six-sided tiles, a whirring old projector showing fluttering imaginary 'insects' swirling in uniform patterns against the cage-like shadow of a cube frame displayed on a plinth before the wall. It's a complex piece, even somewhat fiddly in its appearance, but its play with being both a three-dimensional and a two-dimensional work at the same time is curious. Furthermore, a sense becomes clear after watching it for a few minutes of the implied regularity of instinctive, cultural and even algorithmic behaviour.
French-born, Edinburgh-based Aurelien Froment's room is atmospheric in semi-darkness, yet the juxtaposition of two discrete pieces of work jars slightly. On one side, twenty metres of rope has been tangled, arranged and knotted on the wall, with separate loops dyed different, neon-effect colours to create the effect that these are separate pieces of cord.
Apocalypse, meanwhile, is a moving image record of the 14th century Apocalypse Tapestry of Angers (the town in which Froment was born) juxtaposed with a recorded interpretation of and commentary upon the Book of Revelation – the source material for the tapestry – written by Canadian poet Steven McCaffery. This pairing within the piece is evocative, although the contrast within the room means each work threatens to overpower the other.
With no context, Roger Hiorns' 'sculptures' and 'paintings' seem like some form of beautiful scam, an arrangement of obsolete items – a jet engine, an x-ray machine, a park bench – placed on the ground, and lightly paint-smeared chunks of board which appear as though they've been cut from the wall of a house in mid-redecoration and hung on the wall. Context and deeper investigation is everything, however; the sculptural pieces are only fully 'activated' as part of a performance, with a naked young man and a naked flame juxtaposed alongside them, and the paintings are smeared, somewhat alarmingly, with the brain matter of cows.
In many ways each piece works if you take it as it comes, as a monument to the residual artefacts of progress, but to perceive them all with the intended organic qualities is to feel a deeper resonance about the impermanence of flesh and technology. Each of these preceding rooms offers something unusual and stimulating, yet each feels like only a starter bite next to Gallaccio's main course.
Her work takes in fearsome, mirror-effect slabs of obsidian mounted on the wall and a delicate screen of the same material; a room full of plinths venerating the melted down ceramic remains of a past work, alongside abstract paintings using minerals dug from the soil of the United States of America; and a hanging arrangement of gerbera daisies and – most strikingly – a carpet made from the heads of hundreds, if not thousands, of red roses, which will doubtless wilt and corrode as the exhibition goes on. Again, the sense is of impermanence, of the transience of art and human intent, but of a celebration of what can be constructed and loved in the moment.
NOW | Charles Avery, Aurelian Froment, Anya Gallaccio, Roger Hiorns, Peles Empire, Zineb Sedira is at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, until Sun 22 Sep.