Nuanced and arresting marriage of text and image
This article is from 2010.
One of the most immediately arresting images of the Edinburgh Art Festival, photographer Norman McBeath’s black and white of a sculpture of Apollo swathed in smothering polythene, stands to represent a unique collaboration between this artist and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon. Classical and contemporary, incidental and loaded, this strong image characterises the works of both artists in this successful pairing. The only photograph to take a direct cue from the lines of the Irish poet, this communion of word and image is otherwise based on indirect allusion – a series of revelatory connections, lovingly referred to by Muldoon as ‘grunts, grimaces and grins’ of recognition.
Essentially an exploded publication, Plan B strangely works as an exhibition. Situated at the Scottish Poetry Library, McBeath’s fine-grained prints are hung and supported at eye-level atop various bookshelves and tables, while Muldoon’s verse sits underneath, beside or nearby. It’s a bizarre and cluttered mish mash, but it clicks. The exhibition provokes a studious contemplation of image, while inspiring a slippery approach to word, thus reversing the attention that would normally be given to a book of poetry. In doing so, this exhibition, which some may argue is simply a lavish presentation by Enitharmon Press, actually goes further in subverting the language of artistic display than many other exhibitions for whom subversion is a key concern, not a peripheral effect.
A theme familiar to poet and photographer, life’s blunders and contingencies form a loose basis for the works in this collection. Feelings of alienation and disjuncture come to the fore in McBeath’s images of overgrown ruins and misplaced classical relics, whilst Muldoon’s wide-ranging tales present a searching range of artistic references which adds a sense of longing to the overall effect. Evincing a more personal tone than seen before, a couple of Muldoon’s works deal with lost love and a dry humour slips in. Juxtaposing stark, lonely image ‘Settee’ with poem ‘The Water Cooler’, which chronicles an affair soured by workplace ‘introverts and carpoolers’ typifies the resonant relationship found here. Although seemingly straightforward, this is a nuanced and unendingly interesting exhibition.
Scottish Poetry Library, 557 2876, until 4 Sep (not Sun), free.