Edinburgh-based artist and sculptor creates special commission in Regent Road's Burns Monument
This article is from 2016.
Even before we arrive at the art, there's some joy to be had in discovering the location for Edinburgh-based artist and sculptor Jonathan Owen's specially created commission for this year's Edinburgh Art Festival. The Burns Monument on Regent Road is a structure which will be superficially familiar to many who pass that way, a colonnaded 19th-century stone cylinder with Arthur's Seat and the Scottish Parliament as its backdrop. The literature here gives us further explanation that the building was built to house John Flaxman's statue of Robert Burns in 1831, but that the nearby gasworks' effect on the marble saw the statue removed in 1839; it now lives in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
For this month, the monument is open once again to the public. Inside, the delicately eerie figure of Owen's untitled new work, a 19th-century statue of a sylph whose torso and shoulders have been reconfigured into chain links by the artist, and whose head is now bowed at an unnatural angle. She's female, of course. The piece calls to mind not only the impermanence of even the sturdiest materials with which society chooses to remember its icons, but the predominance of men within that memorialisation, particularly in Edinburgh. There are currently as many statues to animals as there are to women in the city, which is a head-shaking statistic.
At his gallery exhibition within the new Ingleby (actually the old building on Carlton Terrace once more), Owen makes a similar feature of absence. Around the room hang nine small black and white images, each one a still from a classic film (including High Noon and The Man With the Golden Arm) but with the central figure lightly erased to create a ghostly, featureless landscape. As with the bust visible in this room, a non-gendered but possibly female figure with a featureless ball for a face, the sense of these works is of what has been forgotten or ignored, rather than expensively remembered.
Ingleby Gallery and Burns Monument, Edinburgh, until 28 Aug, free.