Writing: Max Hunter
Photography: Madoc Brophy (Instagram: @artistjeans)
Whitespace is well named. This little gem set back a few blocks from the bustle of Nicholson Street has a way of inviting light in, and directing it to all the right places. On a dark, empty Edinburgh street its big windows serve to multiply and expand what might otherwise be a cramped space. For the week after Friday 13th March it played host to ‘Autonomy’, an exhibition curated by Olivia Jo seeking to highlight female autonomy. The exhibition masterfully combined a variety of different messages and artistic techniques within the same umbrella. Olivia Jo admits that the theme’s strength lies largely in the diversity on show within it: “It’s been like herding cats.” The organisers and artists are also to be commended, obviously, for putting on this exhibition at a time of global economic meltdown.
The visitor’s attention was first drawn to Hannah Grist’s ‘Poles Apart’ installation (Instagram @hannah_grist_art). There was a strange congruity to this twisted assemblage of tubes, metal and ‘unwanted objects’ that contorted and curled from the ceiling down to the floor. It dominated the space, and to an extent set the tone for the pieces surrounding it. The tone that it set was one of anxiety, displacement and awkwardness: these were recurring features of the pieces in this exhibition. Some things won’t bend. They won’t be made malleable. Grist’s installation was defiant in its filling up of the space. It seemed to be saying: you need to step around me.
Two pieces especially seemed to be voicing an environmental argument of some kind. Isi William’s piece ‘control’ was an ode to lichen and fungus, and she had also played around with space in a thought-provoking way (@isi.williams.art). This piece seemed to be contesting façades, and asking what lies beneath the surface of appearances. The expanse of Portobello beach was given a dark, brooding expression in Rose Raine Sutherland’s ‘Portobello II’ (@roseraineart). The piece was framed as a response to the “deterioration of the anthropocene”, and the encroachment of air pollution and impurity. Here a glimmer of future hope was conditioned by the immediate presence of a foreboding, impenetrable black mass of clouds. She’d used oil to give us a sense of intrinsic continuity between the sea and sky.
Ela Ertan’s oil on canvas piece bore a similar sense of grandeur; ‘Rust Storm’ made me feel suspended (@elaertanart). She seemed to have made time malleable, slowed it down and paused it; refracting it. Ophélie Napoli’s ‘Plastic Paradise’ was a lesson in absurdity, a kind of sea-side shrine (@0phez). Personally, this was the installation that I found hardest to understand, though I found it impressive in its audacity. Mia Takemoto’s piece was an ode to the domestic ritual of eating; aiming for an engaging Western-Asian fusion of styles, she used egg tempura and ink to shine a spotlight on this macrocosm of family life. I was struck by the clarity of individuals contrasted with the soft murkiness of their backgrounds (@mtakemoto.art).
Dani Rothmann’s sculptural work ‘Shelf’ was elevated to the right of the doorway; along with Grist’s installation it served as a kind of welcome to entrants. She had wrought two human figures in metal; the human figure was here liberated from the constraint of being portrayed in painting. The figures seemed defiant in their messiness, refusing to fit meekly into categories or conventional form (@littlemetalmann).
Lucy Fradley’s ‘Painting in Light’ met with my photographer’s approval: “She’s definitely worked out how to direct your attention to where she wants it” (@lucyfradleyphotography). She had used common-place items to show us scenes of domesticity that seemed equally to represent power in solitude. This seemed to have similarities with Emma Lake’s ‘Benediction Body Scrub’: with a sound installation and a poem framed with photography, this piece evoked a sense of isolation, entrapment a certain lingering sense of desolation (@emmalake.xyz). Feelings, I imagine, that have become more relevant to us all in recent weeks.
A mythological cast of characters found haunting expression in Amelia Morgan’s lino prints (@ameliamorgan_paintymcpaintface). Claiming inspiration from the Scottish landscapes, these pieces seemed to oddly combine a rather pleasant use of colouring with figures that seemed wrought of dark, powerful emotion. The sheer imagination of these prints impressed me. ‘There is Pride in Being Tender’ was Olivia Jo’s own contribution (@oliviajo_studio), dwelling on the need to allow ourselves to feel pain. Drawing inspiration from the Women’s Art Movement, the guttural, unflinching nature of her self-portraiture felt intensely political.
This was a message reflected in some way in all of these pieces. The exhibition as a whole seemed to pose a discourse on deviation and on defiant difference. I’m glad that I could see this before the world was confined indoors.