Print The Legend: The Myth Of The West, The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh


Cowboy myths just keep rollin' on

For the Victorians it was the "exotic" East, as the late Edward Said pointed out in Orientalism, which revealed how fiction so often seems preferable to fact, and how we have a need to construct a mythological place on which to project our secret dreams and fantasies.

And so with the Wild West, argues Print the Legend: The myth of the West. That, too, was just as much a construct and the Western a celluloid vision of a prelapsarian playground where men were men and women knew their place. This idealisation, argues the curator, Patricia Bickers, goes back to Bishop Berkeley's 18th-century imperialist musings, when he claimed that, from Europe, "Westward the course of empire takes its way". The visionary American poet Walt Whitman also spoke of America's "manifest destiny", writing "for these states tend inland, and towards the Western sea, and I will also" (though he never travelled further west than the Mississippi.)

The Wild West has continued to exert a powerful influence both as image and metaphor on the American psyche and on Europeans who have never visited the continent, but grew up with cowboys riding across their Sunday-afternoon TVs.

How many of us remember the mythic heroes from our youths such as The Lone Ranger with his sidekick, Tonto, or the strong silent Raw Hide, who just kept those wagons rollin' rollin' rollin'? But how does all this work as an exhibition and, as with so many ideas-led shows, is the theory more interesting than the event?

In John Ford's late Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the editor of the local paper proclaims "when the legend becomes fact, print the legend". It is this line that gives the show its title. Longing and desire meld in Isaac Julien's three-screen projection about two gay cowboys meeting in a cattle market. This draws on the homoerotic backdrop that colours so many Westerns where the "true" relationships – as in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – are between men.

Adam Chodzko's photographic diptych also plays with fact and fantasy by placing hoardings describing a north London car park and Flagstaff, Arizona in their opposite locations and Peter Granser's ersatz "cowboys" never look more than their Teutonic, role-playing selves located among neat suburban German streets.

In Gillian Wearing's video we, the viewers, watch Western enthusiasts as they sit drinking and watching themselves acting a "shoot out" in the Hayward Gallery.

The white screen sited on waste ground opposite the gallery appears to be a blank canvas – on to which we might project anything – until the sun goes down over Edinburgh and an image of John Wayne comes up. Slowed to one frame every 23 minutes and running 24 hours a day, the length of Douglas Gordon's work corresponds in real time to the five-year search that is the subject of John Ford's classic 1956 western The Searchers. Images of longing weave through other works, such as Salla Tykka's adolescent rite of passage choreographed to the swelling score of Ennio Morricone's music from Once Upon a Time in the West, while Mike Nelson's underground scarlet cavern of desire, hidden like something illicit in the basement, references Clint Eastwood "painting the town red" in High Plains Drifter.

Simon Patterson's hand-painted installation that reflects shades of Kodak grey takes its structure from the shoot-out in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but unless you knew that it wouldn't make a lot of sense; Cornelia Parker's Embryo Firearms: Colt 45 guns in the earliest stages of production, is redolent of the West's violent past.

So does the show work? Well such heavy conceptual underpinnings are always tricky, but it does emphasise the myth of the American West as a land fit for heroes, a myth that seems to be as potent and as politically and culturally charged today as ever.

To 4 May (0131-225 2383)

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power