Reflecting Glenfiddich, Fleming Collection, London
Friday 18 February 2011
The Scottish distiller Glenfiddich has been hosting an artists-in-residence programme since 2002. The artists have come from far and wide. Having turned up with an open mind at the distillery in the Highlands, they get to stay in a cottage on the estate for three months, and there they muse upon the nature of the place, its industry, its history, and make work – photographs, animations, sculpture, paintings, video installations. This exhibition is a selection of works from those residencies.
So do we have works here that explore the identity, landscape and even the myths of Scotland? Yes, but very obliquely. Damian Moppett from Canada has created his very own up-to-date version of some Monarch of the Glen. Mounted like a trophy head on the back wall of the ground-floor gallery, it's a knobbly-headed, ill-featured beast called The Brollachan, fashioned out of plaster, globby lumps of foam and fencing wire, and topped by a fine spray of antlers. Its vocabulary is limited to just two incomprehensible words. Many of the artists have been most interested in the materials of the place. The US artist Michael Sanzone has been delving among the old barrels in the cooperage, and from scavenged and shaped blocks of old wood of different colours and textures, he has created an abstract rectangular wooden construction called Wood Construction 6: William Grant 496. One of the most surprising works, an enormous oil painting that dominates the lower gallery, was made by a Chinese artist called Qi Xing. Ravished by the legend of a 17th-century Scottish Robin Hood called James Macpherson, he has painted a portrait of the man in full Highland regalia, sprawled full length against a mighty oak, as he serenades a dreamily docile white stag. This is sweetly melancholy faux-Romanticism in full flight, and all the more interesting and amusing for having been created by a young artist who was born in Tangshan in 1982.
One of the most enjoyable works is from a young Swede called Jan Cardell, who has made something of a name for himself as a creator of kinetic sculptures that make music. Grass Orchestra is fashioned from clusters of slender copper rods, tipped with what look like arrow heads, which rise up in shivery clumps like stands of bulrushes – or, to invoke a tad of Scottishness here, clumps of thistles. Activate a floor pedal and they begin to rub against each other, rustling and thrumming together, rhythmically, a little like the distant sound of pipes and drums. Cardell had been listening to production noises in the distillery's industrial workshops.
The most sombre piece, by Dave Dyment from Canada, is downstairs, and it takes the form of a hinged brown wooden box that stands open to reveal the deep impress of a whisky bottle. It looks so much like a coffin containing the impress of an absent body that it almost takes your breath away. The piece is a reflection upon the fact that the finest of whiskies, such is the long process of maturation, at the moment of that first delicious tipple, will always have been made by the dead.
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