Sound ideas: Comedians, musicians and writers have been turning empty compact disc boxes into miniature works of art. Iain Gale sizes them up

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The Independent Culture
It's the ultimate art collection for the small-is-beautiful Nineties. Four hundred original works so compact you can fit them all into one suitcase. Although only five inches square, the works display as astonishing a variety of styles and techniques as any full-scale collection. Witty and didactic, figurative and abstract, this miniature museum is the brainchild of an Edinburgh gallery which, in an inspired exercise in fund raising, has asked hundreds of artists, writers and performers to create works of art using empty compact disc boxes. 'It's a ready-made frame,' says gallery director Cindy Sughrue, 'and it can also open up enabling the artist to make sculpture. Our chairman had contacts in the music business and we got the boxes for 10 pence each.'

While many of the boxes are the work of established artists such as Will Maclean, Ian Hughes and Robert Maclaurin, others are by art students and some of the most memorable are the creations of musicians, comedians and writers.

Predictably, many of the exhibits have a Scottish theme, notably Annie Galaise's Looking for the Beast of Loch Ness and and Alan Ramsay's Elvis - Viva Lasswade whose ginger-haired, freckle-faced Presley is a tribute to the proliferation of Elvis impersonators in Lowland Scotland. As one might expect, for many of the artists the material itself suggested a musical connection. 'There is a certain amount of play on the CD format,' says Sughrue. 'Some celebrate the passing of the final record'. Examples of this genre are Eddie Farrell's Compacted Disc and Gordon Grahame's An End to the Vinyl Question, both of which feature smashed LPs.

The most distinguished musical reference is surely the box created by Sir Yehudi Menuhin in which the violinist has drawn in gold ink over two photographs of himself as young prodigy and mature maestro. Apart from such obvious musical associations, the CD boxes themselves have also generated creative ideas through their formal qualities.

For her Zuleika, Sarah Munro has transformed a box into a fish tank full of water, complete with coloured stones and plastic pond weed (but no fish). The transparency of the boxes has also inspired artists to experiment with light effects - lighting designer Kevin Shaw has made his box into a wall-mounted candle lantern. Such practicality is also evident in Katya Plate's Refillable Condom Disc. 'Very useful for the handbag,' says Sughrue, and possibly even a comment on the zeitgeist. 'We've had fewer condom pieces than last year. Then we almost needed a condom corner. This year it's belly buttons.' On cue she produces a box entitled The Year of the Belly Button. The most emphatic statement on the theme is Michael Jones' Navel Fluff Examiner. 'It's nicer than it sounds,' says Sughrue. 'He's sandwiched three microscope slides between the two sides of the case. And there's a lever that moves up and down the side and examines each of them with a magnifying glass. Actually the samples look more like the sort of stuff you'd find between your toes.'

The sort of stuff you'd expect Scottish street philosopher Rab C Nesbitt to recognise. And sure enough, Glasgow's finest is here. Nesbitt's creator, actor Gregor Fisher, has cut up a photograph of himself in character and put the pieces in a CD box. 'The idea is that you buy the box, put the pieces together and on the reverse, receive a hidden secret message from Rab. We hope that someone will pay loads of money for it.'

Another comic piece, a cartoon, has come from comedian Arnold Brown. Sometimes though the humour is less obvious as with artist Dee Rimbaud whose box bears the simple title This is Worth a Million Pounds. While the artist is quite entitled to value his own work so highly, on last year's showing the average price of the boxes when auctioned on 27 November, will be pounds 15. Not bad for an original work of art.

'CD2', The Collective Gallery, 22-28 Cockburn St, Edinburgh (031-220 1260)

(Photographs omitted)

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