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As part of my Nablopomo writing, I’d planned to write an overview of some of the art exhibitions that had been running over the Autumn locally. I ran out of time before I could get round to writing them up but that’s no reason not to finish it off and share it even if it no longer counts towards the challenge. 

Three way collage of ‘the painted line’ exhibit sign and two art billboards.


NOTICE

Over the Summer Circus Artspace ran a project where three artists were assigned to work with three different local organisations to make a piece of art together that would be displayed on billboards throughout Inverness during October. The billboard that loomed largest in my imagination of this exhibition was the collaboration between Frieda Ford and Highland Pride, partly because it was sited on the lawn at Eden Court so I saw it several times a week, whenever I went to see a film, or grab a coffee, or if I took a short cut through their ground on the way home from work. But also because I had a wider sense of it as part of the collaborating organisation’s wider engagement work – there were consultations and surveys flying about on social media, and they had a big in person awareness event to mark the billboard’s launch. (Which makes sense, while the other organisations deal with a fixed and circumscribed community, an organisation like Highland Pride are going to particularly want to engage with the members of the community that they don’t know about for this kind of project.) Even the medium of digital collage feels particularly suited to a collaborative project. The billboard I saw the next most regularly was the one I had the least context for, the collaboration between ¡P/HONK and SNAP (Special Needs Action Project), which I wondered about every time I passed it as walked up or down the Market Brae steps. Their page on the Circus website says that they specialise in getting their audience out of their shells and creating an environment for other people to be themselves and have fun, which seems an ideal outlook for working with young people with additional needs – their billboard feels very much like a facilitation project, of being a conduit for the kids’ artistic expression. My favourite was always going to be Jacqueline Briggs collaboration with HiMRA (Highland Migrant and Refugee Action), which seems unfair to the other artists as I already love her work. For an artist as young as she is, she only graduated from art school in 2016, she already has a quite distinct art style of her own, that I find both really lovely and arresting. So of course that was the one I had to go out of my way to make sure I saw, despite being in arguably the most prominent position just outside the WASP Academy building at Midmills in Crown. This billboard was a product of workshops with the Syrian community in Dingwall – about culture and food and architecture – and it feels very much like a product of translation and interpretation. 

I find the whole concept of using billboards as an art sharing platform particularly interesting, using a medium of commerce and mass media to disseminate public art to an audience that might otherwise never engage with it. (I like the idea of using the now ubiquitous nature of QR code to provide context for those whose curiosity has been piqued, though I’d be interested in seeing what the engagement levels were for the different billboards.) I do think though that whatever the individual artist strengths of the three billboards, they work more effectively seen together, comparing and contrasting their approaches and methods of collaboration. 

Highland Threads

I stumbled across this online exhibition completely by chance – ironically when checking the opening hours for the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery – and clicked through expecting a small exhibition. However this was clearly not a quick and dirty, ‘let’s put something together quickly during lockdown so we can say we did something online’ effort.  

Apparently this launched back in April, which makes sense, it’s a lovely companion piece to the actual museums, a tempting teaser to lure visitors back out to museums once they open again. It feels as though someone had an in person exhibition all planned out and then put real care and effort into how they could go about making it an online exhibition, and more than that have it really benefit from being online rather than in person.

The exhibition features fourteen objects, one each from fourteen different Highland museums, each one acting as a flag ship for it’s home museum. Each item’s homepage features a short but informative description of the item and it’s historical and geographical context, along with a slide show of still images, some archive audio recordings and a little film of the item of clothing, displayed in it’s best light. The films in particular are worth a watch in fullscreen, for although they’re really just a catwalk spin of the items of clothing in question, they allow for a close up examination of all the little details and embellishments of the item. A close up that you could never get of an item in a glass case or pinned to a display board. For example the Ullapool museum’s item is a yachting jumper, it’s navy blue with an obscure combination of letters embroidered neatly on the chest. It looks like a thousand other sturdy, mass machine knitted jumpers of its era worn by thousands of men of my parent’s and grandparents generation in jobs requiring manual labour. (The predecessor of the now ubiquitous polyester sweatshirt.) I’d likely have walked right past it in a physical exhibit, but here, it’s given a real chance to shine, placed in it’s historical context, with fascinating photographs, interviews and other historical documents that tell the intriguing role played by the men of Lochbroom in crewing the racing yachts of the interwar period. Up close and lovingly lit to it’s best advantage, the apparently plain navy reveals itself to have waves woven into the pattern, a little detail like the names of the yachts embroidered on them, that indicates that this was work wear that the crew could be proud to wear. The unassuming jumper reveals an insight into the importance of this work to the local economy and to the racing yacht culture. Allowing it to hold it’s own among the rather fancier items on display from other museums. 

The Printed Line

This is the current exhibition at Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, it’s a selection of printed line art works from the Arts Council Collection from across the 20th Century that’s been on a somewhat extended tour of the UK – I was amused that it had just two stops in Scotland one in the museum closest to me, and the other in the local museum of my childhood – as coronavirus caused a bunch of it’s expected displays to be cancelled or rescheduled. The exhibition looks at how various artists have used varying printing techniques to exploit the potential of the printed line. 

There are some lovely examples of how just a few straight lines, carefully chosen and positioned, can become really effective studies in perspective, that sometimes seem to change with the position of the viewer. However, my favourite part was the accompanying video from the Arts Council illustrating the various techniques used to produce the different works on show, wood cuts, etching, dry point, screen printing, lithography. (There’s an artist I follow on social media whose working videos of her linocut technique I find very soothing, but I’d never really linked it in my head to ‘wood cuts’ that people talked about in old books, that they might exist on a ) It was particularly interesting to see how the different techniques impacted on the styles of the artists using them – the way lithography opened up the opportunity to artists who normally worked in charcoal or wax crayons to make multiple identical copies of their work without having to give up their preferred artistic medium. 

The screen printing demonstration stirred up fond memories of designing and printing t-shirts with a silk screen in second year art. I’d all but forgotten the unit until I saw the video, paging through books of fonts and magazines, cutting and tracing until I had a template that I was satisfied with and then printing a two colour t-shirt. It was such a fun project, since then I’ve preferred collage and stencils to freehand drawing, finding it easier to get what I see in my mind’s eye down on paper that way. Perhaps that’s why I prefer sound design – with all it’s assembling, cutting and amending of found or collected elements – to composition which feels much more as if it needs to come from whole cloth.