I’m not sure why it hadn’t occurred to me that the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery would be open again – it re-opened with Level 3 so is comfortably in the swing of things now we’re in Level 2 – but it wasn’t until I saw them tweet apologetically that they weren’t accepting bookings from Moray and Glasgow postcodes that it dawned on me that I could in fact go and spend my afternoon looking at new art. I went with no expectations, having intentionally not looked up what exhibition they had on before going, to avoid either building up hope and being disappointed, or putting myself off. There was an art exhibition on, that I could go to in person, that alone was worth it. I would be pleased to see even mediocre art at this point. Handily I need not have worried, it was definitely not an afternoon of mediocre art.
Meet, Make, Collaborate is the touring exhibition that resulted from Applied Arts Scotland’s international exchange programme, and involves collaborations between artists from Canada, Mexico, Scotland and Thailand. The first part of the exchange took place pre-COVID so the artists were able to meet and collaborate in person, and continued in the virtual space throughout the intervening plague year.
First up, I should say that all the pieces were gorgeous, skilfully made objects, I’ve picked my favourites to talk about, but only really because otherwise this review would be 3000 words long. There wasn’t a rubbish piece amongst them, even the pieces that didn’t speak to me personally were skilfully executed and dealt with interesting ideas.
In the ante-room to the main Art Gallery space there’s a silent short film playing that would be easy to walk past, but it is definitely worth waiting for it to start again and watching it through. In passing it all seems a bit abstract, but when viewed from the start it provides a charming insight into the collaborative process of the artists that, for me, added much needed context and set me up to be look positively on the works in the main exhibition.
Mengnan Qu and Susan O’Brien’s collaboration ‘New Silk Road Medal’ is a series of small but perfectly formed pieces that are lovely in and of themselves even before you know about the layers of symbolism that have been worked into them. Much like the Silk Road from which the piece takes it’s name, the medals represent the clash and melding of very different cultures and art practices and the sharing of technology/techniques. Collaboration and exchange, but hopefully with less cultural imperialism in either direction.
My favourite piece was another Canadian/Scottish collaboration, this time between Carol Sinclair (left wing) and Rebecca Hannon (right wing), called Birds of Passage. With each feather being made of different materials from or representing the artists respective locations, chosen and processed with sustainability in mind. (It probably helps that I was primed to like this one by the introductory film, having seen the artists’ delight in each other’s creations as they held up ‘feathers’ to show each other on a video call.) It feels like a joyful collaboration, as though the artists had found a shared vision and had a great deal of fun realising it together, even if they couldn’t be in the same place.
As a sound person I was delighted by the renderings of recordings of Zapotec – an indigenous language from Oaxaca, Mexico – into woven banners. At a casual glance they look like traditional craft work, every day and over looked, but when you read the plaque and look again much more embedded information and meaning is revealed. The transformation of the analogue elements of a child’s voice, bird songs or the sounds of the weaving machines themselves into digital recordings back into the ‘analogue’ art of weaving – especially given the important role of weaving patterns in the evolution of computer programming – really made the piece stand out for me. I was reminded of the sonographs that were included in the Natural Selection exhibition from 2019. Or perhaps those little visualisation screens that graphic equalisers had in the 90s. Like so many pieces in the exhibition, the close you looked, the more layers of meaning were revealed.
Cocooned from the Elements is a collaboration between Lynne Hocking-Mennie (from North East Scotland) and Prach Niyomkar (from North East Thailand), due to their in person collaboration period coinciding with Storm Ciara their work is heavy influenced by ideas of sustainability – the dyes were created from indigo and storm-scavenged lichen – and the impact of climate change. The use of a parasol and an umbrella as the base for each of their pieces makes an effective analogue for the predicted move to the extremes of weather – the very hot and the very wet. While the idea of a cocoon as a place of both safety and transformation is both hopeful and ominous.
Meet Make Collaborate is running at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery until the 19th of June.