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Scotsman - Published Date: 07 April 2009
Art reviews: Preparatory Ways | George Henry Longly: Mass Damper

A fascinating adjunct to the finished article, or a scrappy substitute for art, ponders Susan Mansfield

Many artists today will tell you they are as interested in the process of their work as any final product. In fact, this is nothing new. The process of making has long held a fascination all its own, and even some great artists showed surprising disregard for their finished product, especially once they had been paid for it. The difference is they wouldn't have put their process in an exhibition.

Times have changed. There is a branch of contemporary art intent on laying bare the secrets of artistic production. In the most extreme cases, research material and works in progress become a kind of substitute for finished work.

Happily, this is not the case in Preparatory Ways at Transmission, though this is a comparative show exploring the different approaches of four emerging artists. A day of talks and screenings on 19 April will open this up further.

The approaches differ widely. Sophie Mackfall is interested in a tactile, instinctive engagement with the colours and textures of paint, while Ralo Mayer immerses himself in research, ideas and literature. Yet the works are linked together by a common thread: echoes of the past and imaginings of the future.

There is a notion of imagined worlds about Mackfall's vigorous abstract paintings, though the lexicon of material on which she draws is the most opaque of the four. Karen Cunningham also has an eye to the retro-futuristic in her painted sculpture, and her references to 1960s Soviet cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova.

Yuen Fong Ling continues his long-term engagement with the theme of the Life Class, a traditional discipline perceived on the verge of being considered passé among today's conceptualists. His work here is a sculpture made from easels and found drawing boards, the detritus of one life class or many, with their paint splashes and graffiti, a metaphor perhaps for how the tradition lingers in the artistic consciousness, even as they question its usefulness.

Ralo Mayer's obsessively researched film is focused on Biosphere 2, a self-contained ecosystem built in vast greenhouses in Arizona in which eight scientists lived for two years in the early 1990s. Partly due to the messy collapse of the organisation behind it, it has come to be regarded as an expression of a failed utopia.

Mayer's lecture-documentary uses this as springboard for a journey into past and future, via poetry and science-fiction as much as science. It feels in need of greater editing, but supplies a near-constant stream of engaging ideas. The clay mosaic on the floor was created collaboratively by a group of people who discussed the ideas as they worked, a further extension of the artist's process.

George Henry Longly, showing at Dundee's Generator Projects, is also profoundly interested in process. This show, which is something of a coup for the artist-run space, is the last stop on a tour which began in Sheffield in 2007, and for each venue Longly has reconfigured it, adding new elements and adapting the others.

It's not hard to see why this would be of interest to an artist, though audiences, who are unlikely to see more than one of the shows, will have to rely on photographs and documentation for any sense of comparison.

Judging by these, Generator Projects is perhaps the most radical manifestation of Mass Damper. Longly's objects come from the lexicon of minimalism: strip lights, a laminated mirror, spars of wood attached to the walls, a rolled column of vinyl. But here, his ideas seems to leak out from these and seep into the walls themselves. His painted concrete stains add a sense of decay and fragility into the very fabric of the building.

A "mass damper" is a structural feature in architecture which absorbs shocks and maintains stability. Longly seeks this kind of equilibrium in the placing of his objects, then deliberately subverts it. A picture is laid on the floor, the vinyl is beginning to unroll. A film is shown in one room, while its soundtrack is played in another. Everything is in a state of flux. Longly may be interested in balance, but, like a see-saw, once the balance has been upset things start to get a lot more interesting.


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