Photo Journal of Events and Activities in Scotland

Dundee Contemporary Arts

Dundee Contemporary Arts

As a photographer and in that context “an artist”, I respect copyright and would never intend to knowingly copy or replicate the work or original ideas of others. However in the course of photographing in a wide variety of situations there are inevitably works of art in public places. Rather than preventing photography or other artistic representations of these places, public artworks should compliment or enhance the space they occupy and are often fitting subjects within the context of their surroundings for new art.

Photo of sculpture at Dundee Contemporary Arts

So while I would photograph sculptures or other types of art within the context of public spaces, I would never consider photographing other artists material as the prime subject in galleries, exhibitions or “private” places without their express permission.

Upon entering Dundee Contemporary Arts exhibition space of “Brank & Heckle” by Ruth Ewan with a camera around my neck, I was approached and obliged to sign a form saying something along the lines that I would not represent any association with Dundee Contemporary Arts. I wasn’t given a copy of the form so not sure if that is an “enforceable contract” nor do I recall what exactly I agreed to do / not to do. But anyway, let me state quite clearly for the record, I have no connection, formal or informal nor any other association with Dundee Contemporary Arts. I guess in a perverse way I do actually now have a formal connection with Dundee Contemporary Arts as they have a form with my signature on it to say I wont represent myself as having any connection with them or whatever it was. A sort of self-contradictory arrangement but some lofty power-monger or jobs-worth somewhere must think it was a good idea.

At the outset I had no intention of taking any images in the venue that might include other artist’s “work” but as I was obliged to sign a form, I took it as permission to do just that and made use of the opportunity.

I have a wide taste in art and enjoy all sorts. In many cases I can appreciate the worth of an artist’s work even when I don’t necessarily like it. In this case I need to say that the architecture of the Exhibition Centre, the structure, layout and features of the building were more interesting than the exhibits on display that day. Each to their own, I guess, but “not my cup of tea”.

“Brank & Heckle”

At least the building provided interesting light for the large areas of empty space. I wasn’t entirely sure whether the tomato plants (or were they cannabis?) were part of the exhibit or just the staff making good use of the open floor.

The figure, reminiscent of a charismatic worshipper, albeit au natural, was possibly the most interesting aspect of the installation.

Photo of Dundee Contemporary Arts

The design of the building and its use of a relatively narrow opening inviting people to enter an exciting, stylish building that opens out into the larger exhibition areas behind is more clever and appealing.

Photo of Dundee Contemporary Arts building

I’m sorry if I come across as harsh, but I really don’t “get it”. I hope public funds are not being wasted on this stuff. It’s of the nature and quality of what I’d expect from an amateur crafts group or lower school. Almost a nice view through to the Tay Rail Bridge though. The pretty colours on the faux plant might have made coloured patterns on the wall behind had the light been in the right place.

Photo of Dundee Contemporary Arts

Now these wash basins in the gents toilets are  a worthwhile installation! Curves, patterns, shapes, perspective, repeating geometries. Very arty.

Photo of Dundee Contemporary Arts facilities

If art is intended to provoke a reaction then perhaps this installation did work, even if not perhaps as the artist intended but it provoked me to write this piece.

In the spirit of “Brank & Heckle”, this is my protest. My moment to have my say. To heckle.

An exhibition about silence and protest was disrupted by noise from some kids playing near a jukebox. I suppose that could be a metaphor in itself that endorses the artist’s original concept. People don’t like disruptive noise.

Maybe it was nothing to do with the exhibit, but perhaps the “form signing” episode detailed above was something to do with protest, accidental or otherwise. Was it?

Having watched the video, which you can see below, much of the concept of the installation is clearer but the implementation is either poor or would be more appropriate in a museum as a collection of objects with a theme and a story than “art”.

Kudos to the artist for thinking through the connections and associations with Dundee and its influence on history and language in Scotland.

To me art involves some sort of creative skill and I didn’t see that here, apart from the sculpture.

I’ve got a collection of tomato plants that could be arranged on a floor. I’m sure I could find some old crates from somewhere to sit them on.

It may be ancient history to the youthful artist but I’ve still got a vinyl record collection and could stick an array of album sleeves on a wall in ten minutes. Since I never listen to them and as CDs and MP3s have taken over, I’ve been tempted to bin the records but if I could make a few grand by sticking them on a wall I could be persuaded.

The cartoon drawings may (or may not) deliberately relate to the Dundee connection of DC Thompson with The Broons, Oor Wullie, Dennis the Menace, et al, but really are not of the same calibre, more like graffiti.

I’m aware that by publishing this anyone could read it, not least the artist, who from the video seems like a very nice person. It is never my intention to hurt or offend, although I do know criticism is easy to give and difficult to take. Since I don’t really get the likes of Tracey Emin and her “unmade bed”, perhaps everything I’ve said here should be taken as an immense backhanded compliment to Ruth Ewan.

Perhaps therein is the nub. Maybe I just don’t “get” contemporary art.

To me Tracey Emin’s famous “unmade bed” installation is not “art”. It is perhaps a social statement but there is no skill in creating it. Anyone could have done it but normally wouldn’t as they don’t see any art in it. There is no pleasure or appreciation in viewing it. Actually most people probably do produce an unmade bed every night but most don’t have the gall to exhibit it.

Now that I’ve seen the video, conceptually “Brank & Heckle” has its merits. But I often think that a joke which needs to be explained so that the listener can understand it, is not actually a joke in the end. If you “got it” without explanation it may be funny but an explanation invariably kills the humour. So too with art.

Perhaps if Ruth Ewan is making her fortune and becoming famous through her art the joke is on me. And if the tax payer is funding it in any way then the joke is on them too, in my opinion.

I have exercised my right to protest and heckle. That’s free speech.

Enjoy the video.

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All the photographs were taken by West Lothian photographer Norman Young and are copyright ©. Please respect copyright.


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