BEIRUT: Strips of black vinyl tape meticulously placed on white panels create a dizzying optical illusion. The floor seems to undulate beneath viewers’ gaze as they assess the proportions of the Ottoman-era entrance hall. A site-specific installation by Scottish artist Jim Lambie, “The Strokes (Black & White)” has temporarily transformed the former Abdallah Bustros Palace, now home to The Metropolitan Art Society, into a psychedelic wonderland.
The gallery’s latest exhibition, “That Petrol Emotion,” also features work by four other Glasgow-based artists – Martin Boyce, Victoria Morton, Scott Myles and Michael Wilkinson. The group show has been organized and curated by The Modern Institute, which was founded in Glasgow in 1998 as a production and research gallery aiming to bring international artists to Scotland and promote local artists abroad.
Each artist has been assigned a gallery. Lambie’s installation pieces occupy the main hallway, the palace’s largest space by far. Lambie works as a musician and DJ as well as a visual artist, and his work references music and sound, both overtly and implicitly. The striking vinyl floor covering, whose pattern has been tailored to pause and resume on either side of the decorative metal grating that flanks the hall, evokes oscillating sound waves.
Scattered at intervals across the space are five works from the artist’s “Sonic Reducer” series – old LP covers encased in concrete blocks, their colorful spines protruding to form abstract patterns.
Found objects, an integral facet of Lambie’s practice, are used in much of the work on show. In “Straight No Chaser,” he has coated old potato sacks in shiny acrylic paint, hanging them atop one another to create a layered accumulation of rough oblongs.
A nominee for the 2005 Turner Prize, the artist has arranged the pieces in such a way that they come together to form a coherent whole. A steampunk-esque sculpture, consisting of mismatched mirrors suspended from the ceiling on a contraption resembling a many-jointed mechanical arm, captures ever-shifting reflections of the floor art.
Mirrors are also used in “Metal Box,” a 3-D wall-mounted work made of nine panels of polished aluminum. Each reflective square is adorned with metal corners that curl like petals. Intended to evoke the peeling edges of ad posters, the piece produces a dizzying effect akin to looking through a kaleidoscope.
The works of Michael Wilkinson also employ mirrors. The Merseyside-born artist is concerned with themes of revolution and movements for change, from the May 1968 demonstrations in Paris to the British punk scene and its gradual incorporation into the mainstream. Two works from his 97-piece series “The Wall” reference Pink Floyd’s album cover. Wilkinson has painted white bricks onto a series of square mirrors, removing one at a time in seemingly random patterns until, in the final work in the series, the whole mirror is revealed.
In the center of the room hangs an untitled work, a tangled mass of oily VHS tape that looms like a sci-fi sea monster. Wilkinson has produced a number of these installations, inspired by reams of tape he found hanging from trees in Afghanistan. The Taliban had gutted the tape and hung it, streamer-like, as a warning against the evils of pictures and music, creating a tension between aesthetics and ideology that fasciated the artist.
Victoria Morton’s abstract paintings are inspired by land- and cityscapes in Scotland and Italy, where she spends half the year. Surprisingly modern among this thoroughly contemporary work, Morton’s paintings are given an installation feel by the hand-made dresses she exhibits alongside them. Two of these hang limp from metal stands, conjuring up the human figures she effaces from her paintings.
Pieces by Turner Prize winner Martin Boyce have an industrial tone. Inspired by four angular concrete tree sculptures that were produced for a 1925 exhibition in Paris, Boyce’s work revisits the four-sided shapes of the sculptures’ “leaves.” His fascination with these asymmetrical quad-rilaterals has led him to develop a unique alphabet, one with which he adorns many of the works in “That Petrol Emotion.” Reminiscent of Phoenician script, its runic lines accentuate the two parts of a large wall-mounted diptych created from steel, aluminium and paint. “Out of the sun” is written on one half; “Into this shadow,” on the other.
The artist’s practice often explores what becomes of objects that no longer serve their original purpose. Here, he has appropriated an old French library table and placed it in the center of the room. The galvanized steel frame of the heavy piece of furniture echoes the patterns found throughout the artist’s body of work, while a phrase carved on the desktop marks the piece as his own.
The final room houses work by Scott Myles. The least cohesive exhibit, it is also one of the most interesting, consisting of multiple series of screen-prints, two wall-mounted sculptures and an installation piece made from perspex, wood and dead snails.
A 24-print series “Stabila (Black and Blue)” is not displayed as well as it might be. The room’s dimensions have required the curators to hang it in erratically sized sections on multiple walls. It remains one of the most powerful works on show, however. Consisting of police photographs that catalogue the injuries inflicted on a man who was beaten to death with a spirit level on a construction site, it gradually deepens from a rich blue to black, obscuring the victim’s wounds.
“That Petrol Emotion” is a substantial, nicely-curated show. The ultra-contemporary work might sit more naturally in a white cube-style space than the ornate, carpeted rooms of an Ottoman-era Beirut villa, but the exhibition provides an enjoyable opportunity for local audiences to discover work by some of Scotland’s most talented artists.
“That Petrol Emotion” is up at The Metropolitan Art Society in Ashrafieh until April 27. For more information please visit www.masbeirut.com.