This fine exhibition, on themes of Empire, is housed at Wall Projects II in the Old Ropeworks off Bents Road in Montrose. The venue itself is a work unique, including an upper room (image below) and the very long and narrow rope works on the ground floor, disused and part derelict and now open in places to sun and rain.
Dark in parts, this exhibition: it makes you think of how ordinary people become complicit in dire trades and livings, in buying and selling people, in slavery on a massive, organised scale.
Here’s the earner: sail to european ports with some good local Scottish produce like salmon, textiles and things to smoke; offload the cargo – but an empty ship costs money – so off down to Africa to fill up with slaves; take them to the Americas, leave them there to be sold and worked; then bring back tobacco. Scottish enterprise! So tells the audio exhibit Considered Cargo by Carolyn Scott.
The dehumanising of peoples considered little more than zoological specimens continues in the utterly mesmerising four-minute video Shadow Show by Kyra Clegg (an image captured above by K Squire).
Other artists tell of the whale trade, the driving to near extinction of these great, warm blooded, social mammals; the realisation that they individually suffer. Linen, whale oil, jute, slaughter, wealth inextricably linked.
It’s not all dark – there is lightness and humour among the twenty artists exhibiting here, but threads recur of claim and exploitation.
Take the insidious link between beverage and narcotic, tea and opium, Camellia sinensis and Papaver somniferum, a leaf-stimulent drunk by most people in Britain and the poppy-head-latex source of the heroin trade. Those Europeans who like tea, should perhaps know its origins. But no blame to the tea plant, and no blame to the poppy for it also gave us one of the best painkillers.
At the farthest end of the rope works is an impenetrable mass of ivy roots, hanging down, and from them (or to them if you look the other way) stretches the orange to yellow to grey to black complex curve of coloured, filled balloons in Meltwater by Juliana Capes. It’s the seasons played out.
We spent some hours at Empire. Sorry not to mention all the artists exhibiting, but go and see for yourselves. One of the very best.
Empire by the Society of Scottish Artists, at Wall Projects II, 13 Bents Road, Montrose, Angus DD10 8QA. Various dates to 29 August 2015. Check the web site : www.wallprojectsltd.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Society of Scottish Artists web page on Empire has many photographs of the exhibits and notes about the artists: http://www.s-s-a.org/empire-at-wall-projects/