Birds, Rats and The Dark

by Simon Buckley


What happens to the hole when the cheese is gone?”
Bertolt Brecht


For Govan Project Space (GPS) Beth Shapeero and Fraser Taylor will exhibit collaborative works together for the first time. The exhibition will comprise of one large site-responsive installation. The back wall of the gallery, which ascends to approximately forty feet, will be clad in a grid of a 120 (A2) screen prints. Presiding over an otherwise empty gallery space, the installation will appear as a vast ensemble of colour, shape, line and form; a jostling composition pushing and pulling the visitor around the space (by their eyes and their feet!). It will operate as a loquacious babble of visual chatter in which every component and moment will play a vital compositional role, yet shall serve no (sensible) informational function. Already, there’s a hint of the absurd (and we’ve only just begun!)

As the viewer approaches the vertical mass, the details will begin to emerge. Colour avenues, lines and paths, weighted corners, sinking lumps, protruding bumps, syncopated crashes and plateaued quiet spots will all start to be exposed in the vertical landscape. After exploring the grid for a little while, it will become clear that there’s both a great diversity and remarkable continuity apparent in the aesthetic language. The individual prints could be described as non-representational insofar as they’re not clearly depicting or representing anything that I obviously recognise form the real world. The temptation will therefore be to describe them as ‘abstract’. But I’m not sure about this however. There’s more to them than this. It seems a bit like a trap they’re laying out for us. There’s something in the way these lines are weighted, the urgency with which these and forms move in, around and over each other that harbours something of the blueprint – a plan of some sort? I don’t know. I can’t work it out yet. Give me a minute. I’ll get back to you.

Sometimes the shapes will allude to the third dimension, sometimes they’re completely flat. Sometimes the trace of the artists hand is the dominant visual feature and sometimes a malfunction from the printing process seems to be the first thing I’m drawn to. I could carry on like this. In fact, I think I could find any number of influences, stories, directions and ideas to follow within the rich density of the installation (as I am sure many a viewer will be quite happy doing). And that would be fine. However the installation’s almost Brechtian disinterest in any linear notion of temporal or automated narrative encourages me not to pursue these (undeniably enjoyable) methods of engagement for too long. Instead I find myself starting to consider questions of process and authorship. These works seem to be about themselves more than anything that they point towards through their ‘content’. They seem to be about how they’ve come to exist. And that’s fine. That’s more than enough.

The result is work(s) whose final condition is somewhat accidental, yet is also precisely determined by the velocity of the artist’s relationships with both each other and the printing press. And here we see the collaboration harnessing a tension between limitation and liberation. Once freed from any apparent notions of planning, formal representation, content or theme, the works are able to truly investigate (themselves), experiment, play and even fail. This freedom is primarily born in their interest in producing technically ‘bad’ prints, in embracing chance, spontaneity, failure as creative devices.

But I think we can go a step further. I think in virtue of working with each other, further elements of uncertainty are allowed to enter into the(ir) production process (Ah ha! Maybe this is where I was getting my blueprint sensation from! This is a blueprint of itself!) It is clear that there is a profound sense of understanding and shared aesthetic sensibility between them, but what’s much more exciting (and much less common!) is to see the development of works where understanding and sensitivity results in challenges, pushes, intensity and a resounding embrace of the unknown.

In conversation they explain how they often pass a print back and forth during the various stages of the printing process, executing the different stages separately, setting up an almost like a conveyor belt like system. The result then is product of which neither of them has fully determined, or can be totally sure of.  It is a process that allows them to enjoy their materials and lets the exploration of the (intrinsic and extrinsic/relational) limits determine their trajectory. It seems to operate almost as a process of purposeful play.

And then there is ‘the excitement’ (again their words) of lifting up the press to see what they’ve created… to see if they’ve got a good one. Or ever better, a bad one! Or EVEN better, one which doesn’t seem to permit such dogmatic ascriptions. Indeed, the second stage of their production seems to be necessarily severe – a complex editorial process of post-rationalisation and formal categorisation. How they select which pieces are to be shown is (I assume) once again a process led by the works themselves, except this time through a reflective and calculated assessment of the semantic and syntactic properties of the pieces. The rhythm between the individual units sets up an evasive set of relationships, simultaneously alluding directly to the presence of a value system of some sort informing the editorial process, yet never allowing this system -whatever it may be- to be fully exposed.