As part of a curatorial screening programme in 2014-15, I took on the task of subtitling three Soviet-era Russian language films, for which no English versions had been produced. Using a subtitling software, every single line of dialogue was broken down into what was essentially a very large spreadsheet. Alongside the text to appear onscreen, you were required to input how long this should appear for the viewer, which the software then colour-coded: red meant that you were asking the audience to read too quickly, then various shades of pink in-between this and white, meaning that the viewer had ample time to catch the text. This experience returned to my mind when watching the filmworks of Róisín Gallagher, graduating from the Contemporary Art Practice Masters programme. Set against a black backdrop, her film ‘Bad English’ sees a flurry of Scots language unfurl as the subtitles try to keep up with the fast-paced rhythm of the anecdote taking centre-stage – watching it with the sound off makes this even clearer.
Upon watching her work, I feel a synergy, firstly in the recognition taking place over time at intervals throughout childhood of particular words: I most vividly remember during my undergraduate realising that foosty was Scots and not in wide use elsewhere. That the artists’ own experience of primary school spelling exercises forms the basis of this videowork evidences just how formational such encounters can be. A second familiarity is the confusion of clumsily learning in which way to speak where, whilst others act as if you should intrinsically know these boundaries. The artists’ statement describes Gallagher’s intention to invoke reflection upon Scots as a language warranting further attention, to critically reflect on our relationship to us as individuals and a nation, and to consider its absence from mainstream education at present.
The political context surrounding these aims is noteworthy – whilst Scots is recognised by the Scottish Government and whilst our current Makar often makes use of Scots words, the urgency to do so seems less than Gaelic – whilst this is likely related to both the smaller number of Gaelic speakers and the class connotations of Scots. ‘Bad English’ is frank, honest, pertinent work, which avoids the pitfalls of the ‘grit and glamour’ representation of Scottish working-class culture and places centrefold language and dialects not often heard in the corridors of art school.
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Hannah Lim’s degree show work, graduating from the BA (Hons) Sculpture programme, distinctively responding to the history of Chinoiserie as a European interpretation and market force across the decorative arts, architecture and garden design amongst other artforms which held royal favour and general popularity. The artist’s description of her work interrogating her shared heritage between Singapore and the UK brings to mind the seminal exhibition ‘Looking Both Ways’ curated by The Museum for African Art NY and the work of fellow ECA-graduate Mina Heydari-Waite’s, whose work has also explored methods of (re)production, taste and value. Lim’s work responds to the recurring motifs of these historical objects, working with silhouettes, lighting, shadows, a bright colour palette, and seeming to cast/play off the asymmetry characteristic of Chinoiserie.
Using digital production methods – the burn of laser cutting actively present – intricate patterns take on a new scale and measurable physical exhibition space, the detailed nature of the design at odds with the everyday nature of the materials carved into, from MDF, acrylic, to glass and fabric. In assessing the colonial backdrop to the style and the trade and exploration which underpinned it, a methodology almost akin to historiography is at play to which her ‘Snuff Bottles’ series seem the most direct reference. Her sculptures are not to be read as a table, room partition, etc – their function in some cases literally turned upside down, on their head – and recent digital compositions take this a step further, with objects rendered 3D yet floating as a flat coloured background. There is a theatrical quality to the work – the artist discusses the appearance of anthropomorphic elements in her work as a purposeful strategy to avoid her sculptures appearing static, allowing them to seem “tentacle-like” as if they could suddenly start a crabwalk left or right.