Fruitmarket Gallery

Marijke Van Warmerdam
‘First Drop’
Admission free.

Critics of an ostensibly Marxist persuasion perceive the retreat of artists to the aesthetic as a negation of the salient political reality in which we live. Marijke Van Warmerdam’s exhibition ‘First Drop’ is reflective of this unabashed trend, yet with its rich cinematic textures and glorious visuality this is something to both welcome and celebrate. Walking into the exhibition that includes photography, sculpture and film is initially disorientating and its most salient feature is that there is little to engage with beyond the visual. Perhaps this avoidance of the political constitutes a polemic in itself. Sensory rather than cerebral the exhibition invites the viewer to succumb to the visual spectacle that tentatively unfolds and one that immerses into a delightful formalistic experience. The exhibition blurb informs us that Warmerdam’s work is ‘concerned essentially with movement, endlessly back and forth, between polar opposites’. This is exactly what occurs in the first work, entitled ‘Dream Machine’ 2006, a short looped film. It presents a sharply focused glass of water placed against of softly focused grey screen. The purely visual narrative ensues with the introduction of milk droplets that meander and undulate, plume and disperse. The camera moves closer and closer detaching the scene from its initial context, bringing it to the point of organic abstraction and the effect is beautiful. Another work, equally successful ‘Stirring In The Distance’ 2004, simply a film with a window and a cup situated on the corner of the table. Curiously enough it has the potential to be a cinematic surrealist tableaux, especially with the ambiguity of the undefined precipitation. Is it rain or snow? Is it genuine or is it a contrivance of the artist? A hand abruptly appears and then swiftly moves out of the frame, just to stir the tea in the cup, disturbs the continuity of the piece. The work breaks down expectations and asks the viewer to enjoy its simple compositional structure and perceive beauty in the banal, albeit with a wry injection of the absurd.

Another film ‘Wake Up’ 2006, shows a flowery meadow flanked by two gentle hillocks. Again the viewer is lulled into a sense of security with the grainy cinematic image that is duly disrupted with a randomly emerging cascade of water. However the photographs within the exhibition such as ‘Under Water’ 2006, despite their obvious connection to the films, fail to evoke the genuine sense of wonder brought on by their cinematic counterparts. Yet this does not belie the success of the exhibition.

Indeed, the fantastic strength of this exhibition is that the works genuinely mesmerise and discombobulate. Visually rather critically engaged, the complete aestheticism of the work is justified with the creation of visual anomalies and eyes watering fluidity. Warmerdam works have sensitivity and a calculated use of contrast and the exhibition seems to evoke in microcosm the subtle nuances of perception. This makes the ‘First Drop’ exhibition a worthwhile deviation from the plethora of theatrical and other performance based attractions on offer in Edinburgh this month.

Independent contemporary art critic, based in London. Contact: [email protected]