Fruitmarket Gallery

So here is an exhibition to make you feel like a loser. Its not the content, the context, the images, video, sound, robots, old interconnected detritus, books, taped voices, video projections or general haphazard bewilderment of it all, but rather its intense sensibility of breakdown, its sense of the uselessness of human beings and the brilliance of the artists in producing their archite-textures, synthetically fictionalized environments and flooded, bewildering overlapping narratives. And the fact that they’ve done it and you’ve not. It is brilliant and bitter in equal measures: it has a showiness, a knowingness of its media, its surroundings, it understands audience and their hunger for interaction, for spectacle, for experience, while rejoicing in a kind of self-satisfied disdain for the very audience it seeks to capture.

The Killing Machine 2007 is a mechanical ballet of old and new technologies that requires an audience member to initiate, to trigger: it speculates on the death row prisoner, the executioner, it speculates on “US foreign policy” and the ‘death sentence”. A loudspeaker spins into place, while robot arms “inject” an empty mechanical chair with invisible needles, this triggers a set of TVs to flicker into life, while a suddenly illuminated mirror-ball makes it all seems like your disco needs you. Meanwhile another robot plays an electric guitar with drumsticks and the ‘execution’ commences; atonal ambient music plays and electronic jabbing sounds pierce the space with a kind of sharp, camp melodrama, while the moment of death is heralded by a thunderous chord from the electric instruments. Then it stops, all going back into place, waiting for the audience to again release the red button and let the ‘killing’ commence. On second viewing when it becomes predictable it underscores the ease with which with things are dispatched, dismantled, disposed. The ‘justice’ it implies is utterly automatic, a conveyor belt of convenience, brutality and power. It is also really funny and elegant and mesmerizing, so when the full display is playing it all makes you wanna clap your hands and shout “yeehaa”, like mechanical toys and funky cartoon robots or like the devil dolls with silver sharpened teeth in the motion picture Barbarella, just a little sickening, a little disgusting and alluring at the same time, and also like the children’s toys a bit infantile and therefore, because we dismiss childish things, a bit redundant.

Entered by a clapped-out old door is a second room-based installation, Dark Pool 1995, this time full of random arrangements of multiple materials, lots of sounds, clothes, lights, dust, chairs and massively over-sized speakers. This is a room of dirt and calamity. It is terribly difficult to negotiate and really escape is your only option. It does have a real voyeuristic quality and the audience when I was there was tangibly in love with the sensory vileness of the space, in love with the squalor. This space has no meaning rather than the experience it generates for itself, the sensory realm of “being there” is its accomplishment. A series of voices run a conversation, glimpses of secret narratives, a word in your ear, implied by the chair with the oversized speakers, but nonetheless, despite there being so much there, there* really is nothing to think about, nothing to ‘see’. (Along the road from the Fruitmarket Gallery is one of those haunted house tourist attractions relating the gruesome stories of Edinburgh’s past: this installation would work equally well there. *And while we are on it “there is no there there”)

The real heart of this six installation show is the Opera for a Small Room, 2005, the other installations like the house made from books, or the slide show looking at a road trip across the US or the video projection in a triangular box The Muriel Lake Incident, 1999 ( a cinema in a box with audience member eating popcorn) are B-Movies to this the Main Attraction: the large gallery space downstairs is installed with a shed, filled with chandeliers, robots, record players and thousands of vinyl records. It interweaves, commingles these soundtracks with numerous narratives, an aria and opera singer, the distant tones of a train engines across a vast empty mid-west prairie, thunder and rain, voices and mechanics. A laboratory for sound and distance, it reeks of a Jason Rhoades installation, all clean and white and misogynistic, gone all wrong and dusty, all weather-beaten and corrupted, all diseased and inelegant. The viewer is shamed to watch through peepholes and cracks and windows, watching shadows and ghosts, voices from elsewhere and snippets from cinema, and the west and romance and dreams. Here lies the true poetry that tries to come through the remainder of the show, this work is not dazzling nor in love with itself or dismissive. It is sudden and unexpected. It is a house of shame, a brilliant conception and it makes you really feel like a loser, the sounds playing out, the cries and whispers, the looping taped sounds, the archives of songs and charms and lights and mechanically synchronised perfections, the absence of the human intervention, the absence of human occupation: the needlessness, ultimately, even of your presence.