Monday, 10 September 2012

Ian Hamilton Finlay – Twilight Remembers, Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh

The Ingleby Gallery cropped up on my radar while in Edinburgh.  There had been twitter references and word of mouth ones during an Artlink event discussing conceptual art.  Others in Edinburgh had mentioned the gallery to me “en passant”.   

I had a rough idea of the location but checked up by phone beforehand.  Having established The Black Bull as a “landmark”, I found the gallery and was greeted by David Mackay, who told me about the works of Ian Hamilton Finlay.

David also told me about the work of the Ingleby gallery and that recently BBC Radio 3 had recorded some pieces for The Essay, which is usually broadcast at 2245 after Nightwaves, outside the BBC Proms season.  Alison Watt and Claire Barclay were among those who had contributed to the series.     

I was invited to try out a seven minute audiovisual projection, which used an ironing board as an aircraft carrier with still shots of model planes and a steam iron (I think).   I found that I could make out quite a lot of the black and white stills.  The accompanying music sounded rather like Holst’s Mars from the Planet Suite but wasn’t; it had the percussion beat of 5/4 time.  There were also sections of keyboard music.
We then moved on to the pieces of wood sculpture called Japanese Stacks.  In fact, I had noted these in my field of vision on entering the gallery and had initially thought I had entered a bank of laptops in a call-centre!  The notes for the exhibition refer to “What looks, at first glance, like a series of elegant abstract sculptures are in fact scale models of the funnels (or chimney stacks) of different Japanese World War II war ships.”

David has sent me an exhibition image of this bank of Japanese funnels from a slightly different angle. 

Ian Hamilton Finlay
Japanese Stacks, 1978-1979
wood (6 parts), with John R Thorpe
dimensions vary

David produced a pair of white gloves and I was invited to touch the stacks of the Japanese warships.  These pieces reminded me of World War II films of the war in the Pacific, where submarines would attack warships and there were usually periscope shots of the funnels and smoke stacks and ways of identifying particular vessels in a battle formation.  

Akatsuki from Japanese Stacks:

Chokai from Japanese Stacks:

Above three photographs courtesy of Ian Hamilton Finlay Estate and Ingleby Gallery
photographs by John Mckenzie
David then took me into the Print Room.  Several prints stood out and one in particular which I liked – with Patrick Caulfield. 

Ian Hamilton Finlay
Marine, 1968
screenprint, with Patrick Caulfield 
edition of 250
51 x 64.2 cm (print size)

The print refers to fishing vessel registration marks with vessels having home ports in Peterhead (PD), Aberdeen (A) and Kirkkaldy (KY).  At first glance, these have been described to me as “lemons in a bowl”, but I had discussed with David the rather nerdy/geeky tendency of mine to remember car registration plates in Germany (kennzeichen) and one of my memories as a child was noting the trawler registration port letters.  For Edinburgh, the port of Leith was LH.  On the west coast, Ullapool was UL and Stornoway was SY.  The picture shows the following registration marks: KY124, PD216, A115 and KY97. 
At this point I was introduced to Andrew, who took me to the upstairs exhibition which is mainly concerned with Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta ‘garden’ being used as a backdrop to works of IHF.  The photographs are large, wall-sized and on PVC.  I still had my white gloves on and could feel the film of the PVC and was about to launch into some PVC chemistry when I learnt that the photographer was Robin Gillanders.  I had been to school with Robin Gillanders in the 1960s and Robin in fact took our form photograph in 1969. 

One of the photographs has a stone urn, which I was able to handle.  This urn was in front of the photograph of the urn in the landscape.  I was also able to handle inscriptions and I could just about read off one of the longer passages which Ian Hamilton Finlay had inscribed (quoted below). 

I was also intrigued to hear about the Little Sparta location near Dunsyre in Lanarkshire.  My father had taken me fishing there as a child – didn’t catch anything – and I can remember driving my parents through the area about 20 years ago, trying to find the spot by a bridge where we had fished. 

The reference to Virgil in the bricks laid at an angle in the exhibition – I was careful with the cane – linked in with a search for Arcadia – this had cropped up with the Lusieri exhibition Expanding Horizons in the National Galleries at the Mound. 

There is a Scottish charity to maintain the gardens of Little Sparta ( .  The gardens are near Dunsyre, off the A702 and between Dolphinton and Biggar at the end of the Pentland Hills range, which run forming a diagnol on the map of Scotland between the Forth and Clyde valleys.  This occurred to me when the notes were read by the screenreader from a PDF file which David had sent me.  The relevant section is as follows:

The garden stile offers a typically playful Finlay pun. It is a stile in the De Stijl style, recalling the words of Theo van Doesburg “Do you know, gentlemen, what a city is like? A city is horizontal tension and vertical tension. Nothing else”. The words and form of the stile echo van Doesburg’s sense of form and function, but not, of course, his delight in the dynamism of the diagonal which caused a split with his fellow modernist Piet Mondrian. Finlay appropriates the Dutchman’s sentence and rewords it for the countryside “Do you know, gentlemen, what a stile is like? A stile is a horizontal tension and a vertical tension. Nothing else”.

This was a very pleasant exhibition covering several aspects of Ian Hamilton Finlay.  Many thanks to David and Andrew for taking me round the Ingelby Gallery and for sending me exhibition notes and photographs used in this post.  The exhibition runs at the Ingelby Gallery ( until 27th October 2012.  Much of his work will be on show at an exhibition in Tate Britain later this year.  (