Hunterian Art Gallery
Neil Clements: Electric Eye
07.04.17 – 08.10.17
Neil Clements’s work often echoes the strategies of formalist abstract art. He alludes to these methods not only to explore and question their currency today, but also to introduce new cultural contexts for understanding them. A central goal of his practice is to produce a speculative and subjective interpretation of art history, one where several different narratives overlap and complicate one another. This exhibition extends the artist’s interest in this project through an installation of works that evoke the furnishings of the gallery spaces in which Modernist paintings were displayed during the 1960s.
‘Electric Eye’ includes a series of new paintings, collectively titled Testbeds. These bring together on the same picture plane the geometric motifs of ‘post-painterly’ abstraction— particularly works made by the American artist Kenneth Noland (1924-2010) between 1962 and 1963—and an adapted version of the ‘Skunk Works’ logo employed by aerospace company Lockheed Martin. While the original Skunk Works department was set up to facilitate the covert development of high-speed military aircraft, the term’s use has expanded in recent years to include a range of other subcultural activities that lay claim to a similar level of secrecy and technological sophistication.
The paintings are accompanied by three small-scale sculptures that repurpose vintage standing ashtrays as listening devices. Configured to be capable of recording nearby conversations, these sculptures present the gallery as a space of potential surveillance, as opposed to a privileged site of aesthetic contemplation. They resonate in part with practices adopted during the Cold War, but also with the ways in which various forms of data are gathered and utilised today.
In the Hunterian’s courtyard Clements has installed Homemade Aesthetics (atemporal skies), a larger sculptural work modelled on the ‘chembuster,’ an esoteric device developed in relation to the theories of psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957). Chembusters are supposedly able to disperse atmospheric formations, and versions of these devices are produced by conspiracy theorists, who suspect state-sponsored toxic ‘chemtrails’ pollute our skies. This work also bears an uncanny resemblance to Bunga 45, a 1967 sculpture by Noland’s peer Jules Olitski, and alludes to a number of documented links between Modernist art and experimental psychiatry.
Neil Clements, b.1982, Belfast. Lives and works in Glasgow.