Comfort, Volume at The Art Gallery, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Aberdeen, 20 January – 19 February 2006.

Review first published, ‘a-n’, March 2006.

John O’Connell, ‘Home Sweet Home’, 2005

Volume is a Glasgow-based artists’ collective formed in 2003 by Fine Art Photography graduates from Glasgow School of Art. Late last year, founders Barbara Wilson, Betty Meyer, Celine McIlmunn, John O’Connell, Kate Jo and Kate V Robertson, were joined by Russell McGovern: all seven have contributed to ‘Comfort’.

Grampian Hospitals Art Trust (GHAT) has been doing good things since 1985, meeting its mission “to enhance the environment of healthcare buildings through contemporary Scottish art”. Of course, GHAT’s very existence is proof that a hospital can be an acutely discomfiting environment. While the weaker pieces in this exhibition half-bake general ideas about comfort with a nutrition-less ready-mix of ‘home’ and ‘bed’ infused with saccharine autobiography, it is that weird simultaneity of uneasiness and restfulness, quintessential to any hospital, which is powerfully invoked by the stronger pieces on show.

In her video, Ceiling, Celine McIlmunn looks not at the bed and its cosseting warmth, but away from it. We too are hypnotised by subtle but unclassifiable reflections on the wall above her bedroom window, restful and disconcerting, movingly both. Similarly, Betty Meyer is not seduced by the bed’s interior comfort. A brilliantly bland trio of photographs, Landscapes makes poetic the juncture of bed and Anaglypta, reminding us of staring hard at nothing to kill time in uncomfortable situations. Kate Jo’s photographs of doctored medical apparatus, S.O.S. (Spoonful of Sugar), does very well with be-ribboned scissors and en-pearled stethoscope to present “the quality of distress and mending merging into a single expression” – that ever-present duality central to the neverending business of repairing human bodies.

Credit must be given to those members of Volume who left the comfort zone of lens-based work for this project, but more credit should be given this time to those who built on established practice to offer imaginative insight.

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