Laura Edbrook, ‘The Copyist | Sky blue and yellow’
The Changing Room, Stirling, 11 August – 6 October 2012
So, it’s a Saturday afternoon, and we’ve been at Stirling Castle on a family day trip. It’s totally mobbed up there – enough of a throng to match many an uprising. Cosmopolitan masses are treated not to boiling oil but tidy-pricey parking; countless, super-attentive staff; carefully choreographed period pageantry; artful and loyal audio-visual educational material; obligatory uniformly distinctive cut-above caféware; three shops for the giving of somethingshiny back to heritage; and the unique sound of Scottish English as only voiced by the Equityesque professionals of touristy enterprise and Holyrood. All together, then, that’s been a hyperbolic but normative bout of historicocultural infotainment in Shcoddland.
Coming down, we call in at the Tolbooth – Stirling’s venue for music and the arts. It’s still a Saturday afternoon. It’s empty. Approaching the desk, we’re asked if we’re here just to pick someone up. Baffled, we stick our necks out with – ‘What’s on?’ ‘There’s a ceilidh on tonight if that’s of any interest.’ ‘Do you not have an art exhibition on?’ ‘Oh, yes, that’s by…that’s on the first floor.’ We’re down now.
We’re up again. On the first floor, Glasgow-based eca MFA graduate and doctoral candidate in Creative Writing at Glasgow University, Laura Edbrook stages an inscrutable little show for Tolbooth-hosted but and ben gallery, The Changing Room. In Room One, a wall-mounted speaker gives us Edbrook’s authentic-accent reading of snippets of seemingly sententious text. This is the sound of ‘Voice a’ – the voice of the ‘Writer as Protagonist as Sock Puppet One as Italo Calvino as Anthony Perkins as Alfred Hitchcock’s Norman Bates’. This work is There are many kinds of transmissions between people, 2012. Below the speaker on the floor of Room One there sits silently an odd little tasselled mat, fabricated from woven wool, He sits with his authors, 2012.
Room Two gives us another voice, ‘Voice b’ – the voice of the ‘Reader as Subject as Sock Puppet Two as Don Delillo’s nameless Anonymity character as Marion Crane as Alfred Hitchcock’s Janet Leigh as Monica Vitti as Michelangelo Antonioni’s Guiliana’. This is part of the eponymous The Copyist; Sky blue and yellow, 2012, a two-channel DVD which plays on a sizeable free-standing screen in the writer’s Room. The screening is Edbrook’s 18-minute edit of a scene in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Red Desert, 1964. In this videowork we see bestockinged feet stretched out toes-a-pointing towards glowing embers in a fireplace. The filmic excerpt, following Douglas Gordon as Edbrook acknowledges, is slowed down to concentrate the poetic experience, and to good effect.
The conceptual basis of the show is the ever-presence of existing stuff underneath, alongside and over and above stuff presented as new stuff, which in turn becomes readily reusable existing stuff – repeat until the sun burns out, because we can’t do anything else. The interwovenness of cultural stuff is Edbrook’s specific concern (and that cultural stuff is indeed often woolly – each strand of cultural precedent often rendered indistinct by the beguiling shape of the mat-as-sum-total of the woven concatenations). This central idea of interwovenness is vehicled by reference to Italo Calvino’s notion (or was it Gadamer’s, or was it…) of the reader and the writer, with Edbrook quite rightly implying the relevance of chicken and egg to this demarcation. For Calvino, technically the reader is one who receives text and language, and the writer is one who tests the application and potential of the received components of discourse. The sentient individual occupies both Changing Room Rooms, as it were, and some kind of dialectical movement of sorts is sort of effected: writing begets critical reading which begets further writing, the action of which is more simultaneous than chapter by chapter, an idea the exhibition successfully embodies.
A student of writing, Edbrook makes much in her work of the perhaps unavoidable intertextuality of the Novel, but there is a slight twist to that method in this show. For The Copyist, Don Delillo is the writer that Edbrook reads to write, but Delillo’s own borrowed origin in this case is a film. I discover in the exhibition leaflet that Delillo’s 2010 book Point Omega found its genesis in Douglas Gordon’s 24-Hour Psycho, a work that Delillo was moved to write about after seeing it in the New York Museum of Modern Art. Edbrook emulates the driver, this time writing its application into Antonioni’s stuff, and another chain of connections is written for others to read and to write from. Where does ownership rest Edbrook’s work asks?
But that conceptual basis is a familiar one to the platforms and modes of production of contemporary art, and anyway, I can’t get the experience of Stirling Castle out of my head. Not exactly intertextuality in any accurate sense, but the interloping of my castle experience into the experience of The Changing Room, and the strangely effective writing of The Copyist into my read experience of the castle is bringing about the kind of poetic construction invited by Edbrook’s evocative practice.
You see, within the quietude of what is an aesthetic space courtesy of Edbrook and The Changing Room, I come to see that that castle thing is already written. As sympathetic as I might very well be to the very significant political leitmotifs which reside with varying degrees of transparency throughout Stirling’s presentation, the history – historical and future history that is – is written up and given to the throng via the expertly choreographed gesamtkunstwerk.
By contrast, and even if by accident of my own Saturday sociointertextuality, The Copyist offers more of a moment to breathe, and inasmuch presents a stimulating paradox given the famously expansive vistas of Stirling’s crenellations are still fresh in mind. Breathing in that moment, for what it’s worth, I think of the significance of someone something somehow doing more to aestheticise and aerate the Shcoddishness of the current debate over Scotland’s political future, doing more to see that there’s room to do more than only read the given narratives, especially the institutional ones, whether positive or negative.
Before we leave to pick someone up and take them to a ceilidh, staring at the hypnotic filmic images that Edbrook has framed, I breathe another thought. Despite the conspicuous thinness of the support for the projection, I’m struck by a sense of the materiality of the elements – the feet, the stocking, the ember, the hearth, the wall, the space around these things, and the colour…and the staging allows me to see it and write it in my own time. The impact of that visual sequence exceeds in potency the wordiness of the exhibition’s carefully read and voiced conceptual substructure, and it does something very different from the overwhelming totality-experience of the castle. Edbrook is indebted to Delillo, Gordon, and of course Antonioni, but the aesthetic force of that tableau is written by Edbrook – not as tidy-parking finality, but as a modest contribution to momentum forwards for further, well, creative momentum.
On the way back, I’m thinking that there’s something else to write, then, about the incremental writing of new histories, starting with the raw ingredients of choreographed stories and the methods of self-determined writing, but it’s all about finding the time.