Monday, 19 December 2011

BILL BOLLINGER @ FRUITMARKET GALLERY, EDINBURGH


A thick dark line cuts through the small frame of landscape, a strong, palpable presence bisecting the screen. It silently falls to the ground – oh! it was only a log, balanced precariously on end. We watch as the artist, with some effort, heaves the log to its original verticality, and calmly steps back. Suddenly the strength and presence of the line has diminished; we now know the brevity of its equilibrium, and its powerlessness against the elements, here captured in Bill Bollinger’s 8mm film Movie.

Weight seems to be an interest of Bollinger’s, who was trained in aeronautical engineering, and his understanding of physics informs his work in unexpected ways. The weight of some pieces is almost tangible: a rusty, industrial barrel holds a well of stagnant water; elsewhere, three slim bands of aluminium seem to lightly skim the walls with their seamless joins and flawless surfaces. Truncated rubber pipes half full with water sit unceremoniously on the floor, oddly steady in their cast iron brackets but always with the potential to tip, and to spill.

Downstairs, the gallery space holds together like a sparse workshop of experiments in process. A rope ties together two points on the floor, another measures floor to ceiling. The architecture is pulled together and is given relationships that are superfluous to its structure, and although connected to the surfaces of the room, the ropes seem to reference nothing but themselves; the arbitrary, meaningless pulling taut of elements that exist only for the pleasure of their materiality. Two measures of industrial piping sit isolated in a corner of the room. The unadorned practicality and clean linear finish of these materials might have us seek their functionality as ‘finished’ products but it is a fruitless search. Their curiously insignificant form works against their suggested gravity and purpose. There is no pretention, no unnecessary imposed elevation of the direct, unassuming pieces. Without plinths or barriers, the space is open to exploration of these raw artefacts.

Cyclone Fence  sits differently against the rest of the exhibition. Like a great Hokusai wave, this swathe of wire fencing stretches languidly across the floor of the gallery’s upper level, twisted into a gracefully swooping arc. I immediately sought associations beyond its plain physicality: its empty squares become the scales of a fascinating fish or snake, which seems to move as you encircle it as the mesh widens and tightens. It is almost too beautiful for the rest of the exhibition; it is supple and alive against the surrounding lifeless forms. And yet, its fluidity serves as a revitalizing counterpoint to the starkly elemental works around it. The tension of the undisturbed surfaces of water in his pipes and barrel and the soundless plummet of the weighty log in Movie echo this opposition: though seemingly constant in their pure physicality, Bollinger’s works are subject to change and make no claim to of immortality. The appealing honesty of his raw materials makes the exhibition a countercultural calm away from the spectacles of modern life.

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