Amy Balkin, Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan, Boyle Family, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg & Sascha Pohflepp, Gabrielle Goliath, Femke Herregraven, Jarsdell Solutions Ltd, Kahlil Joseph, Tonya McMullan, Sarah Rose, James Webb
[update: due to a return to lockdown restrictions in Scotland and the UK, ‘The Normal’ will no longer open on the 29 January. We will advise new opening dates as soon as we are able. Please take a look at Amy Balkin’s project in case you live in Scotland and want to engage with it. Stay safe everyone!]
Talbot Rice Gallery presents The Normal, a group exhibition developed in response to the “wake-up call” of Covid-19. Exploring the profound re-orientation in relation to planetary health, ideas about progress, communities and new ways of working precipitated by the pandemic, it affirms the urgent need to rethink our relationship to the biosphere we inhabit.
The Normal brings together a group of artists from around the world who are attuned to this singular moment in history: Amy Balkin, Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan, Boyle Family, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg & Sascha Pohflepp, Gabrielle Goliath, Femke Herregraven, Jarsdell Solutions Ltd, Kahlil Joseph, Tonya McMullan, Sarah Rose and James Webb.
The exhibition showcases international perspectives on the global event of the pandemic, which includes working in new ways with artists to produce works that respond to the imperatives of sustainability. Crucially, it looks to highlight how our laws, histories and communities are entangled with viruses, ecosystems and each other, foregrounding the role that art plays in envisaging different relationships to worlds that have yet to emerge.
Tessa Giblin, Director of Talbot Rice Gallery: “We want to look at what this pandemic year has meant to us from a variety of angles. This includes viruses and their symbiotic relationship to evolution, the asymmetry of this pandemic due to socio-economic and racial inequality, the proof that we can in fact step off the train of progress and artists attuning us to the natural world’s abundant production of bird-song or urban honey yield during 2020. It also includes the very human experiences we have collectively encountered during lockdown: grief, pain, trauma, isolation and exhaustion. And finally, an urge to support a new, sustainable relationship to the production of art. We’re still holding out hope that this ever-increasing proximity to viruses as the polar caps melt, as wildlife are interfered with through marketisation and deforestation – this horrible awakening – will all lead to change.”
Since 2004, the American artist Amy Balkin’s practice has included campaigning to have the earth’s atmosphere listed as a UNESCO heritage site and trading carbon emissions to create pollution-free air parks. Her ongoing project A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting (2012 - ongoing) is a global collaborative archive of “items contributed from places that may disappear owing to the combined physical, political, and economic impacts of climate change, including glacial melting, sea level rise, coastal erosion, and desertification.” For the duration of The Normal and throughout 2021, Talbot Rice Gallery invites individuals in Scotland to contribute to Balkin's archive, for further details on how to get involved, please see HERE.
Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan’s new commission takes the 1999 science fiction novel Starfish – about people physiologically reengineered to work on the bottom of the seafloor – as a point of departure to explore the negotiations over the ‘commonwealth’ of vast deep-sea mineral deposits. Occupying what is the only uncharted place on earth, deep sea vents are scientifically associated with the origins of life, as well as with extreme enzymes such as the one currently used to test for coronavirus. Benera and Estefan’s new work combines a 3D printed, large-scale sculpture that combines these deep-sea vents with tungsten mines (an allusion to the valuable minerals currently being fought over, and an element within the organisms that live in these extreme situations), with the Tower of Babel, a story about the attempt to create a common knowledge. This will be accompanied by drawings using these enzymes to represent this fraught battleground between capitalism, nature and human understanding.
Boyle Family, historically important artists connected to the Scottish avant-garde, include work in the exhibition that pioneered a way of mapping social density using what was, in the 1970s, the latest computer technology. Suggestive of heat maps and temperature gauges, their work highlights a connection between The Normal and earlier art forms that turned away from aesthetic conventions to focus on the conceptual challenges of thinking through different scales and movements, bridging visual and scientific domains.
In her video and sound installation This song is for… South African artist Gabrielle Goliath revisits the convention of the dedication song, in collaboration with a group of women and gender-queer led musical ensembles. Each song is dedicated to a survivor of rape, unsettling the 'normalcy' of rape culture - a condition presently recognised by the UN as a ‘shadow pandemic’ following a worldwide increase in domestic abuse during the coronavirus pandemic. The musical performances, however, are never quite what they seem. In each song a sonic disruption evokes a space of traumatic recall, in which the de-subjectifying violence of rape becomes painfully entangled with claims to life, dignity, hope, faith, even joy.
Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg & Sascha Pohflepp’s botanical drawings look to a future in which catastrophe has compelled an industrial revolution, one that uses biotechnologies to begin growing components within plants. Their work Growth Assembly (2009) references a historic visual and scientific culture that simultaneously reminds us of colonialism, objectification and profoundly misguided relationships to nature.
Femke Herregraven, a Dutch artist who has previously explored the links between catastrophe bonds in contemporary capitalism and the censuses performed just before the plague, will show a new work in which she pays analytical attention to her own experiences during the 2020 pandemic. Reflecting upon her mother’s experience in facing an ongoing battle with terminal illness, she considers how people prepare for future events and, ultimately, face their own mortality.
The American filmmaker and video artist Kahlil Joseph presents BLKNWS® (2018 - ongoing), an evolving news-style broadcast that proffers a montage of art, music, memes and news desk reporting to positively reflect upon on Black culture. More than an artwork, this enterprise works against systematic racism by operating across both arts and everyday spaces (including community centres and commercial spaces) to push back against negative mainstream and media bias. Recently updated by the artist’s studio in response to the events of 2020, its unique news desk features and collated stories bear witness to our changing world: from the pandemic, US elections and Black Lives Matter, to the consequences of Brexit.
During Scotland’s coronavirus lockdown, Tonya McMullan collected multiple samples of honey, of which up to forty samples - in colours ranging from creamy white to molasses black - will be displayed in a specially constructed cabinet. The work explores innovative ways to engage with the honey collection through smell, and seeks to demonstrate the subtle changes to the environment – the different feeding patterns of bees, weather conditions and changed ecology of the city - which occurred during lockdown. It also highlights the multitude of beekeeping, scientific and amateur communities that comprise our relationship to these vital insect pollinators.
Talbot Rice Resident Sarah Rose’s new commission explores the re-use and re-making of plastic waste, contrasting this process with the recurring motif of the crocodile - often revered in indigenous cultures, and mythologised as a spirit that mocks human efforts to set themselves apart from other animals.
A new video commission by the collective Jarsdell Solutions Ltd emphasises the entanglement of humans, animals and environments through references to the “King Rat” – a natural phenomenon in which the tails of multiple rats knot together. The work combines archival footage, shot before the pandemic - Donald Trump’s Scottish golf courses, animals in zoos and scenes from contemporary American society – which now rebounds from a previous era to show us a world on a political, social and ecological knife edge.
James Webb’s long running project There’s No Place Called Home (2004 – ongoing) is a recurring, worldwide intervention which sees the artist (working with ornithologists to avoid any negative impact on the native birds) bringing foreign birdsong into specific local environments. The work offers a dialogue about globalisation, migration and territory, at the same time as it draws listeners into a meditation on the material qualities of birdsong.
Exhibition Guide with texts by Tessa Giblin & James Clegg will be published on occasion of the exhibition.
Amy Balkin et al.
- A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting (Throughout 2021)
A growing collection of items contributed by people living in places that are disappearing as a result of climate change.