The phenomenon of DIY art environments

Box of delights

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The phenomenon of DIY art environments

As a collective of artists prepares to reimagine the Glasshouse in the grounds of Lauriston Castle, Neil Cooper considers the phenomenon of DIY art environments

Ever since conceptualism broke through in the 1960s, regular gallery interiors, be they extravagantly antique pieces of architecture or ice-cool white cubes, have lost their power to imprison work within their over-bearing walls. In the last couple of decades a wave of independent artists have exploited DIY environments, from empty shop-fronts on short-term lets to abandoned factories and even artists’ flats for the ultimate bijou artistic experience.

In Edinburgh in the last few years, collective initiatives such as Emerged and Aurora took up residence everywhere from church halls to university lecture halls. The setting up of the Embassy Gallery and the growth of the Edinburgh Annuale has opened up a network of underground spaces, with recent developments taking place in a hall on Lothian Road and a fancy food shop on the Southside. The Heavy Metal Mouth show even moved into three floors of an empty office block in the city’s west end that was the former home of the local unemployment offices where some of the show’s contributors had once signed on.

Where such residencies are consciously lo-fi subversions of dilapidated industrial inner-city spaces, one group of artists at least are moving their work out to the suburbs. For nine days only, Hot Box takes 12 artists out of the city to leafy Cramond to reimagine the Glasshouse space in the grounds of Lauriston Castle with a diverse array of sculptural interventions to a normally more sedate natural landscape.

Organised by a three-strong collective of Edinburgh College of Art graduates led by Greek émigré Agelos Papadakis, Hot Box takes a wilfully contemporary approach to something so bound up with the past, when Victorian explorers would bestow the grounds with exotic plants. In what could be an anachronistic culture clash Hot Box revels in this awkward alliance, tackling as it does opaque themes of ‘alienation, transposition and dislocation’.

‘The idea is to create a feeling of things that aren’t in the right place,’ Papadakis explains, ‘and which don’t really belong here. We’re being subverted in this way most of our daily lives, when we’re forced to be in places we don’t feel comfortable in. There’s a lot of social engineering that goes on to be someone and somewhere that’s not relevant to our environment.’

This reimagining of the city ranges from Stephanie Ferguson’s kitsch assemblages left in places designed to surprise her audience to Roween Seuss’s CCTV camera take on the Midas myth and Ross Robertson’s miniature recreation of Battersea Power Station out of matchsticks, built after a move to London left him with nothing but landmarks acquired subliminally via pop cultural overload.

Alex Allan will carve a wooden name-plate for a place that no longer exists, effectively becoming both tombstone and tribute; Cornelius Dupré will suspend drawings of Greek columns that reference Carmen Miranda’s fruit-bowl head-dress, and Mark Purves will switch on ‘Lacuna’, a neon sign that flirts with its own emptiness. Papadakis’ own contribution, ‘Bird Cage’, will invite audience members to insert their heads in a suspended cage to experience captivity first-hand.

Hot Box is the third show at Lauriston Castle Papadakis has played a major part in curating, following his own solo show, Interact, which was staged earlier this year and 2008’s group show of four sculptors, Big Case. In spirit, the much more ambitious Hot Box sounds like the occasional environmental intervention exercised beyond the confines of the Inverleith House gallery situated within Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Hot Box’s out of town location, however, is as much a part of the show’s aesthetic as the work itself.

Papadakis began exploring setting work in non-gallery spaces after he noticed a more liberal attitude to how churches were used in Scotland compared to the stricter attitude in Greece.

‘That opened up ideas of ways of interacting with art,’ he says. ‘Given the possibility to think outside of the box of a regular gallery space allows more space both to the artist and the public to appreciate art in a new, different and even unexpected way. Best of all, people get a chance to think.’

Hot Box, Lauriston Castle Glasshouse, 07506 697130, 21–29 Aug. On the opening night a shuttle bus leaves from opposite the Fruitmarket gallery from 5.30pm.

Hot Box

The Hot Box exhibition at the Lauriston Castle Glasshouse is organised by a committee of three postgraduate students from the Sculpture and Glass departments of Edinburgh College of Art in collaboration with the Learning and Access department of the City of Edinburgh Museum and Galleries. Selected work by 15 postgraduates…

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