Ross Birrell: The Transit of Hermes (3 stars)

Ross Birrell: The Transit of Hermes

credit: Samuel Devereux

Exhibition documenting two long-distance horse journeys

There are a wealth of engaging and timely ideas behind Scottish artist Ross Birrell's exhibition The Transit of Hermes. However, there is the sense that the process was where the real discoveries were made, and that this documentary display is merely an imitation of a hugely ambitious project.

Originally presented as part of Documenta 14, the films which form the centrepiece of the exhibition document two long-distance horse journeys made in the early part of 2017. One entails the Athens-Kassel Ride, a hundred-day trek through Europe, from Greece to Germany, which tracks the 3000km route between the two host locations of Documenta; the other, 'Criollo', features footage of a single horse transported to the site of three identical horse-riding statues of the Argentine leader Jose de San Martin in Buenos Aires, Washington DC and New York.

The journey surrounding the latter film didn't attempt to recreate the entire 10,000-mile horseback journey that Swiss-Argentine explorer Aime Felix Tschiffely made between Buenos Aires and New York, over three years between 1925 and 1928. But the physical documentation of each trip in the exhibition – the films, some gorgeous landscape photographs, a horse trailer and equipment, and a couple of hundred straw bales – manages to evoke the egalitarian spirit of that original journey.

In the labour of the wheezing horses and the gorgeous green vistas exposed in the photographs, we find time to consider the themes Birrell appears to be presenting; of migration (the route from Greece to Germany is surely no coincidence), of reconnection with nature, and of reattachment to the flyover states and rural countryside which urban living and jet travel are helping to erase from our consciousness. Yet to an extent, this show feels like watching the holiday video and wishing you had been there for the journey.

Seen at CCA, Glasgow, exhibition finished.

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