Garlands - Falkirk
Falkirk or Las Vegas
Kirstin Innes finds out about a new exhibition refracting Falkirk through video, installation, sound pieces and the music of the Cocteau Twins
What does the richest man in America in the early 20th Century have in common with the Cocteau Twins? Falkirk. Or more specifically, the area around Falkirk and Grangemouth, birthplace of Captain Robert Dollar, Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie. They also both feed into Garlands, a new conceptual exhibition rooted deep in its local environment, by Scottish artists Janie Nicoll and Alex Hetherington in Falkirk’s Park Gallery.
Garlands is the second show to come out of Hetherington and Nicoll’s joint SAC pARTners residency, where they were commissioned to make works with and about a specific community group – in this case, the occupants of the High Flats, the seven tower blocks perched at the edge of Callander Park.
‘There’s a very elderly demographic to the residents,’ says Nicoll. ‘About 85% of them are over 60. When you’re interacting with and talking to a predominately elderly group, the topics that come up are almost existential: memory, death, remembrance, communication and misunderstanding.’
Determined to create a show with local resonance, which represented the concerns and experiences of the High Flats residents, the artists began mining the history of the area. Working together, they discovered their mutual love for the Cocteau Twins, from whose first album they’ve stolen the name of the exhibition.
‘Alex and I both have a shared interest in using music and music culture in our work. The Cocteau Twins are from this area, and Elizabeth Fraser had an abstract way of using language; it’s difficult to tell what she’s singing about, yet she manages to communicate emotion somehow. Artistically, it frees you up when things become abstract like that. It’s a kind of painterly way of making music.’
Nicoll has taken the ‘garland’ theme quite literally: a video piece shows her crowning the roofs of the High Flats with the words ‘carpe diem,’ spelled out on a washing line. She’s also arranged funeral wreaths around the gallery, and created the phrase ‘forget me not’ out of flowers gathered from the gardens of her late grandmothers. Hetherington, whose ‘show within a show’ Mineral Park discombobulates the viewer by looping the work of six different video artists on screens timed to run at different times, along with his own footage, shot in Captain Robert Dollar’s mansion in America, and around the town he named after his birthplace, Falkirk, California. Hetherington will also play a collection of sound pieces and narratives about insularity and language, including music by the Cocteau Twins, hoping to create a confusion out of which the viewer forges their own meaning.
‘The Cocteau Twins being from near here was relevant to what I wanted to look at, because Elizabeth Fraser sings in this extraordinary, self-directed language,’ he says. ‘I want to run it alongside all these other narratives, coming through speakers and TV, all delivered by a computer voice which has an emotionless quality, and leave it to the audience to stitch it together for themselves. Each audience member should have a unique experience.’
The Park Gallery, Callendar Park, Falkirk, Sat 9 Aug–Mon 8 Sep,