Martin Boyce: No Reflections
- Neil Cooper
- 12 January 2010
As with most aspects of Martin Boyce’s reimagining of his 2009 contribution to the Venice Biennale, the autumn leaves that dust about the floor’s edges in the DCA aren’t quite what they seem. Made of paraffin-coated crepe paper and nestling alongside a discreet floor-level network of brass ventilation grills, they provide some kind of framing to what resembles a showroom of customised home and garden apparel. Steel bins – one silver, one red – are angled so everything looks top-heavy. A wooden birdhouse is carved similarly lob-sided. Two upturned park benches become an Oriental screen. An industrial-looking workbench is dotted with holes and looks like a rusted mortuary slab. A bed-frame with a rolled-up wire-mesh mattress offers little comfort.
In the next room, a series of stepping stones lead nowhere, while the lettering on the wall that spells out ‘Petrified Songs’ is hung at half-mast. Overhead hangs a sleekly flamboyant array of lamps. Together these objects recall 1970s retro (sub)urban chic and crazy paving patios, like some interior approximation of Eden once the decorators have moved in. This is Boyce getting back to the garden and back to nature by way of a manufactured appropriation that can never fully live up the running-wild, running-free years of climbing frames and after-dark experience, and so produces the most melancholy form of nostalgia. There’s an essence here that relates to the sense-memory ennui of Bill Nelson’s brooding 1980 instrumental paean to a Wakefield park, ‘The Shadow Garden’, only recast with more classical splendour.
As adventure playgrounds go, the DCA’s clinically lab-like interior will never match the crumbling 15th century Venetian Palazzo that first housed the show. But then, by rubbing Boyce’s manufactured relics up against an equally constructed container of the modern world, the juxtaposition lends an even more solitary poignancy to proceedings. It’s as if the gardens where we once felt secure, full of menace as they were, had been left out in the European rain too long after everyone had gone back indoors, playtime over, the party moved on elsewhere. All there is to do now is preserve what’s left behind.
Dundee Contemporary Arts, until Sun 14 Feb