Touching the void (4 stars)

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There’s something about the term ‘the void’ that grates ever so slightly. The mention of it conjures up, at best, the Jungian notion that we humans are empty vessels into which experience is poured. The term is so overused that when you meet it in the introduction to a piece of art, you can’t help but feel sceptical. Its appearance in a text panel at the entrance to Frances Richardson’s Internus at Leith’s Corn Exchange Gallery should not, however, deter you from carrying on into the show.

For Richardson’s first ever solo show in Scotland, the artist has created a series of sculptures based on an Italian painting by Neri di Bicci, entitled ‘Archangel Raphael Saving an Attempted Suicide’, a tiny predella panel, similar to those Richardson saw, and was entranced by, on a recent trip to Italy. The original 15th century work is a glorious analogy to exalted redemption, a theme that echoes through Richardson’s own sculptures.

By using materials that are rarely if ever used by sculptural fine artists – in this case a truckload of medium density fibreboard (or MDF for those of us who grew up watching home improvement shows), – Richardson draws attention to our endless appetite for consumer goods. By highlighting this, perhaps Richardson – not unlike the Archangel Raphael – is attempting to save us from our own insatiable greed.

Richardson’s pieces are precisely executed, colourless maquettes which form a modern day take on a medieval narrative for us to weave in and out of. We experience a real sense of walking through the painting itself. There’s an added clever irony to the fact that a piece of art which confronts us with the perils of consumerism is being shown in a space run by one of Edinburgh’s most elite design companies, whose everyday comings and goings regularly impact on the serenity of the piece.

Against masculine power-tool meticulousness, Richardson places soft hand-modelled clay shapes. This is perhaps a slightly hackneyed juxtaposition, but the fact that these shapes take the form of jagged home-made daggers riskily balanced on tables – and even more precariously on a joist above your head – leads you to consider the notion of comfortable, easy safety against your own vigilance in the face of danger.

By forcing us to think about our surroundings, our superficial acceptance of ‘reality’, and our place in the narrative, Richardson’s work becomes eternally fascinating, almost cleansing. Richardson’s quote at the gallery entrance introduces this feeling: ‘The object thingness does not lie at all in the material world of which it consists, but in the void that it holds. It is within this void that the sculptural image resides’. It’s only once you have experienced the work that you will appreciate that you are actually that void, and that the story lurking beneath these objects is brought to life in your own imagination.

Frances Richardson: Internus, Corn Exchange Gallery, Edinburgh, until Thu 4 Oct

Internus, Frances Richardson

  • 4 stars

Award-winning artist Frances Richardson's latest sculptural work is inspired by elements from a 15th century Italian painting Archangel Raphael saving an attempted suicide by Neri di Bicci. Richardson won the Conran Foundation Award in 2006. Recent solo shows have included the Scene Gallery, New York and the…

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