Young Athenians (4 stars)

The Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, until Sun 12 Nov


Both Edinburgh College of Art and The Embassy Gallery link the 17 or so artists in this eclectic exhibition. In the first, dark wood panelled, dimly lit room, a curious, uncomfortable atmosphere ensues. A number of the artworks hang in gaudy gilt frames from a picture rail, seemingly deriding the neighbouring National Gallery’s respectful tradition. Jenny Hogarth and Kim Coleman’s video ‘The Gentle Shepherd’ (pictured), is projected into a gilt frame, the exhibiting artists posing as mock Greek heroes in togas and sandals, some rolling cigarettes, others playing the guitar. It is voyeuristic and narcissistic, revealing a supposedly close dynamic between the group. But the play-acting is uncomfortable and ham-fisted - could it also be a façade? Alistair Fairweather’s deadpan, banal ‘Life Study of Sean Connery’ (1952) has been borrowed and redisplayed from the Edinburgh Art College’s archive - the once broke actor used to make money posing for life drawing classes. It is unclear exactly what the comment/private joke here is; is this poking fun at the tradition of life drawing in the college? Or perhaps it creates an insincere claim to fame, for both the city and the college?

The show continues into a fresher white space, revealing greater play and diversity. John Mullen and Lee O’ Connor’s large Scots slang print ‘Semi Schemi Minus & Semi Schemi Plus’ is a crude computer collage mixing up the facial features of each artist, thereby rendering themselves into crimewatch-esque constructions, creating two fictional anti-heroes for the city. Katie Orton’s ‘For the Foyer’ is straightforward yet compelling; a convincing marble font is created from folded cardboard and fablon, so what should be solid and permanent is flimsy and perishable.

This exhibition is conceptually considered enough to bind the artists without being either too obvious or obscure. It is often difficult, irritating and uncomfortable yet fresh and challenging, the artists collectively capable of both poking fun at and paying homage to the tradition of the Scottish capital.

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