Smith/Stewart: Enter Love and Enter Death
Royal Botanic Gardens, Inverleith House, Edinburgh, until Sun 20 Jan
Simply entering Smith/Stewart’s new exhibition is difficult. Faced directly with a black horizontal girder, one feels tempted to advance, yet hesitant. Significantly, this initial anxiety is surpassed by a deep sense of pleasure, for to venture underneath the stark sculptural set-up, is to discover that you have been totally, deceived.
The artists have installed a network of intersecting eye-level wooden beams, which dissect six rooms of Inverleith House, thus eagerly inviting a prolonged contemplation of the space. The works recast the rooms into those of a doll’s house, theatrical yet stifling. The uniform and brutal nature of these sculptural set-ups produces an overwhelming sense of totality, and a consideration of the house as one continuous organism is unavoidable. The walls appear to dissolve and the negative space of each room encroaches on the territory of its exposed inhabitants.
The danger of such a continuum of effect is that, like a house of mirrors, it relies too heavily on the trompe l’oeil; the mechanistic production of spectacle. Smith/Stewart cut into this charged gallery space with a small, framed Polaroid of a head bound by swathes of clothes and material. This photographic image works as a nexus to tether notions of threat, pleasure and violence to ideas of sex, intimacy and the sphere of the home.
A key motif in this exhibition, the act of blindfolding, embodies the allure and excitement of surrender. The infrastructure of this house determines that only the bodies of other onlookers are seen, and, as the winter nights draw in and the light becomes scarce, the interior is obscured. Whilst these motifs prove to be teasingly sexual, a heavier thematic is initiated with the introduction of the personal photograph. The darkness spreads through the house like a fated, unwelcome guest. Death determines the inhabitants of this home, and it is terrifyingly seductive.
Drawing on the energies of Eros and Thanatos, Smith/Stewart present a considered transformation of Inverleith House into a stage for the tumultuous unravelling of domestic power-plays.