Lucy Skaer (4 stars)

Lucy Skaer

Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, until Wed 9 Jul


Looking at Skaer’s black drawings is like watching someone trapped under a thick sheet of ice. Admittedly, the likelihood of ever having witnessed such a death is rare, but the image is still easily recalled, fuelled by horror films set on frozen lakes. The newsworthy subjects of Skaer’s large-scale works – all taken from reproduced sources – are given a similar treatment to the drawings. A battleship, stampeding horse and giant wave are all placated by her dark ink and heavy pattern, their impurities glazed, their traumas silenced.

Skaer’s move to sculpture signals a burgeoning interest in the decorative. Upstairs in the gallery, an exquisite pair of mother of pearl hands is inlaid upon an antique table, and sits in relation to both a video of Surrealist Leonora Carrington and a wooden wheel that’s cracked open to reveal the tiny silhouette of a rioting mob. Each of these subjects is fixed by its mode of representation, most notably Leonora, shrunk, muted and pinned to the wall by the churning projector. Seduced by the craftsmanship and glittering art historical touchstone, it dawns on the viewer that Skaer’s sculptural subjects are displayed like a case of colonial curiosities.

The artist’s heavily signposted interest in ‘symbolism and actuality’ is an investigation that would have been equally at home 20 years ago. Yet, while striking, this isn’t the most memorable aspect of Skaer’s ouevre. The success of this exhibition lies in its menacing ability to inflict upon the viewer a mothball itch and a lingering aftertaste of unease.

Lucy Skaer – Artist's Talk

Artist Lucy Skaer discusses the 2011 short film A Dance of Ownership, A Song in Hand, a collaborative work made on St Kilda with the late dancer and choreographer Gill Clarke.

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