Colin Duncan’s Dead Wood Living at the ECA

Having just ended its week-long stint at Evolution House, ECA’s Dead Wood Living exhibition presented an array of Colin Duncan’s works. The exhibition had attendees suspecting sombre themes simply by way of its title: alluding to the phrase “dead man walking,” it signifies a state in-between certain death and life, something fleeting. However, for all the gloom that the title might have suggested, the works themselves did not mourn the nature they depicted, instead celebrating what is still here.

Lining the walls of the ground floor of Evolution House, the paintings shared an expressive and sparse brushwork coupled with muted colours. At first glance, they appeared abstract, sharing stylistic similarities with the Abstract Expressionist movement of 1950s New York. And while that guiding intuition might have seemed fitting, it would have missed the point.

With telling names like Pinecone, Lichen, Moss and Sapling and Seagrass on Pebbles 3, and a standardised format and ordered arrangement, the body of work was almost scientific: the works were meticulous and conclusive studies made from an array of watercolour, ink, pencil, and oil.

Traveling through places like Dundreggan, Kalamos, and locations across the East Coast of Scotland, Duncan sought to methodically portray the emotionality of Scotland’s unique nature. Just as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault stores seeds in the face of climate crisis, Duncan’s work too wants to categorically save that which otherwise might be lost or forgotten.

The art world has responded in various ways to the present climate crisis, from art and culture organisations in the UK uniting in Culture Declares Emergency to individual institutions like the Tate officially declaring a climate emergency. Others are less optimistic, with MoMA curator Paola Antonelli stating, “We don’t have the power to stop our extinction.”

Duncan’s exhibition found itself straddling the myriad artistic perspectives on the climate crisis. Significantly, 30 per cent of profits made at the Dead Wood Living exhibition went to the Trees for Life wildlife charity in an effort to restore Scotland’s forest, and 300 trees will be planted as a result of the exhibition. Even so, the pictorial contemplations of this exhibition acknowledged a certain grief as, after all, this poetic dimension might be the only tangible connection we have left with nature.

Image: Colin Duncan

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The Student Newspaper 2016