The Royal Scottish Academy’s annual exhibition showcasing the efforts of its resident artists is certainly surprising. The artwork is diverse in its medium and subject matter, which is no bad thing although the show at times lacks the unity and cohesion a viewer might expect. Presented within the confines of a three-room basement exhibition space, and paired with the wooden floors and subtle colour palette of the art, the resulting atmosphere is that of uncomfortable serenity.
With skill clear in much of the artists’ work, it is somewhat more challenging to appreciate Calum Stirling’s video installation piece ‘Noumenon.’ Sitting on one of the two viewing benches, the only salvation from an entirely sparse room, the curator invites the viewer to utterly immerse themselves in the massive projection of Stirling’s work which consists of a peculiar combination of the soundtrack from a 1973 German science fiction film and his own underwater shots. However, the disparity between the oral and the visual, instead of challenging, verges on the pretentious.
Nonetheless, Stirling’s work has its merits within the context of the exhibition. Simon Johnston’s concrete vessel-style sculptures, although aiming to reflect the “flexibility within the realm of architectural design,” instead evoke Stirling’s strange underwater shots, with both artists conjuring a supernatural take on the natural forms. This subsequently brings an unexpected cohesion to the exhibition, especially when both artists are displayed in proximity to Isla MacLeod’s organic response to Cairngorm National Park.The artist’s delicate mixed media etchings encourage the viewer to perceive her work almost as digitally mapped diagrams.
The standout work is without a doubt Craig Dow’s ‘Intertidal,’ a series of pinhole photographs of the Scottish coastline, in which the very nature of being by the sea, allowing the salt air to erode sections of his photographs, is clearly as much a part of his artistic process as his composition and subject selection; Kirsty Palmer also echoes this in her images of Orkney.
Surprisingly, each individual artist contributes to a greater body of artwork that balances as a cohesive whole. However, Resident 14 will most likely disappoint anyone expecting the Royal Scottish Academy’s exhibition to present an eclectic scope of “contemporary Scottish art.” That being said, it is a collection which showcases new Scottish talent. Within the context of the Generation exhibitions currently in their final weeks across Scotland, it is perhaps not the most complete show on offer in Edinburgh.