• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Review: ‘The Recent’ at the Talbot Rice Gallery

ByHannah Udall

Nov 16, 2023
A painting named 'Las Videntes' by de Miguel is pictured in a brown frame. It has an orange background with multiple abstract pictures on it which include the sun painted with a human face, a jagged cloud, and two large floral shapes.

The Recent exhibition is a thought-provoking exploration of natural systems, ecology, and the impact of human activity on the environment. In a world where environmental concerns weigh heavily on our collective conscience, this exhibition offers a relevant and timely reflection. While it features captivating and beautiful artworks, it lacks a cohesive narrative that would tie them together, leaving viewers uncertain about its overarching theme or message.

One commendable aspect of the exhibition is its deliberate connection to Edinburgh’s context. This link is skillfully established through the theme of ‘geological time,’ which showcases artworks that explore how rock composition can encapsulate historical events, in particular human events. Notably, the exhibition features striking images and genuine specimens of rain imprints in rocks, a mesmerising testament to the preservation of fleeting moments. Charles Lyell, a Scottish geologist, contributed to the study of these remarkable imprints.

In a separate section of the first room, a remarkable tapestry titled ‘Tied to the Other Side, 2021’ by Otobong Nkanga is displayed. This tapestry has a metallic sheen and a rich palette of blues and greens, depicting an underwater scene with seaweed and coral forms. Otobong Nkanga ingeniously employs the medium of tapestry to emphasise the intricate relationship between surface appearance and the complex underlying reality of ecological systems. The tapestry forms an overall image, yet upon closer inspection is composed of invisible strands that collectively form the larger image. Notably, amputated limbs scattered across the seabed are thought-provoking and uncanny, highlighting how our pursuit of knowledge is often destructive to our environment and at the expense of human lives.

This eerie theme of uncanniness is further explored in the video ‘Songs from the Compost: Mutating Bodies, 2020‘ which depicts and explores a symbiotic relationship between humans, fungi and lichen. This captivating video demonstrates decay as a means of preserving the fungal beings and highlights the integration of humans and nature. However, its placement in a separate room, as is the artwork ‘Future Perfect Continuous, 2022‘ disrupts the overall flow and cohesion of the exhibition.

Upon entering the Georgian Gallery, the exhibition’s tone shifts from uncanny to consecrated. The space exudes a spiritual ambiance with incense wafting through the air and soul-stirring music playing. In this darkened environment, a slow video adorns the far wall, and Regina de Miguel’s artworks are distributed throughout the gallery. These works contemplate the vulnerability of ecosystems, combining symbols, vivid colours and unusual geometric forms in each piece. Each artwork feels like a votive offering, pleading with higher powers to salvage what humanity has damaged. Through these artworks, De Miguel conveys their belief that only a miracle could save us now.

My impression of the exhibition is that it feels somewhat disjointed, with the science fiction and uncanny elements not harmonising well with the pieces featuring real scientific artefacts. This lack of unity somewhat diminishes the overall experience. Nevertheless, the exhibition features several captivating and thought-provoking artworks that serve as a medium for contemplation on our environment’s current state and our collective responsibility toward it.

Image courtesy of Hannah Udall.