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The art of chance links Lucy Skaer to a Surrealist icon

The link between a 90-year-old Surrealist painter in Mexico and this year's Generation celebration of the past 25 years of Scottish art may not be immediately evident, but then as any passing sceptic might suggest, there is a lot in contemporary art that isn't very evident.

But who wants evident, anyway? Dig a little deeper and the facts become a lot more interesting - in this case, an installation exploring the encounter between former Turner Prize nominee Lucy Skaer and a veteran of the Surrealist avant garde, the late Leonora Carrington.

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Skaer's star has been resolutely on the rise ever since the Cambridge-born artist graduated from the Glasgow School of Art Environmental Art Department in 1997. A decade later, she was representing Scotland at the Venice Biennale, and in 2009 was nominated for the Turner Prize. Her work is both ambiguous and poetic, highly crafted and thought-provoking. Her materials are meticulously culled, whether from photographic material from newspapers or books, from other artists' work or found material. Working in pencil drawing, film and sculpture, her installations frequently - as they do in this Hunterian exhibition - combine all three.

This selection of work is based around her installation at the Venice Biennale in 2007, a show which was predicated on her interest in Carrington, then 90 years old and living and working in Mexico. Skaer became intrigued by the idea of time and the sense of Carrington having lived in a completely different artistic and historical era.

That fascination at this chance simultaneity became such that Skaer booked herself a ticket to Mexico City to doorstop the British-born artist, unannounced, in 2006. The result was a short film, Leonora, shot the very afternoon of Skaer's unexpected visit, of the veteran Surrealist whose eventful early life history included running off to Paris with Max Ernst as a young woman, fleeing from the Nazis in the 1930s, and from a Spanish mental institution thereafter, eventually settling in Mexico where she remained for over 70 years.

Shot on 16mm film in Carrington's studio and lasting less than three minutes, Skaer's film concentrates on the details of Carrington, particularly her hands, eyes and the objects in her house. The work is exhibited alongside a pencil drawing and two wooden objects that Skaer made after her visit.

"This work came at a critical juncture in Skaer's practice," says Mungo Campbell, deputy director of the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, who oversaw the Gallery's purchase of Leonora after the Venice Biennale. "It's such a substantial and interesting work, which engages on so many levels. These were works which I felt very strongly would continue to play a role and ask questions of each other, for years to come, and that's critical when you're acquiring works for a museum."

Durability notwithstanding, Campbell felt that, in this instance, a more contemporary slant on the work would best fit the parameters of Generation. "Because Lucy invests so much in the creation of her works and how they are reinterpreted in the various environments they are displayed in, she goes back and re-examines things," explains the exhibition's curator.

In this instance, the subsequent death at the age of 94 of Leonora Carrington in 2011 sent Skaer back to Mexico to photograph the artist's house - this time from its rather unremarkable exterior. The body of work that resulted - the Harlequin photographs - is represented here by three images. The shift in the work on display moves, then, between presence and absence.

''It's more than a sentimental revisitation,'' says Campbell. '' It's a reflection on Lucy, on Leonora and on this strange chance element of simultaneity which first captured Lucy's imagination."

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