Pier Arts Centre, Stromness
There's no longer any novelty to be had in placing certain artworks within a gallery setting then noting how the white-wall context instantly gives them a new meaning. Decades of bricks, planks and urinals have come and gone, wearing that particular approach intellectually thin.
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It's still possible, however, to move an artwork from one gallery to another and note how the geographical relocation itself encourages a fresh interpretation. This seems particularly true of the Generation 2014 exhibition by Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich currently on show at the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness, where an additional level of interpretation comes from the very fact that we're off the Scottish mainland and on an island steeped in its own potent myths of folk tales and standing stones.
Take, for example, the 2010 digital video work Dancing Borders. A group of performers, clad in ecclesiastical red and black, march near a sea cliff in Berwick-upon-Tweed towards an object that's part flower stamen, part soft-fabric war cannon, during a ritual that evokes positive thoughts of pollination but also negative thoughts about the history of conflict in this oft-besieged border town.
Transport it to Stromness, however, and - in my mind, at any rate - the sharp hats the performers wear become the shags that populate the cliff edges of Orkney and the whole street-theatre aspect is something that could be a quirky part of any community festival, such as Shopping Week in Stromness or the Boys' Ploughing Match and Festival Of The Horse on South Ronaldsay.
Then there's Rocket, first presented at the BALTIC in Gateshead in 2012. A large black inflatable that, according to the artists, morphs ambiguously from missile to fallen tree, it suggests in the new island context some kind of sea monster washed up on the shore. Surely that wasn't intended; but having soaked up Orkney tales of selkies and fin folk, it's the baggage I bring with me to the Pier.
The majority of the show comprises this balance between video work and inflatable sculptures, drawn from 15 years of production and marking the artists' major concerns: pageant, myth, contemplation, future potential. Notable among the videos is Dream Cloud, made during Walker's 1997 residency on Orkney, a hypnotic, slow-motion, quixotic attempt by a human figure to lift off into the sky using a helium-filled cloud (its life-embracing optimism is palpable). Notable among the sculptures is Friendly Frontiers (2004), an inflatable mountain range whose side supports an aeroplane escape slide as a metaphor for open borders (but whose snowy top renders the whole into some kind of ice cream-laden dessert).
Both of these works give an indication of the joie de vivre that rushes through these rooms. It's not art that exists solely for the throwaway punchline of too much sub-standard contemporary work, but it does tingle with a magnificent sense of fun.
Central to the show, and created specially for the Pier, is Game For Change, a board game that merges past myths and future ideals about renewable energy (Orkney has blood ties to both). The beautifully designed board and playing cards (featuring animals, selkies, folk sayings and personal virtues) are works of art in themselves; playing the game becomes an example of Walker & Bromwich's formalised performances; discussion afterwards about points of fate and destiny pushes the triviality of such a pastime into a more philosophical art-space. Like Orkney itself, where the neolithic past sits side by side with the day-to-day existence of the 21st-century present, it pulls different timeframes into one gorgeous, mythical, co-existing entity.