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Thursday 14 July 2011

My Hands are Tied: You Seem The Same Always, The Common Guild, Glasgow

Review by Alistair Q

Vince Lombardi, the 1960s American Football coach once said “The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand,” and a very apt quote it is for marking the successes of the subtly original show running at the Common Guild this summer until 30 July. The exhibition is a large group show of 6 internationally recognised artists and is both a serious and at times humorous inquiry into that most invaluable of appendages: the hand. It marks the various conceptual forms the hand can take within art, having been the tool to make the tools throughout human evolution, the hand can seem comical for all it’s bendy cartoonish wriggling as well as marking itself as a powerful symbol in the form of propaganda posters for protest and upheaval. With all these concepts in mind the show itself investigates primarily with the former, the ways in which hands (specifically artists hands) have investigated this most useful prehensile.

After having someone turn a handle to let me in, the start of the show is a comical and absurd wall drawing by David Shrigley, the school boy Glasgow based artist, who not too long ago launched his coffee-table book What The Hell Are You Doing? (2010) It sets the standard for the more humorous works on show by joking with science’s obsession with labels and replaces these with ridiculous titles such as “The Tit” etc. An impressive and well-conceived feature of the show throughout is the hand written titles and names too, written in a soft light pencil, making it feel like a well conceived and curated show.

On the ground floor, around the corner from Shrigley’s work, a loud projector welcomes you, churning through a video reel by Kate Davis in which she mimics a ceramicist’s hands in the process of moulding a lump of clay in a sensual and effeminate way, slowly padding and squeezing the invisible. The title for the show is taken from Davis’ work, conjuring ideas of the hand being changed by the way we look at it, yet remaining the same as always and the use of it’s actions in terms of art making with the innate demand to create.

One of the most interesting and well-placed collections of work on show, both downstairs and up is Hans-Peter Feldmann’s reproductions of early 1930s psychologist Charlotte Wolff’s handprint studies. Wolff worked as a palm reader but found considerable scientific recognition for her research into the hand as a sort of map of the mind; her emphasis being that the mind expresses itself in the hand and that successful assessment of schizophrenics, manic depressives and “imbeciles” could be found upon study of the hand. However the works on display are all from the rich-in-culture characters of 1930s Paris and London: Aldous Huxley, André Breton, Paul Éluard, Alberto Giacometti, etc. However from here, from the climb up the stairs (holding the banister for support as you go), passing the impressive impromptu choreography of Yvonne Rainer’s Hand Movie (1966) the hand begins to come to life, to gain character and personality. Who could have known that Aldous Huxley had such an impressive heavy paw compared to Madame Nijinski’s light slender triangle? How is Douglas Gordon’s fat hairy finger beckoning you not hilariously stupid and timed like a comedians one-liners?

In connection with video works like Rainer and Gordon’s is Olafur Eliasson’s The Moving Museum (2009), an amazingly well choreographed black backdrop video, akin to the “Daft Hands” phenomenon that stormed Youtube years ago. The hands move in a witty dance of a strange poetic sign language where they act like an Ikea instruction manual: turn twice, pivot, clamp and return to stage 1. A funny spectacle compared to Gordon’s other dry photos.

Two pieces that relate to a more masculine stereotype of strength and power within the context of hands are Richard Serra’s Hand Catching Lead, Hands Tied, Hands Scraping (all 1968) and Gabriel Orozco’s My Hands Are My Heart (1991). Serra’s videos are all about dirt, manipulation and struggling with a medium, be it lead, rope or coal. They seem imbued with the strength his more famous sculptural works suggest, while Orozco’s photo, though seemingly soft and gentle, still has the muscular arms, which holds the newly sculpted clay heart and implies a back-to-basics form of moulding and hand crafting works.

The show leaves a lasting impression. At times you will raise your palm to your face and look at those lines. What can you see? A well travelled hand with the thick skin of work and wear or a supple clean slate waiting for adventures? As you leave, you can appreciate the handles texture on your palm on your way out of the door.

You Seem The Same As Always runs until 30 July.


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Courtesy the artist
Photography by Kendall Koppe

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