Flannigan: A Footprint In The Hall
Sarah Staton: In Situ Ex Situ
Until September 30; Mount Stuart, Isle of Bute
in its seventh year, the visual arts programme at Mount Stuart always
has its finger on the pulse. If artists are not Turner Prize nominees
before theyre invited to show at the Bute stately home, they
have a tendency to find themselves on the shortlist soon after. Dundee-based
Nathan Coley, it was announced a few weeks ago, is up for the prize
on the basis of last summers solo show at Mount Stuart.
This summer, two artists have been invited to show. English artist
Sarah Staton occupies the contemporary space of the visitor centre,
while Edinburgh painter Moyna Flannigan infiltrates the historic walls
of the house itself.
Seeing Flannigans paintings in the mock gothic interiors of
the house, cheek by jowl with old masters and family portraits, its
hard to believe that the artist has shown exclusively in galleries
until now. Her show of miniatures at the Scottish National Portrait
Gallery in 2004 did bring Flannigans quirky portraits into the
company of their historical forebears, but the two were discreetly
At Mount Stuart, Flannigan was given the run of the house, and chose
to insert her oils, drawings and miniatures where the mood took her.
A quartet of grey pictures lurks in the Henry VIII bedroom, and a
series of suggestive drawings lines the wall of the family bedroom;
a large oil holds its own among the Renaissance masterpieces of the
drawing room, and two further oils take their place among the ostentatious
portraits on the marble staircase.
Whether made for the occasion or pulled out of her back-catalogue,
Flannigans paintings are completed by their new setting. No
longer rattling around in white cubes, they find their natural habitat
amongst the curious lords and ladies of the past. The new arrivals
tease hidden secrets out from behind prim surfaces, and in turn, the
house makes perfect sense of Flannigans idiosyncratic visions.
In pride of place above the marble staircase hangs one of Flannigans
most successful paintings of recent years, Happy Ending. A homage
to Velázquezs Las Meninas, the dark, misty tones reveal
an old lady perhaps the Infanta Margarita in her twilight years
lost in dejection. She is in a painting within the painting,
her tears dripping down to the paintbrush held by a miniature jester,
his face an unnatural grin.
The grey-greens and dulled reds recall the yellowed varnish of much
older paintings, allowing Happy Ending to sit quite comfortably amongst
the works around it. Its murky surface draws you up the stairs towards
it, and the pervading sense of melancholy seeps out of the painting
and into the others all around.
The drawings in the family bedroom, though mild by Flannigans
standards, have apparently caused quite a stir among more straight-laced
visitors to Mount Stuart. In the privacy of the bedroom, this cast
of characters reveals various preoccupations with sex and death. Away
from the public glare of formal portraiture, all are ultimately frail
and vulnerable in their stripy pyjamas and lingerie.
In a bedroom such as this, dripping with history and atmosphere, its
easy to imagine the tempestuous goings-on of the aristocracy, behind
closed doors. In a gallery, these drawings might just seem to have
bark, but in here theres definitely bite.
Sarah Statons work has bark too, of a sort. Inspired by Mount
Stuarts long-term involvement in conifer conservation, the artist
has focussed on pine. Second-hand pine tables are playfully repurposed
as sculpture, disks of wood rising like new growth from their surfaces.
One table, now sliced, is outed as chipboard disguised with laminate.
Dotted around are clusters of cone-shaped pine, painted in bright
nursery-school colours quite at odds with the notion of a natural
Charcoal wall drawings make a foil to this boisterous display, illustrating
five different species of pine and mapping out the planting of conifers
from all over the world in the Mount Stuart estate. But none of the
drawings is labelled. None of the wood stuck on top of the map actually
corresponds with areas of planting.
Staton has constructed an interpretation display which doesnt
inform us about different kinds of pine; instead it exposes a huge
gap in our knowledge and experience. Pine is culturally invisible
to us; a generic material used to make cheap furniture. We forget
to connect it to real, living trees, and we havent a chance
of knowing which species, from which part of the world, we might have
in our coffee table.
She makes her point with a great deal of delight, but you might grind
your teeth a little as you walk away from Statons installation.
Its frustrating to be informed of what you dont know,
and then left deliberately in the dark.
Of the two, Flannigans is the show that leaves the most lasting
impression. You might recall that I wasnt wild about Nathan
Coleys show last year the one that got him nominated
for the Turner Prize so theres no use running to the
bookies with any tips from me. But Id be quite happy if Flannigan,
on the strength of her interventions at Mount Stuart, was on the shortlist
this time next year.
Black, Sunday Herald 17.06.07