Tabula Rasa II

Street Level Photoworks, 103 Trongate, 3rd December – 5th February

The term ‘tabula rasa’ comes from the Latin phrase ‘blank state’ based on the epistemological idea that knowledge comes from our encounters and experiences. United under this philosophical umbrella are 5 Glasgow based photographers, each documenting how they see the world around us.

I am initially drawn to Julia Bauer’s artwork – a collection of multi-coloured boards stuck onto the wall. She encourages the audience to complete just one action: stick a pin in one of the boards, place a sticker, take away someone else’s pin, etc. Looking at the messy array of stickers and pins I can’t help but think there has to be something more to this. Is there a pattern already here? Or are these simply random pins on a board? One thing is certain, Bauer’s aim to have her pins become ‘galaxies’ has succeeded – the pins and stickers flourish on the boards with your eye mesmerizingly moving from each one to the next.  

Afterwards, I move to Alex Knox’s work where he projected the lunar cycle onto old negatives of his grandfather. The result is beautiful, the negatives show aspects of his grandfather’s life whilst the bright circles of the moon, every day has its end, create an added poignancy and melancholy to Knox’s loss. Stephen Healey’s huge hand-printed black and white close-ups of tree roots and stones contrast from Knox’s intimate photographs. It is not clear whether the images are close-ups or distant views of the land – they are grainy, dark and appear to merge together. All in all, Healey has managed to create chilling images, nature appearing alien and unwelcoming.

In contrast to this, in the next room I am greeted by the warm glow of Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte’s creations bringing a sense of nostalgia to the exhibition. It seems like I’ve seen some of these images before, as if Kiliulyte has deliberately created familiar shots. How is this supposed to be a tabula rasa, a blank slate? Perhaps it is in what we have left to discover in them, if we look closer, or the part they play in us finding our own nostalgia, our own home. In Kililutye’s words, ‘a fictional room that glows warmly, promising the feeling of belonging, of truth, of unity.’

However, it is the final photographer of the exhibition that leaves me with the most to think about. Frank McElhinney’s ‘Adrift’ is a series of kite and drone photographs taken of abandoned settlements in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Places include the Skye, Arran, and Caithness, the bird’s-eye view of these ruins silently capturing one of the tragic areas of Scotland’s history – the Highland clearances. More than a million people emigrated overseas, some who were forced off their land but many others choosing to leave due to the lack of opportunity left for them in Scotland. McElhinney compares this directly to the issues that are driving people from Africa and the Middle East to risk their lives in order to safely live in Europe. The beautiful images of the Scottish ruins – tragic reminders from our much romanticised past – forces us to look at what we’re doing to these people in need of our help.

While looking at this exhibition, I am reminded of a famous Scottish saying, “We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairn’s” or in other words “We’re all humanity’s children.” Because we are, we’ve all come from somewhere and why should that matter? I’ll finish this article with McElihinney’s concluding statement on his work, summing up the exhibition and the world around us today nicely, ‘How this crisis ends is still to be written. The future is tabula rasa.’
[Emma McKie]

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