On exhibit at GOMA until the 18th March
Despite the fact that only eight works are on display, Aaron Angell’s art has no problem filling the space of the largest, grandest room in the gallery. The room is as much a spectacle as the art itself – the neoclassical aesthetics, however, bring to mind the gallery’s troubling roots, as it was built for a merchant who became rich from the slave trade. It is precisely that history which haunts the work. Whilst the space is beautiful by Western standards, Angell’s work invokes a chaotic, prehistoric beauty that is nothing short of mesmerising.
The motif of clay throughout the exhibition is exemplary of this kind of alternate beauty. A large clay structure, when the attached gas lamp is lit by twin naked flames, is the most visually appealing piece, the intentionally crude workmanship only adding to its charm. The visible propane can, fire extinguisher, fire blanket, and security guard on standby, oddly, do not detract from the attraction of this blatant hazard – if anything, it seems to be an expression of mischief, asking what is acceptable to house in such a space. Roughly crafted clay tiles, some bearing boot marks and some cracked and broken ones housed within a plastic bubble, are similarly mischievous; the visual juxtaposition challenges ideas of modern vs classical art through the use of contrasting materials.
This juxtaposition is present in the use of plants throughout the exhibition. Another highlight is the Wardian Case, a case built to conform to Victorian aesthetic ideals, reminiscent of the huge glasshouses in the Botanics. It is filled with mosses and ferns that, along with a large cabbage at the back of the room, have grown and will continue to grow throughout the exhibition. This is at once modern and classical, simultaneously suggesting the hobbies of the Victorian upper class and the idea that we can grow and move past simple blind acceptance of our colonial past.
The exhibition as a whole sits comfortably within an uncomfortable narrative. The ongoing debates over the renaming of Glasgow’s ‘slavery streets’, and an all too frequent ignorance or even denial of Glasgow’s complicity with Britain’s imperialism, all inform the work, and challenge what we define as beautiful.