As it does every year, the New Contemporaries Exhibition 2017 (18 February - 15 March), hosted by the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh, celebrates the incredible diversity of talent emerging from Scotland's art institutions. An artist whose minimalist social observation catches the eye straight away is Claire Connor, one of the 13 exhibiting artists who studied at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design in Dundee.
Claire's work is inspired by Scottish culture, particularly the dichotomy of its language - hardheaded, pragmatic, profane but also the deeply poetic pulse beating at this nation's heart. Traditionally, everything from the Gaelic and Scots languages to working class dialects of English have been dismissed as culturally inferior to 'received pronunciation English.' It is only within a generation or so that Scots has gatecrashed the classrooms where using the vernacular - perceived as merely 'slang' - once instigated a short, sharp meeting with the dreaded 'twin tailed taws.'
Claire's artwork on display here garnered the RSA Art Prize plus the Maclaine Watters Medal. Describing how she is influenced by language as opposed to visual elements, her pieces are both direct transcriptions of overheard conversations or imagined versions.
A placard containing the observation 'Ye Canny Spend A Dollar When Yur Deid' rendered in simple graphics as if for a street protest, is immediately elevated to something much more profound. This piece was inspired by a 1960's Scottish protest movement, Anti-Polaris. Scottish folk music was an integral ingredient in their protest against the holding of an American nuclear submarine in the Holy Loch. Entitled 'Ding Dong Dollar' and sung to the traditional tune of 'She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain,' the revised version can be found on YouTube.
'Wan hudda hammur n the uthur hudda knife' appears on a deliberately low-fi print pinned to a wall. It is the very matter-of-factness of this statement, readily imaginable coming from the witness stand where some random act of violence is being debated, that makes it all the more powerful.
To anyone unfamiliar with the vernacular it might take a while to translate the phonetics in Claire's messages. But that is part of the whole issue. Until fairly recently the Scottish tongue, ubiquitous as it may have been, was rarely celebrated beyond its potential for comic effect - as in Francie and Josie enthusing about the 'burds' at 'the dancing', or Stanley Baxter's 'parliamo Glasgow' skits.
But Claire's focus on speech is echoing much of the writing that emanated from the west of Scotland's former industrial belt in the 70s and 80s, spearheaded by James Kelman, Tom Leonard, Alan Spence, William McIllvaney, Agnes Owens or Alasdair Gray; or the 90s output of Irvine Welsh, Alan Warner, Gordon Legge and Duncan McLean. To me, reading Not Not While The Giro or Trainspotting for the first time was an invigorating experience.
And one of the most invigorating of pieces here simply states: 'There Is Such A Hing Is Society.' In a political climate ignited, as Claire's work has been, by the most topical debate of our times - Scottish self-determination - what better rallying cry than to invert the words of Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative Prime Minister with a decidedly lukewarm attitude towards Scottish aspirations.
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