Review by Alistair Quietsch
Seeped in conceptual layering and research, Jeremy Millar’s current show at the CCA is at times, a seemingly disparate show of literary nods with a thorough post-modernist upbringing in the use of meta-narratives and referencing. However, it’s visually intriguing, as Millar seems unconstrained to a particular medium and seems happy to use various modes of expression, from wooden sculpture to video. Upon entering the larger gallery space immediately on the left is an unforgettable piece that resonates throughout the show even after viewing: the complete lifelike cast of the artist lying water logged and pale-white-dead on the floor. The piece is titled Self Portrait as a Drowned Man (The Willows) (2011) and was commissioned by the CCA itself and lies there, with suspicious gouges in its skin, begging for attention.
Self Portrait, as the introductory piece to the show, is an attractive starting point as it lays out the conceptual methodology Millar pursues. He mostly references authors as inspiration for pieces like Algernon Blackwood, a horror short story writer who dabbled in occultism and whose work, The Willows (1907), is accredited in the title. In Portrait he also references the movie adaptation of Alexander Trocchi’s Young Adam (1957), shot in and around Glasgow. The piece can be seen as the formal representation of characters and plots created from these fictions. Millar employed the use of Grant Mason FX after seeing the life-like drowned body of the female victim in Young Adam and decided to create his own narrative for the CCA commission. As the blurb cites the piece also references Hippolyte Bayard’s 1840 photograph Self Portrait as a Drowned Man raising questions of paradoxes within the idea of the artist being dead yet being able to create. The text reiterates this and it is an interesting question, since semantically/etymologically you could produce self-portraits after death if you yourself were the titled dead portrait.
Millar’s use of literary sources as starting points can again be seen in A Firework for W.G. Sebald (2005), where he has taken the inquisitive path of looking into W. G. Sebald, a German author who died at the side of the A146 in 2001. In the authors book Rings of Saturn (1995), a walking tour of East Anglia, he photographs a lighthouse in Southwold, which also appeared in the film Drowning by Numbers (1988) which in itself has a character that marks the death of each person he knows by lighting off a firework. Millar takes this ceremony in hand and repeats it for the Sebald car crash site, with the blurb strenuously stating: “Sebald’s face seems to appear in the smoke, as if in acknowledgement of the gesture.”
The breadth of Millar’s research has to be applauded, and his use of varying materials from photography to sculpture is interesting and adventurous, like the burnt repetitions of Sol Lewitt’s cubes, reflectively titled Incomplete Open Cubes (Burnt) (2010). However as in the Sebald photographs, his use of ritual as the unifying theme between works seems almost secondary even though it is the core of the show: Lewitt’s statement of conceptual artists being mystics, the Virgilian Bronze Fly conjured to protect Naples and the droning kaleidoscope video piece The Writing of Stones (using text from Roger Caillois who is obviously a strong influence) which connects author to ritual to art product again in what is obviously Millar’s own rite to conceptual art. Millar clearly has an interest in literature and theory, his use of novels and stories as the starting point for pieces is exciting and seems full of potential plot twists and narratives.
Resemblances, Sympathies, and Other Acts continues at CCA, Glasgow until 7 May. For more information visit www.cca-glasgow.com
Image: Incomplete Open Cubes (Burnt)(2010)
Painted wood; burnt wood
Courtesy the artist and CCA, Glasgow