In 2010, Glasgow-based artists Rob Churm, Raydale Dower and Tony Swain collaborated on Le Drapeau Noir, an exhibition staged for the Glasgow International Festival. In the context of GENERATION – a nationwide programme that celebrates some of the most significant Scottish art from the past 25 years – the trio is brought together again for Continue Without Losing Consciousness at Dundee Contemporary Arts. All three artists are or have been involved in music bands; the underground music scene provides a common thread, made manifest in their very different approaches. As Rob Churm puts it in the informational video, “the musical association is present in a variety of non-musical forms.”
This association is evident in Raydale Dower’s photographic diptych 1/10000 Second (Piano Drop Image no.1665 and Image no.1898). One photograph depicts an empty room or, in his own words, “the void where the action will take place.” The adjacent image presents the action: a piano in free fall, captured mid-air just before it crashes on the ground. This “void” has its metonymic recreation in the next gallery, where an empty raised platform provides the stage for music performances selected by the artists as an intrinsic part of the exhibition. Like the Dower’s photographs, the empty stage remains a black void that reminds us of the performances that have already occurred, as well as others that may occur.
Rob Churm’s works on paper incorporate a wide range of techniques, from traditional etching to drawings done with biro pen. In a large body of works arranged in different groupings, he leads the viewer into whimsical worlds and meticulously crafted optical experimentations.
Churm takes his visual cues from 1970s music posters and the underground zine culture; in contrast, Tony Swain’s practice shows a sustained engagement with newspapers. At first, his paintings on newspapers may seem unassuming, hanged unframed in a manner that emphasises their lightness as materials as well as the ephemeral quality of such news publications; their unobtrusive character allows a conversation between the traditional expectations of painting and the distinctive medium that are newspapers. The papers provide starting points for the artist to create fictional landscapes and mischievous structures. These fantastical sceneries are intertwined with the actual news, and sometimes it becomes almost impossible to discern where the paper stops and the painting begins. The works often seem to contain a narrative element, but such anticipation is usually frustrated by the deeply ambiguous imagery.
The layered effect of these paintings is reenacted in Churm’s multi-coloured prints and the material proliferation in installations such as Untitled (Reoccurrence) by Dower, where fragments of the broken piano are arranged into a sculptural form. Although dispersed throughout the DCA galleries, the distinctive mark of each artist is evident. They come into dialogue at the level of musicality and show a mutual interest in associations with pop culture.
Le Drapeau Noir was centred around an artistic café, with a regular programme of music and events that referenced youth popular culture and the twentieth century avant-garde. In contrast, the exhibition at DCA seems mostly detached from this background. Pop culture is ubiquitously present, and yet even when the works are at their most playful and whimsical, this youthful anarchy seems toned down. The white expanse of the galleries and the predominance of paper-based works – which in their turn are mostly composed of soft and muted colours– give the show an institutional quality that remains in tension with some of the themes explored in the works themselves.
Continue Without Losing Consciousnessallows the visitor to access the variety of works from different levels, whether in a mischievous and playful spirit, or as thoughtful explorations on the convergence between different areas of creative production.