BY Rob Tufnell in Reviews | 12 NOV 00
Featured in
Issue 55

Joanne Tatham and Tom O'Sullivan

Transmission Gallery, Glasgow, Scotland

BY Rob Tufnell in Reviews | 12 NOV 00

Jamieson's Scottish Dictionary, published 1816, defines 'glamer' or 'glamour' as 'the supposed influence of a charm on the eye, causing it to see objects differently from what they really are'. It also claims that the word is of Icelandic origin, either from glimbr (splendour), or glam skygn (squint or wall-eyed), a condition which was believed to be caused by witchcraft.

Joanne Tatham and Tom O'Sullivan's installation The Glamour (2000) comprised three monolithic, rectangular constructions lying in an irregular line which bisected the gallery. One side of these structures was covered by mirrored panels, while the other consisted of an unfinished timber framework. On the floor, in front of the mirrored surface, a strip of broken stone bearing a number of illuminated fluorescent lighting tubes flooded the space with pink light. The gallery's cellar space, lying directly below, contained further fluorescent tubes arrayed against the bare brick walls and concrete floor - a Modernist grotto.

The installation made obvious reference to artists such as Dan Flavin, Dan Graham, Robert Morris and Robert Smithson, all of whom attempted to involve the audience in their work through self-conscious acts of 'reading' and were subsequently attacked by Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried for being too 'theatrical'. Tatham and O'Sullivan's installation was constructed as a stage set 'where aesthetics and attitudes from moments in cultural history are recovered and re-staged in new ways'. Entering the gallery, viewers found themselves in a mirrored arena. Cracks between three mirrored panels offered a glimpse of something beyond - a backstage which revealed its means of construction.

The artists who Tatham and O'Sullivan quote rejected Greenberg's ideas of purity - an art free of 'illegitimate content'. Attempting to introduce speculative thinking into their work they embraced philosophy, linguistics, phenomenology and psychology. Tatham and O'Sullivan explore these ideas by embracing uncertainty - their installation touches upon pre-Modern ideas of mysticism and devotion. Their use of mirrors has, for example, as much to do with the mirrors of mythology as with the sculptural practice of an earlier generation: Lao's Mirror, Merlin's magic mirror, Diana's Mirror and the woodland Lake Nemi, where the patron of margins and savagery, the Roman Moon goddess, was worshipped.

Although they employ a radically different approach, Tatham and O'Sullivan's work is reminiscent of J. M. W. Turner's landscape paintings of Lake Nemi - the most famous example being The Golden Bough (1834), a title appropriated by Sir James Frazer in 1922 as the title of his seminal anthropological enquiry into magic and religion. A lesser known watercolour from 1840 depicts the lake, with a foreshore of broken stone, reflecting the iridescent warmth of the surrounding hills and the pastel shades of the sky. This painting, made after Turner's prolonged preoccupation with the then modern topography of Britain, is part of a series that reaffirmed the artist's interest in Classical themes. As such it offers an unlikely parallel to Tatham and O'Sullivan's reconfiguration of what we now understand as Modern.