Kilian Rüthemann and Kate V. Robertson are artists with a shared interest in the physical and social properties of materials. Exhibiting together for the first time in the inaugural show at the new home of this artist-led gallery (which was established in 2009), their installations and subtle interventions created a calmly compelling conversation between the space, the objects within it and the viewer’s own expectations.
Rüthemann originally trained as a stone sculptor and, since graduating from Basel’s School of Art and Design in 2005, the Swiss artist’s site-specific practice has comprised a consistently rigorous exploration of the limitations and potentials of his chosen materials. From parquet floor tiles to concrete plaster, burnt sugar to glass cylinders, Rüthemann delights in revealing the physical characteristics of the pieces he creates, testing their structural qualities in order to uncover what lies beneath. At David Dale Gallery, his first exhibition in the UK, Linger! (2012) was constructed from 8mm-thick cold-pressed steel, a response to the vertical steel girders that intersect the gallery. The installation consisted of three large rectangular sheets, constructed from sections and painted white on one side, which were then leant against the girders and welded in place; viewed from the front, the sheets resembled a trio of sagging metal sails, crumpled and buckled by their own weight.
Interviewed in the May issue of this magazine, Rüthemann spoke of using titles ‘to hint at the issues I’m into’, and Linger! could be seen as both an exclamatory request and a declaration of fact. The way the installation dissected the gallery forced viewers to renegotiate the space, to linger a while as they unpicked this spatial intervention. The steel itself could also be said to represent a kind of lingering – despite being hard and resilient, it will of course corrode, slowly succumbing to its own mutability. In the context of a post-industrial city such as Glasgow, once known for its world-conquering shipyards, both material and title acquired another layer of meaning; a much-depleted ship building industry still remains, but its future is uncertain.
Like many of Rüthemann’s previous sculptural interventions, Linger! was beautifully simple and, despite the industrial nature of the metal, ethereally effective. It was this gap between the nature of the materials and the messages they convey that provided the bridge between both artists’ work. Positioned around the edges of the gallery space, Robertson presented a series of pieces – all made this year – that played with our expectations. A wall-mounted glass tube, Untitled (Assign), was a squiggle of transparent nothingness, an indecipherable neon non-sign; a wax plinth, Untitled (Wane), doubled as a candle, but any light it emitted was hidden inside the well created as the wick burnt down; Untitled (Compromise) replaced one of the gallery’s external window panes with a frosted sheet of glass that included a brick-sized indent, while on the opposite side of the gallery a large block of ice doubled as a projection screen, Untitled (Refresh) (all 2012). The artist’s interest in changing states and the transient, fluid nature of things was unambiguous.
Robertson, who graduated in 2009 with an MFA from the Glasgow School of Art, has worked extensively with paper – her 2012 publication, Works on Paper, is a monochrome hymn to its properties and possibilities – and two previously exhibited pieces continued this ongoing enquiry. Untitled (Draft) was a white sheet of A4, stuck to the wall at the top and lifting slightly at the bottom thanks to a small electric fan behind it; Untitled (Bond) (both 2011) consisted of a creased piece of A4 paper cast in grey cement. As with Rüthemann’s sheets of steel, there was a sense of these objects not quite doing what’s expected of them. Linger! was clearly this exhibition’s centrepiece, an example of the artist’s adeptness at reconfiguring space in order to conjure atmosphere and meaning. Yet Robertson’s work was no sideshow. Rather, it completed the circle, her interest inthings absent and unstable a welcome complement to Rüthemann’s interrogations.