in Features | 01 MAR 08
Featured in
Issue 113

Scott Myles

The play between awareness and image; photographs, objects, paintings and performance

in Features | 01 MAR 08

Untitled (ASKIT) (2007)

For Scott Myles’ recent solo show ‘Askit’, at The Modern Institute in Glasgow, the windowpanes of the gallery were replaced with mirrored panels, removing the view and, it seemed, the air from the room. In creating Mirror Room (2007), Myles closed off the mediation afforded by the Victorian sash windows, which usually flood the space with daylight and sounds from the street outside, in which a pawnbroker’s, modern offices, a drop-in centre for prostitutes and a plush corporate hotel co-exist. The instant feedback of the mirrors ensured that the process of looking became self-conscious, as every viewer was split into the subject who looks and the reflected object that appears in the mirror. This play between awareness and image recurs elsewhere in Myles’ photographs, objects, paintings and performance-based projects, and stems from what he once described as ‘an aspiration to project oneself in some way’.

In silvering the windows, Myles not only gestures towards the art-historical meanings of mirrors but also positions his own work within that discourse, dislocated from local social and political context. Kenneth Frampton wrote in Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance (1983) that the use of artificial light in art galleries ‘tends to reduce the art work to commodity, since such an environment must conspire to render the work placeless’. Certainly the hermetic quality of Myles’ installation focused the viewer’s attention on the other objects in the room. However, the sense of unreality engendered by the cancelled fenestration was also an attempt to be in two places at once.

An early indicator of Myles’ interest in actual and imagined states can be seen in a work begun while he was still an undergraduate at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee, entitled Everything in-between, Dundee, Scotland, Oct. 02 1996, Everything in-between, Monument Valley, USA, Mar. 23 1998 (1996–8). The work comprised two apparently identical photographs: the first showing Myles posing on a garage roof in Dundee in front of a Marlboro cigarette billboard, the second taken two years later, when he travelled to Utah to replicate the first pose in the actual landscape depicted in the hoarding.

In Myles’ work things are often not what they appear to be – for example, his work Ice Cream Paperweights (2002) is made of cast-bronze, painted to resemble scoops of strawberry, vanilla and chocolate ice-cream. Similarly, Untitled (Chair) (2007) and Smoking in the Pavilion (2004) are, respectively, a cast of Robin Day’s 1962 design classic and a bus shelter, painted to suggest light and shade. The bus shelter is draped with Converse baseball boots: three white shoes on the top side, a single black shoe hanging in the shadows. The temporary gestural event (dropping your ice-cream, vandalizing a chair in the common room, throwing a pair of trainers away in the street) is literally recast in Myles’ work as unique and untouchable.

The attempt to systematize live events first appeared in Myles’ work in Untitled (Newspaper Intervention with Flyer March 14th 1999–March 14th 2000). For a year, whenever he travelled by train, he would shoplift newspapers and magazines at the station, read them on the journey and, after inserting an explanatory leaflet, replace them on the shelves of a different branch of the same newsagents’ chain on arrival. Similarly, for the piece Untitled (Smoking) (2001) Myles engaged a young man to spend a day blending in with office workers taking cigarette breaks on the pavements of Glasgow’s St Vincent Street.

In more recent works Myles has focused his attention on disrupting the contemplative moments that occur within galleries and museums. Since 2002 he has shown a series of posters by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, collected on visits to various museums and galleries, which he has inscribed with handwritten phrases on the reverse: ‘LEARN THE LANGUAGE’, ‘IT HURTS’, ‘INSIDE SAILING’. These are displayed in Perspex cases ‘neurotically’ affixed to both the floor and the wall, which enable the viewer to see both sides of the work. Related to these double-sided posters are Myles’ text-based screen prints, which highlight the pliable qualities of language – such as Words and Pictures (Missing Words) (2007) or Untitled (It) (2007), in which a blurred phrase asks simultaneously ‘What is it?’ while also declaring ‘What it is’. Reminiscent of Bruce Nauman’s word-game screen prints of the 1960s and ’70s, such as Raw-War (1971) and Perfect Door, Perfect Odor, Perfect Rodo (1972), Myles’ text works contribute to a sense of language functioning not as a system of reliable signs but as a material resistant to interpretation.

One of Myles’ most recent works is ‘ASKIT’ (2007), a series of rectangular aluminium ‘flags’ affixed at right angles to the wall, to make bold incursions into the available space. These sculpture/paintings are covered in coloured marbled patterns and then screen-printed with enormous black fragmented letters. In overprinting unique monoprints of patterns formed by floating ink (evidence of a singular here and now) with endlessly repeatable screen prints of standardized letter forms, Myles again sets in motion an anxious circling of ideas of originality and repetition. The title of these flag works refers to a brand of soluble painkiller, which in the 1980s was advertised with the slogan ‘Askit fights the miseries’. The effect of Myles’ work is perhaps the opposite: less a panacea than an interrogation. ‘ASKIT’ could be interpreted as a portmanteau word – a hissed instruction: ask it!