Fetish. The word is oddly unfashionable, and yet, walking around this exhibition, it is the word that keeps coming to mind. A fetish may be described as irrational and obsessive, but it could also be a lucky charm, an artefact created through meticulous ritual. It is also, as Robert Stoller wrote in Observing the Erotic Imagination (1985), 'a story masquerading as an object'.
Mary Redmond's sculptural works are stories masquerading as objects, although their tidings are sometimes hard to decipher. Her work is all about the material and how it is handled, and offers no verbal clues aside from a few elliptical titles. In the past she has spun a web across a gallery (Flat Loop, 1999) or strung pieces of painted wood and a plastic seat together like a mobile (Shufflebagger, 2000). Her use of low-key materials links her to certain contemporaries in Glasgow, notably Jim Lambie, Cathy Wilkes and Sue Tompkins. Equally, her sense of scale and the close relationship of her work to the surrounding space points to her training in the Environmental Art Department at Glasgow School of Art. Beyond these basic orientation points, though, there is much that remains intriguing. Partly because of the implied kinetic energy knotted into each piece, Redmond's work has an event-like quality. There is a particular suspense in the way that her balanced colour and composition threaten to come undone.
Athinas Bee Bar (all works 2002) seems at first sight to stem from the same tradition as Helio Oiticica's 'Penetrables' (1967-9). The work is made of a partially unravelled ochre knitted bag, some red polyester of the sort used in linings, green palm fronds and a few umbrella spokes. The sculpture hangs from the ceiling, trailing its colours down, but on closer inspection the work edges away from this reading. After all, it also looks like a kind of flag, although it is not shaped like any conventional ensign. The colours are reminiscent of the independent Pan-African flags hoisted in the early 1960s in the former French colonies of Cameroon, Senegal, Guinea, Togo and the Congo: red for the blood of patriots, gold for natural wealth and prosperity, and green for the land, for hope. The associative reach of the work is all potentiality.
Although there are now many artists making work from 'everyday' materials, few have the ability to make the materials speak as Redmond does. In this, her best work is something like the ideal Italo Calvino described in his 1988 essay 'On Multiplicity'. 'Think what it would be to have a work [...] that would let us escape the limited perspective of the individual ego, not only to enter into selves like our own but to give speech to that which has no language, to the bird perching on the edge of the gutter, to the tree in spring and the tree in fall, to stone, to cement, to plastic.' Redmond seems to achieve this in a work entitled Campari, which consists of two carved wooden protuberances jutting from the wall. One is purple and spindly, adorned at one end with lengths of mercurized yellow cotton; the other is shorter, goldish and encrusted with many tiny copper circles attached with shiny pins. The piece nods to David Hammons' works made with beer bottle tops, but is also something else entirely. It is a giant match-head, waiting to be struck, a metallic stem dripping cold nectar. Of course the work has been made, but it also appears to have willed itself alive.
Redmond also differs from the other artists in her circle in her use of industrial materials, such as metal fencing sourced from building sites and sheets of corrugated iron. Here a grey wavy sheet slices down into the space, suspended from lengths of dark yellow cord. A scrunched-up peach T-shirt clings to the top while two plastic tubes, one white, one black, descend on looped strings below. It looks very temporary, like a door to a makeshift dwelling. Only the careful choice of colours and the fastidious knotwork securing the sculpture give away Redmond's considered approach. This work, like the others, is something ordinary made strange. There is a door, waiting to be pushed open, even as the plastic tubes jangle in an imagined breeze. There is something beneath the surface, woven, hammered and sewn.
First published in Issue 72