‘Able was I ere I saw Elba’ is a seemly example of the kind of wordplay that lies at the root of Scott Myles’ practice. Attributed to Napoleon, who purportedly uttered the words on first sighting the Italian island where he was exiled, this famous palindrome underscores the split in meaning that occurs in much of the Glasgow-based artist’s work. The title of his solo show at Glasgow Print Studio, ‘ELBA’, made an oblique reference to this linguistic kink; more directly, it is also refers to a brand of manilla wallets of which Myles made a series of seven oversized facsimiles (‘The Past from Above [Elba …]’, 2010). The wallets are the same brand used by Myles in his studio to arrange his research materials – in the gallery context, where the screenprinted paper sculptures were leant against the gallery walls, these replicas can be seen as exposing the conceptual framework within which his works are produced. By presenting the object as a theoretical container and offsetting this with an aesthetic that borrows from the language of colour-field painting Myles underscores the post-minimalist underpinning of his work.
Semiotic triggers play a predominant role in both HOT SAND (2010) and BOTH AND (2010). These black and fluorescent-orange screen-printed text works, from an untitled ongoing series that began in 2003, replicate instructional signs and share ambiguous meanings. The words ‘HOT’ and ‘SAND’, printed on separate panels, were fixed one above the other on the wall, calling on our associations with what the text signifies as signage and conversely as art work. The sign, in this instance, recalls the memory of hot sand and hints at the process of glass-making. BOTH AND shares a similar format (this time the panels are side by side) and is in a direct dialogue with its rhyming sister work. With the subtraction and addition of two letters,
and a bit of rearranging, ‘BOTH AND’ becomes an anagram of ‘HOT SAND’.
2010 (2010), from an ongoing series of adapted Félix González-Torres posters, provides multiple perspectives both conceptually and pragmatically. On each side of González-Torres’ Untitled (Passport) (1991) Myles has inked the number ‘2010’ (though the number resembles ‘2%’), and the poster is enclosed in a Perspex case displayed perpendicular to the wall so as to be viewable from both sides. Resembling solid sculptural forms, González-Torres’ poster stacks are synonymous with a Minimalist vocabulary, so there is a clear connection between these and Myles’ manilla wallets in ‘The Past from Above (Elba …)’. The fundamental difference between the two, however, is their availability and circulation: while Myles’ may have drawn influence from González-Torres, with 2010 he highlights the fragility of the unlimited edition, and the resulting vulnerability to implied meaning.
With each of the works shown at Glasgow Print Studio the act of viewing is alluded to by their conceptual structure. In a series of five black and silver screenprints, ‘The Meaning of Return (Mirror) (I–V)’ (2010), the significance of interaction is extended further. In each print a photograph has captured sculptural forms in a ballet studio; some are haphazardly balanced combinations of fabricated and found objects, others more straightforward solid uprights. In one instance two plinth-like objects are reflected in the floor-to-ceiling mirror of the studio, as if observing their own anthropomorphic forms. Myles often suggests a degree of contemplative analysis in the work itself. His creation of multiple, simultaneous meanings in text works like HOT SAND and his symbolic representation of the containers within which his ideas exist in ‘The Past from Above (Elba …)’ underscore his fascination with the process of engaging with art work. But he also pre-empts these processes, designating a conceptual perimeter within which the viewer must manoeuvre.
First published in Issue 134