Sculpture in Limbo

Do sculptures dream? This is the question posed by Scottish Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Boyce (b. 1967), whose work explores the intersections between design and urban planning. Boyce’s visual language is something special: it relies on asymmetry and disruption, both of which are key ingredients to his original Turner Win more than a decade ago, and his latest exhibition Before Behind Between Above Below, now on display at Fruitmarket, Edinburgh. Here, the artist reimagines the iconic gallery through interventions that engage with “architecture, proximity and intimacy.” This is a show that gives ground to the unspoken, as it dreams up interactions between subjects and objects, thinking of buildings in terms of the bodies they hold, as well as the ones they physically correspond to. The banal transforms into something stupendous.

In Long Distance Sleep Talking (2022), a chandelier-like sculpture carries the weight of multiple acrylic cut-outs. The constellation, made of plastic and metal, evokes the shapely dynamism of Alexander Calder’s rotating mobiles. Boyce’s display features a white telephone strewn from its cord, dangling over a neon pink door that levitates ever so slightly off the ground. It’s a piece that treads the boundary between sleep and waking, simulating a never-ending and simultaneously never-answered call. We feel an inimitable sense of longing, almost as if watching an unrequited lover refuse to pick up the receiver. At just the right angle, as the panels hang aimlessly, their grey edges could almost be mistaken for knives. For a moment, we feel a heightened sense of danger, an overzealous attendancy that evokes the uneasiness of Netflix’s hit of the season Baby Reindeer, or Marina Abramović’s 1973 performance in Edinburgh, Rhythm 10.

Elsewhere, corrugated partitions and wall moulds combine with floating steel apparitions. In one room, a taselled lamp rests on its side like a life drawing model or a collapsed Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared character. Next, a chair is wedged underneath a door, serving as an improvised obstacle to prevent entry. There is a sense of trying to break out of the domestic – a restlessness that will resonate with fans of Jesse Darling’s structures. The 2023 Turner Prize Winner‘s rickety roller coasters and slumping security barriers find kindred in Boyce’s corrugated chains and twisting steel sheets. Journey upstairs and we’re met with a canopy of rose-coloured aluminium shapes suspended from the ceiling. They contrast against clusters of reddening wax-coated leaves heaped on the floor. Boyce combines softness and sharpness, rigidity and languor, and organic and infertile all together, to the point where even cherry blossom feels like a threat.

Boyce explains, “The object is perhaps undead, a ghost, a physical presence in limbo.” These purgatory states are not so much asked by the artist but demanded in Before Behind Between Above Below. Across grills, fireplaces, lanterns, screens, telephone booths and vents, we’re given a language of urbanism, crisis and unexpected beauty, of objects long-past their point of utility. They have died, but are not dead, instead, becoming a kind of touchstone, or a thing of personal memory. We carry them with us, subjecting them to contortion, where, in the words of Derrida, “in us [they] may speak and ultimately reside.” Like any memory then, the resulting exhibition demands discomfort and desire in equal parts. It’s easy to be lured in by Boyce’s subversion of form; in fact, we ought to accept the invitation, take a seat, and stay a little longer.

Before Behind Between Above Below | Fruitmarket

Words: Chloe Elliott

Image Credits:

Courtesy of the artist and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd., Glasgow.