Unsettled Objects

Lothar Baumgarten, 'Unsettled Objects, 1968-69. Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford' 1968-69, Slide projector, 80 slides. Copyright the artist, courtesy Glasgow Life (Museums)

Unsettled Objects at the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), Glasgow, reflects on how artists have examined the social and political. The exhibition takes its name from Lothar Baumgarten’s (b. 1944) installation Unsettled Objects, 1968-9. Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford which probes the status of the object as it journeys into the museum, and uses the language of the museum to call attention to the ideologies of the institution the objects are placed within. Influenced by anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, Unsettled Objects was the outcome of Baumgarten’s image documentation and intervention through language, of the ethnographic collection and display at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Each slide visually depicting display cases and object arrangements features a word, ranging from “rationalized”, “narrated”, “valued” to “typified” that captures the museum’s attempt towards accessibility and rational classification. Unsettled Objects formed one of his studies of how several European ethnographic museums display objects and frame perceptions, and the ways objects have been uprooted from their original contexts and remain unsettled against western discourses.

Graham Fagen, 'Bell' 2006, Silk screen print. Copyright the artist, courtesy Glasgow Life (Museums)

Graham Fagen and Emily Jacir’s works also revolve around journeys, their distinct approaches disclosing the complex historical and social issues intertwined with these journeys. Graham Fagen (b. 1966) grew up in Irvine, the hometown of eighteenth century Scottish poet Robert Burns, yet found himself drawn more to reggae than the poetry of Burns. Fagen’s Bell (2006), is one of three screenprints, each depicting the ships, Nancy, Bell and Roselle that Burns had booked successive passages on, to travel to Jamaica to work as a bookkeeper on a slave plantation. Each passage was eventually not realised, as emerging reception to his poems led him to remain in Scotland. The image of the ship, with facts of its passage, open up associations between maritime journeys, trade and slavery of the eighteenth century. The prints form one part of Fagen’s body of work which converges the life history and poetry of Robert Burns with reggae music from the West Indies, treading on the relationships between Scotland and Jamaica through the journeys (and non-journeys) of people and their legacies.

Emily Jacir, 'From Texas With Love' (2002), video, monitor, text. Copyright the artist, courtesy Glasgow Life (Museums)

From responses to the question “If you had the freedom to get in a car and drive for one hour without being stopped (imagine that there is no Israeli military occupation, no Israeli soldiers, no Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks, no ‘bypass’ road) what song would you listen to?”, Emily Jacir (b. 1970) compiled an hour-long soundtrack of 51 songs selected by Palestinians living in Palestine. From Texas with Love (2002) was filmed through the rear windscreen of Jacir’s car, as she undertook an uninterrupted journey across the Texan highway, listening to the soundtrack comprising international pop songs to the Palestinian national anthem. Jacir often performs actions on behalf of those whose rights are curtailed, in this case, mobility without harassment. Visitors are able to select the track to be played, vicariously undertaking a journey which drives across the message that the basic freedom of mobility and choice while easily enjoyed in one country, is denied in another.

Unsettled Objects speaks to the potentials of politics within art, but also ponders its limits housed within an institution. The exhibition runs from December 2009  to March 2011, and other presented artists include Ian Hamilton Finlay, Jenny Holzer and Jo Spence.