Talbot Rice Gallery

Ross Birrell & David Harding: where language ends

14 March - 2 May 2015

Ross Birrell and David Harding

 
Wotjek
Syrian Brown Bear - Iraq 1942. Courtesy of Greg Dayton.

where language ends saw the University of Edinburgh's Talbot Rice Gallery filled with coloured light and sound, as Glasgow-based artists Ross Birrell and David Harding brought together stories about exile and conflict, the words of poets such as John Keats and reference Wojtek the bear, one of Edinburgh Zoo's most famous ex-inhabitants. Music linked the different elements of the exhibition, emerging as a redemptive force, though one never far from brutality and violence. Throughout, video installations, such as Sonata in the Georgian Gallery, featured musicians of various nationalities, capturing virtuoso performances in single takes. The identities of the musicians form unspoken commentaries, on subjects including: violence against women and the ongoing political troubles between Israel and Palestine.

The variations of blue, red and gold light that flooded and infused the Gallery spaces refer to composers - often living in exile - who used modern techniques of transposition. These techniques reflect the artists' own method of composition, in which letters from lines of text are rearranged into notational systems. Sonata, for example, is based upon a composition developed by Birrell over 3 years taken from lines by poets John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Gregory Corso.

where language ends also featured two sculptures of the bear known as Wojtek. In 1942 Stalin released the Polish Army from captivity in Siberia and, making their way to the Middle East to join the Allied forces, they acquired a bear cub. To enable Wojtek, a name meaning "he who loves battles" or "the smiling warrior", to join them in the Allied invasion of Italy he was formally enlisted and 'fought' with his companions at the Battle of Monte Cassino. After the war he moved to Edinburgh Zoo and died there in 1963.

where language ends was an immersive journey through complex, multi-layered narratives, with Birrell and Harding inviting the viewer to explore the thresholds between music and politics, poetry and place, composition and colour.

Ross Birrell and David Harding are artists based in Glasgow.