ALISTAIR WILSON: Signs and ciphers, GTG Belfast, 3 August – 19th September 2017

I open up with a paraphrase of  recent research:

Like so many artworks, the brain is largely an object of mystery. One secret yet to be discovered is how the fragile folds of matter locked inside our skulls can not only conceive art, create it and contemplate it, but can also experience being transported by it, out of the head, out of the body, out of space and time and reality itself.   The general wisdom  has it that visual art activates visual centres of the brain and taps into survival responses. (see:…/your-brain-on-art/… IS YOUR BRAIN ON ART  By Sarah L. Kaufman, Dani Player, Jayne Orenstein, May-Ying Lam, Elizabeth Hart and Shelly Tan   Published Sept. 18, 2017)

Alistair Wilson  offers a chance to contemplate that re-cycling, isolating one issue(material) at the time, contrasting  distinct edges(cut-outs) and flat flowing surfaces, and unveiling  links between unrelated elements  can do that.  And yes, this sounds dry, and powerless to forge an aesthetic experience.  Yet, Wilson’s strategies replace both the possible failures with visual thoughts/ art that can relax the viewer to play.


Ellipse Drawings, Witness

Hung systemically in  neat rows, these uniformly sized  cut outs  from  used and marked  desks, initially suggest repetition, but closer inspection reveals a refreshing multiplicity of different spatial configurations that a single structure can generate.  I use the noun “structure” for what is substantially a drawing on board. It is suggestive  of Alastair Wilson thinking  as a sculptor,  whether with three-dimensional or two-dimensional  material. This ability is shared also by architects and designers . In its classical form it embodied mathematics, geometry and proportion in statues of human figure, e.g. Praxiteles.

One part of Twin Peaks, steel, 2016

And there is a lot of geometry here…

Curves and rectangles on the walls, on floor, floating in air, standing  in corners,  are equally confident as their   biomorphic  neighbours.  The precision of the cut outs from stone, mirror,   wood, board or carpet  advocates  aesthetics of machine made, of the exact, of the reliable.  As if thinking of the prisoners outside the cave in full light (viz Plato, Republic, the myth of the cave, wonderfully worked through by Iris Murdoch in her The Fire and the sun, 1977) – these objects are disrobed to the minimum.

The other artery  of this exhibition  is lighter in definition and heavier in  impact.  Wilson striped it of mystery by placing a landscape  painting bought on E-bay at the entry, opposite the metal stand with the sculpted mountain calling it Twin Peaks.  He modelled the shape it has in the anonymous painting.  Appropriation by translation.  Invitation to compare the two there and then.

This intoxication with honesty goes on throughout.  The cloth mountain covers a gardening tools, including an upside down wheelbarrow,  fully visible from the opposite view.

Mountain on wooden legs… the clumsy support is cherished as well as the lovely drapery that in certain light from certain distance achieves transformatory conviction.

The rude awaking ,when seeing what the dorso is, provokes on of two sets of responses: either seeing it as a contemporary  grotesque or questioning why so numerous objects were necessary to evoke the  illusion of white mountain range?

Long Range, 2017 and a part of Witness ,Apparatus 4, 2009 (kinetic device, mirror)

Video, installations, floor sculpture and drawings complete the  variations on the  two themes: precisely new (shiny and smooth)   and  recycled.

Witness, ellipse drawing, 2010

Painting ? Drawing? Both?  I sense different kind of freedom in these – less of a responsibility to be an artist in an art world, more  being maker in the privacy of inventive play  feeling unadulterated joy of being.

These images keep their secrets placed in the multitude of irrational touches and constructs –  some perhaps starting off from the marks on the inherited surfaces.

They are spaces of imprisonment of matter in layers and repetitions meshing some disparate perceptions in a single mass. Indeed, it is akin the starry night offering both sense of disorientation and  the heighten anxiety of never knowing it all.

Serenity, silence, intimacy – usher the viewer inside the seen, insisting that the mute poetry, Leonardo thought about, is still possible, and that the task set by Italo Calvino  in his “memo” on saving visibility, is achievable.

The exhibition has been accompanied by a catalogue with interesting texts that refuse to be just of one kind.  It contains images of his output not present at GTG.   The catalogue Alistair Wilson, Signs and Ciphers,2017, copyright the artist, is meant to accompany the part II, planned for the Millennium Court  Arts Centre at Portadown later this year.

Images courtesy the GTG




About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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