Having non-artistic friends accompany me to a contemporary art exhibition always manages to fill me with dread, apprehension and guilt. It really shouldn’t bother me so much, yet soon after entering the gallery, the stock questions ensue: “What on earth is this stuff?”, “How is this art?” and “Why did you bring me here?”.
Even I struggle to explain why two strands of string sellotaped to a coat-hanger is art. Without assuming intellectual superiority, I feel that many works of contemporary art contain ‘in-jokes’, references and challenges to the artistic canon, which only certain people will understand. I recall once in a gallery, my own mother dismissed Marcel Duchamp’s infamous ‘Fountain’, a work of monumental art historical importance and influence. The work is merely an upturned urinal, yet it poses questions on the role of an artist in a work (Duchamp did not in fact build the urinal) and the role of art (how ordinary objects can be elevated by their placement in a gallery).
Duchamp is the father of so-called ‘conceptual art’, whereby the intention behind a work is valued over the process, materials and aesthetics of the artwork itself. A new exhibition has just opened at the Dundee Contemporary Arts, which may be one of the gallery’s most ‘conceptual’ in a long time. The exhibition, curiously titled ‘Renderender’ is showcasing the talent’s of Iranian-born, but Dutch living and working, artist Navid Nuur.
With almost 30 works of art in just two galleries, I found it to be overwhelming at first, and I struggled to find cohesion and a sense of theme throughout. Yet, perhaps this was the point. There is a sense of childlike curiosity and playfulness to be found in the exhibition, with peek-holes, interactive artworks and seemingly magical objects. Nuur’s form of art values site specificity, and the artist has made alterations to the DCA gallery space to evoke his thought process. Holes have been cut in walls, doors have been stylised and dark tunnels have been created between the galleries, bringing connotations of a child’s den or a cave (perhaps a reference to Plato’s cave).
The exhibition begins with a work of video editing, where Nuur has isolated the phrase ‘what I call’ across footage from many TED speeches and combined the clips together to create a repetitive film. With reflection on what is to come later in the exhibition, this initial work reminds us of the subjective nature of art, and how perceptions of reality and the world around differ between humans.
In the first gallery, Nuur has meticulously sketched a grid of maps (which actually document the weather systems during the creation of the exhibition) on a wall using only the ash from matches, before depositing the empty boxes – 5,000 in total – on the floor below. But for what reason? Is he attempting to highlight the artistic process, and to show the lengths he has gone to to create the work? What further meaning can be ascertained from the work? Ultimately, this is the point: individual perception is crucial.
The artist seems to revel in transience and describes his art as a “module of thought…concerned with their brief existence and interconnectedness”.
Moving into the darkened second gallery, it becomes apparent that Nuur seems to be fasciated by geological phenomena. He recreates geodes, stalactites, and cave formations using unexpected materials such as wood, polystyrene, and egg boxes. He plays with the viewer’s perceptions of an object, tricking the eye to believe an object is composed a certain way.
With unattractive and absurd objects, Nuur makes connections between the earth and art, highlighting the impact the latter has on the former. His work ‘City Soil’ is a large upturned wheelie-bin which contains the ashes of the rubbish resulting from the creation of the exhibition.
Overall, the exhibition is enchanting and inventive, with artworks which are beautiful and suggestive, allowing the viewer to decide their significance. Nuur has sourced inspiration from Dada and Earth Art, bringing a fresh approach to conceptual art.
Nuur’s ‘Renderender’ is on in Galleries 1 and 2 at the DCA until 15 June.