There was a point last year when we all saw rather more of our own four walls than we might otherwise have wished. The spur for countless DIY projects, for those with means, lockdown also became a time when the idea of someone else designing one’s space to fit one’s new and suddenly much-altered needs became something that dreams were made of.
Yet the idea of designing a total space for living is not a new one, having caught the imagination of many architects over the years; the Bauhaus movement springs immediately to mind, with the likes of Marcel Breuer designing both furniture and building with one single ideal, or perhaps those such as Le Corbusier, whose vision for complete living was (somewhat regimentally) all-encompassing.
But Scotland had its own visionary architectural champions, those who thought of the building in terms of structure right down to implements for living within. Charles Rennie Mcintosh was one such, with his fully grown-in interiors from the Willow Tearooms to the inbuilt furniture of the library that once was, in the Glasgow School of Art. It makes sense, in the end, for why should the vision for a building stop at the walls, when what is put inside them can dramatically alter the effect of the shell?
That, then, is the springboard for “Interior Landscapes”, the new exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy building in Edinburgh, curated by Robin Webster RSA, president elect of RIAS, “to highlight work done by architects which goes beyond the design of a building and includes the detailed conception of more intimate and sometimes transitory objects that relate to and may be an integral part of the whole design.” Webster references the word “gesamtkunstwerk”, the “total work of art”, and invites fellow Academicians alongside other artists and architects to interpret the theme, the concept being of design that encompasses everything from the walls of the building down to the teaspoons and the cutlery drawer itself. Such domestic objects and furniture, and the connection between the formative idea and the manufacture, whether hand-crafted or machine-made, is at the crux of this exhibition.
And it is beautifully done, with many of the works here aesthetically striking, practicality of form sometimes hidden but ever-referenced, from Richard Murphy’s “Wunderkammer” – a changeable, moveable series of cupboards named for the cabinet of curiosities which it references – to Doug Cocker’s spike-riddled structure, “My Father’s Easy Chair”.
Webster points out that the complete designed environment, such as those by Macintosh or Robert Lorimer, whose restored Highland castles and city cottages were replete with everything down to the furniture, in sympathy with the Arts and Crafts concept, is now a rare thing. And yet it is celebrated here.
There is simplicity, and something that Macintosh, Lorimer or William Morris would have recognised in the cleanly hewn “Low Table/Stool” or the “Twisted Chest” of Adrian McCurdy, a craftsman who makes furniture from wood felled in parks or acquired by “lucky chance”, mastering the rare and time-consuming craft of cleaving wood in to furniture, splitting around rotten cores, cleaving to form.
There is Gavin Mutch’s “Stool (After an Idea by Adam Zyw)”, a ride-on-horse of hewn oak, and his similarly veined Insect Chair. And then Ben Scrimgeour’s Cardboard Chair, a symphony of recycling, as per the ethos behind his architectural practice, The Building Workshop, founded with wife Rosemary Scrimgeour. Practicalities in a more romantic vein include Gavin Mutch and Robin Webster’s “Stairchair”, a chair formed of half a stair, with cubby holes beneath, “intended to offer raised seating positions in the absence of a stair”, and alluding to the wonderful AA Milne poem “Halfway down”, where, if you will remember, you will find “a stair where I sit”.
There are Dovecot tapestries from Victoria Crowe and Barbara Rae – her evocative “Peel Sound Ice” – and Paul Furneaux’ “Inner Landscape”, alongside Keith Rand’s Expanded Elm Seat (1988) and other abstractions. Then, too, the “Counterfeit” ceramic creations of Jessica Harrison in imitation of the Georgian past, and the Embedded Furniture of Sutherland Hussey Architects. It is all evocatively put together, gently asking questions of how we build and how we build up the practical stuff of our lives, an evocative envoy from a partially lost world in which off the shelf interior components and ready-made interior house styles do not exist.
Interior Landscapes, The Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture, RSA Lower Galleries, The Mound, Edinburgh, www.royalscottishacademy.org Until 25 July, Thurs – Sat, 10am – 5.pm, Sun 12pm – 5pm. Free: Book time slot online
Poet and writer George Mackay Brown had an influence over literary and artistic life in Orkney and beyond that has lasted well beyond the bounds of his lifetime. The Pier Arts Centre in Stromness, Brown’s familiar and intricately reimagined stomping ground, celebrates that link and the writer’s belief in the centrality of art to the well-being of any society, in an ongoing series of exhibitions celebrating his centenary, which will feature work by artists including Stanley Cursiter, Robert Rendall, Sylvia Wishart, Gunnie Moberg and Ian MacInnes, amongst others.
As part of this, a series of exhibitions featuring new work by local artists will cycle through the seasons this year at Pier, of which that by artist Stuart Sim is the first. Entitled “The Toy Box” and open until next weekend, Sim’s exhibition is a growing of influences, which began with a simple image made ten years ago – two eyes and a mouth, “an anxious little face”, which Sim associated with his two year old self – and rediscovered when he returned home some five years ago. The result is an installation on memories of childhood, and our interpretation of them, the joys, both specific and imagined, in which the viewer interacts with the work and “fills in the gaps”, as Sim has it, layering on their own remembered experiences.
When Sim’s instalment closes in a week’s time, the next instalment will commence, with artists involved including Saoirse Higgins, Ingrid Budge, Jack Whitwell, Boyd & Grogan and Sigurd Smith.
Orkney and the Artist: Stuart Sim/The Toybox, Pier Arts Centre, Victoria Street, Stromness, Orkney, 01856 850209, www.pierartscentre.com Until Jul 17: ongoing until Nov 6, Tues – Sat, 10.30am – 5pm, Book time slot online
Sculptor Laura Aldridge spent the first lockdown working on small pieces for friends, or inspired by them, in her new kiln, trying to stave off the horror many of us felt at the time. With all exhibitions cancelled, she found a new focus making work for its own sake, not thinkgin about the end result on the walls of a gallery. But with art galleries reopened, her long-delayed exhibition at CAMPLE LINE has opened, and the raw, vibrant, tactile ceramics she created in the last year both ask questions and speak to something greater. Very well worth the drive (or cycle/walk) down to this lovely corner of Dumfriesshire.
Laura Aldridge: sumVigour, CAMPLE LINE, Cample Mill, Cample, nr Thornhill, Dumfriesshire, 01848 331 000,www.campleline.org.ukUntil 29 Aug, Thurs – Sun, 11am – 4pm by prebooked appointment, or drop in 1pm-2pm, no appointment necessary