Critics’ Picks

Stephen Sutcliffe, Goose Weather, 2010, still from a color video, 18 minutes.


Stephen Sutcliffe

Stills Gallery | Edinburgh
23 Cockburn Street
August 5–October 30

Through his astute method of collage, Glasgow-based artist Stephen Sutcliffe’s exhibition “Runaway, Success,” addresses the nature of the awkwardness—self-doubt, uncertainty, risk—that is inherent in the creative process. Overlaying colors and hand-drawn images on film footage and adding sound tracks in his videos, Sutcliffe performs experiments that destabilize and cast doubt on originality.

In We’ll Let You Know, 2008, a young Ian McKellen expounds on Shakespearean acting, while Sutcliffe has integrated a voice-over—as if coming from offstage, a voice makes verbal jabs like “Be as quick as you can, would you, please”—to subvert the actor’s self-assurance, as well as the British intellectual and class structure. Likewise, the photocollage No (after Steinberg), 2011, is a cartoonlike scenario, drawn in the style of famed New Yorker cover artist Saul Steinberg, of the ungainliness that infects interactions between employee and boss or the individual and society. In Goose Weather, 2010, the camera scans the cover of George Harrison’s 1970 album All Things Must Pass, revealing Harrison’s collection of garden gnomes; the sound track is a choral version of a text from Edith Sitwell’s 1933 book English Eccentrics that describes the fad of “ornamental hermits,” people employed by noblemen to live in contrived retreats on their country estates. Throughout, Sutcliffe’s works push beyond commentary, straddling the jagged line between real life and fantasy. This is aptly portrayed through the medium of collage, where discomfort lies in the spiky juxtaposition of disparate parts. As Voltaire once said, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”