September 4th, 2016


Edinburgh trip part 2, Monday

First order of the day was the “Surreal Encounters” exhibition at the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art.  This was easy to find as I’d been there before, a point that was to echo through my mind as I realised that I’d set off in the wrong direction as soon as I left my flat, and wondered how long I’d leave it before finally admitting that I wasn’t going to correct my route through instinct and would have to simply retrace my steps.  Still, I had plenty of time so arriving an hour later than I intended wasn’t a problem, and my own surreal route seemed entirely suitable.  The exhibition was enormous, taking up 13 rooms and including a lot of very familiar works, including paintings by Dali and Magritte that I’ve known since I was a teenager (there was something thrilling about finding myself next to a genuine lobster telephone that wasn’t at all diminished by the news that I wasn‘t allowed to call Hitler on it).
   I did, however, have one massive problem with the exhibition.  I know I’m being a bit obvious and born-again, but it just doesn’t make sense to put on an exhibition of twentieth-century surrealism, especially of this size - around 200 works, I think - and have so few by women artists.  The gallery mentions Leonor Fini’s “Due Donne” and Dorothea Tanning’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” among its four highlights, correctly in my opinion, but doesn’t mention that that’s one sixth of women’s entire contribution to the show.  Women were painting alongside the men, exhibiting with the men, and in my opinion, were usually better.  It’s not the gallery’s fault - the show was made up of four large private collections - but they didn’t seem to notice.  The result is that they represented virtually any man who’s ever drawn a pair of boobs without a head, but cut out half of surrealism’s history, and there’s an argument that it’s the better half.
   If one can stomach that, this must have been one of the best exhibitions of surrealism to have happened in this country, but I found it was Dorothea Tanning’s picture I really couldn’t drag myself away from, and I wished I could have gone into the building next door for the missing half.  In any case, I left with any sense of reality deliciously purged from my mind, and set off for my next show, in the wrong direction.
   I eventually arrived though, and I could see from the queue that half of the audience for Solotronik’s “The Sanctuary of the Minds” wasn’t going to make it to the end.  Perhaps I’m wrong and the audience for electronic music is indeed made up of pensioners and Japanese tourists, but events would suggest that my prejudice had some foundation.  Solotronik consisted of a man playing music through two laptops, although in fact he may just have been e-mailing the woman next to me who was unable to tear her eyes away from her phone for the entire concert.  The music was actually pretty good, if a bit derivative, but I felt that the visuals were the result of a sixth-former applying his first video editing software to some home-shot footage that was never terribly interesting in the first place.  Fortunately Solotronik spiced things up by ensuring that his head was usually in the way of the projector.  The audience had indeed halved by the end, which was a shame as the leave camp had missed the chance of a free dvd of the show, which they could have watched and walked out of to their heart’s content.
   I rounded off the afternoon with “The Sensible Dresser” by Elsie Diamond, this was a hilarious account of her experiences as a dresser in an opera house told in burlesque form, or at least as burlesque as you’re going to get in a free show in the afternoon.  I have long since learnt to sit in an inaccessible part of the room at shows like these in order to avoid potential audience participation.  This was a mistake as it meant I didn’t get to participate in such harmless horseplay as whipping her behind as she sang “The Masochism Tango”, or helping her in and out of her clothes during the costume changes (hint to the man at the back: if a woman asks you to zip her dress up, put the beer down).  However I at least avoided the fate of the man who was forced on stage to play the role of a nasty singer who made ED sew a button on his trousers while he was still wearing them.  The poor sap had to sit there while she fiddled around his groin with a needle and thread, singing a version of Radiohead’s “Creep” to him - “You’re a creep, you’re a weirdo, you’ve got a semi, it smells of smegma” and the like.  Some of it was quite touching as well, and it finished with a burlesque strip with a “Les Mis” theme.  As I left I remarked to her, “You’re the weirdest looking person I’ve ever given money to,” and spent the next half hour wondering if I should run back and say, “you do realise I was referring to the fact that you’re wearing a false moustache and beard, tricolor hot pants, and you’ve got your boobs out?  I wasn’t actually saying you look weird.”  But I left it.
   The evening didn’t quite work out.  Misirlou’s act consisted of standing outside the venue being annoyed that it was closed and they hadn’t told her.  I still have no clear idea what the act proper might have consisted of.  I had a ticket for Samantha Pressdee later, so I sat in a nearby bar and decided to go to the first free show I found.  This turned out to be The Middle-Class Rapper, but as I was queueing a few things occurred to me: it might be a one-joke show, I’d probably have to leave early, and I was the only person in the queue.  I ran.  I finally made it to Samantha Pressdee, only to find that the show was cancelled for personal reasons, a fact I would have known had I checked my messages before leaving.  So I saw nothing in the evening, which is the kind of thing that can easily happen at the Edinburgh festivals, although as I trudged home alone among all the partying groups of friends, it didn’t seem to be happening to anyone else.
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