Dirk Bell at the Modern Institute

Maija Kappler

Dirk Bell’s new show at the Modern Institute explores the interaction between technology and human experience. Bell uses an eclectic variety of mediums, from pastel on canvas to industrial steel beams to the incorporation of computer screens and an interactive video game. The result is a diverse and thought-provoking exhibition that aims to explore the way technology is integrated in modern life.

The first piece is a huge, imposing metal structure made of steel beams. It is an industrial piece, massive and commanding. Near it, hung on the wall just by the entrance,  is a large canvas depicting a somewhat ambiguous image. Its title, “Bite,” suggests an apple core, although it has aesthetic similarities to lungs, or even a human heart. With warm, painterly strokes and rough, uneven edges, the canvas provides a striking counterpoint to the coldness of the nearby steel. The two seem completely dissimilar, but the artist manages to connect them, by way of a small, shrunken apple core resting on one of the steel beams. It’s a slight detail, but in such a controlled environment it speaks volumes.

The juxtaposition of steel to canvas is a concept Bell revisits later in the exhibit. Near “FREELOVE,” a steel sculpture displayed on a glass pedestal, there are two more canvases, both depicting an eye. Unlike the larger steel sculpture, which is composed entirely of straight lines, this one includes circular shapes that seem to mimic the shape of the eyes. Again, Bell is able to subtly link images that seem completely incongruous.

The most striking part of the exhibition is “Merkaba,” a massive glass and steel sculpture in the centre of the room suspended from the ceiling with wires. Largely composed of transparent glass, the interior is almost completely full of neon lights, plugs, and a tangle of wires and cables. A thick coil of wire connects the sculpture to a snare drum, which is set up by a deconstructed computer, a pair of speakers, and various pieces of sound equipment. By way of a game set up on the computer, the visitors are given the opportunity to control the piece itself. The inclusion of this interactive element lets viewers engage with the show in a new way; by allowing us to become participants, Bell gives us insight to the world he has created.

The exhibition space at the Modern Institute is surely well known by those who frequent Glasgow’s art scene. To an outsider, though, the location seemed both an impressive space and a fitting venue for such an exhibition. The space is neat, sparse, and clean – but imperfectly so. The scuffed floors and high ceilings give it a slightly factory-like atmosphere. Just across from the towering “Merkaba,” the large window looking out onto Osborne Street seems particularly appropriate. Watching people walk down the busy street, past the bright lights and cold steel, acts as a deliberate parallel to Bell’s stated goal of examining societal behaviours.

Bell’s work has been exhibited in Glasgow before, his show “Made in Germany” was on display at the Modern Institute in October and November of last year.

The Exhibition continues until 19th February


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