R e v i e w s

Galleries Round-up - The Memorandum Series at Park Gallery

Published in The Herald (ABC section)
30 January 2010

The small gem in the central Scottish arts scene that is the Park Gallery may be under threat of closure, but it continues to stage exhibitions which punch well above its weight.

As it enters an uncertain future - Falkirk Council want to transplant it to nearby Callendar House as part of an ongoing series of cuts - the purpose-built gallery has cranked up its 2010 programme of exhibitions regardless with a fine exhibition by the photographic artist, Melanie Sims.

In this exhibition, Glasgow-based Sims presents a highly individual response to the experience of bereavement and loss, with a series of striking photographic works that blur the boundaries between what is real and what is imaginary. Along the way, confounding expectations of what the viewer might expect from photography.
Sims works traditionally, layering film and using negatives to create a very personal imagery, engaging with digital processes only at the print stage and in order to make the large scale works in fabric and light box pieces.

The Memorandum Series, which came about as a response to the death of her mother, is a personal journey but will strike a chord with many onlookers. Ultimately, the images are about hope. This is the first time the series has been shown in its entirety.
“The space is just perfect for my work,” says Sims. “There is an intimacy that complements the subject matter and I’ve been able to hang it exactly as I had hoped.”
Sims will be giving a talk about her work today at the gallery from 2pm-3pm.

Until February 20

[Jan Patience]
Worlds at Lillie Art Gallery Milngavie, 15 August - 23 September 2009

While Street Level is peeling the wrappers off its latest incarnation as part of Trongate 103, it is encouraging to know that the spirit of 'independent' photography that led to the formation of the Glasgow Photography Group - the organisation from which Street Level grew - is still alive and well and doing good work. Huge changes have occurred in Scottish Photography in the intervening twenty years. But for those of us who still have faith in photography as an autonomous medium, and not as a posture to strike in the theory-laden badlands of 'visual culture', there are certain core beliefs that have survived the multi-media onslaught: the pleasures of the fine print; the expressive power of a well-managed composition; the aesthetic dividends paid by a fastidious attention to framing.

These and many other 'traditional' virtues are evident in abundance in the first full-scale group show organised by Scottish Photographers under the disarmingly inclusive title: Worlds. The use of plural is worth noting. From the spacious Skye Landscapes of Alex Boyd to the dramatised sequences of intimately knotted flesh in Melanie Sims' Small Facts, there is confirmation everywhere that good photography is not an objective recording of the world, but a construct borne of sound craftsmanship conjoined with the singularity of a private vision. Between these two extremes we have Chris Leslie's bitter-sweet reminder s of what was lost with the demise of Paddy's Market, Stewart Shaw's witty revelation of a consumerist Utopia that Thomas Moore would have struggled to recognise, Roger Farnham's transformation of road markings into powerful semi-abstract designs and much, much more.

Space is limited, so not every contributor can be name-checked. But as a dyed-in-the-wool photo-historian I cannot resist recording my delight in the historical references which made me feel curiously at home: the invocation of Timothy O'Sullivan in Thomas Joshua Cooper's stupendous Triptych (Tom Cooper at the Lillie? Jings, what a scoop!); Carl Radford's mastery of the wet collodian process; the clear acknowledgement of James Craig Annan in Harry Magee's ravishing gravure prints of Venetian gondolas and cloud-laden skies over Glasgow.

Back in the old days of independent photography people who thought they were clever used to ask 'independent of what?'. The simple answer proposed by these photographers is: independent of each other. There was not a single presentation here that did not give me real pleasure, but all in totally different ways. Scottish Photographers, take a bow!

Professor Ray McKenzie, Research Fellow, FoCI, Glasgow School of Art
    Visual art reviews - Melanie Sims: The  memorandum series, Park Gallery, Falkirk

Published in The Scotsman
17 February 2010

A sense of time permeates the body of work by Glasgow-based photographic artist Melanie Sims currently on show at the Park Gallery in Falkirk. Over a period of about five years following her mother's death, Sims made The Memorandum Series, a rich, multi-layered study in grief and memory.

Vividly coloured studies in emotion are juxtaposed with images of flowers and trees. There is a series of intense, quiet life studies, semi-abstract but for the humanness of a curve or the texture of a patch of skin. And there are faces printed on fabric, as final as a curtain yet with the transparency of a veil.

Interwoven with Sims's grief was her discovery of her grandfather's journals, particularly the journal he kept charting her mother's development as a young child. This piece of the past becomes intensely present to her as she searches for memories of the person she has already lost. These complex ideas also receive an expression in words by poet Mark Halliday.

The language of grief - like Sims's grandfather's neat but impenetrable shorthand - is private to each individual. Yet the powerful response to this show is a clear indicator that the personal is also universal. It's ironic that this fine small gallery - for which this show feels tailor-made - is now under threat of closure or relocation due to funding cuts, just ten years after it opened.

The more time spent with this exhibition, the more it yields: a thoughtful study of how emotions are suppressed and find expression, of the impulse to record and create something beautiful from the fragments, and of how memory gradually becomes stronger than loss. Catch it while there is still time.

Until 20 February

[Susan Mansfield]
The Seventh Street Level Open
A showcase of Scotland's finest photography talent
· Date: 24 January 2013
· Written by: Michael Davis

Street Level’s Open exhibition has become something of a staple event and as usual the
standard is extremely high. The show this year has 19 photographers displaying their
works, giving a broad and disparate overview of current approaches to the
photographic process.

These range from the evocative and wistful with Jen Wilcox’s black and white
landscapes of foggy and unknown, transcendental places, to the bright and bold
capture of Glasgow tower blocks in the midst of their destruction, by Chris Leslie.
There is strength in depth with good examples of staged scenes, visual metaphors,
travel photography as well as works which reference current debates about the media.
With photography straddling the past, present and future, it is ubiquitous in our lives and
able to strike nostalgia instantly yet simultaneously portray absolute perfection, the full
variety of its usage can be underrated.

It is difficult to pick particular artists as stand outs, such is the overall quality - Street
Level’s Open is a great introduction to some imaginative and energetic photographers
in Scotland. Recommended for anyone interested in techniques of image-making.
Art review: The 7th Street Level Open

23 January 2013

Meanwhile, the annual Open Exhibition at Street Level anticipates the future in another way by showing the work of 19 photographers, who illustrate between them how broadly the term is applied in contemporary practice. Some feel photography needs to fight its corner in the contemporary art world, but perhaps this is a healthy tension because - if this show is anything to go by - artists are continuing to push the form in new and interesting directions.

Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow, until Sun 3 Feb
Alex Boyd
Alan Campbell
Ashley Good
Stephen Healy
Alex Hetherington
Chris Leslie
Iain McLean
Rebecca Milling
Theresa Moerman Ib
Flannery O'Kafka
Carol Ann Peacock
Holly Prentice
Findlay Rankin
Melanie Sims
Kristian Smith
Inna Smullen
Nicola Stead
Joanna Waclawski
Jen Wilcox

It's a key moment in the film which must surely have resonated with each and every viewer. Every family has its secrets. Some remain hidden and some are forced out into the open by hook or by crook. Secrets have a habit of being outed.

For Bearsden-based artist, Melanie Sims, a discovery in her late teens about her family history led to her digging into the past and unearthing the story of her late mother' Sybil's older sister, Doreen.

"I remember finding a black and white photograph of a little girl and asking my mother about her," says Sims. "From her reaction I could see I had stumbled on something. She didn't want to lie but told me the bare minimum. That it was her older sister and that she had been in a home. As a teenager you are self-obsessed, so I didn't really pursue it then. It was only years later, after my mother died, that I decided to try to find out about Doreen."

Sims has now unpicked this story about her "lost aunt" and turned it into an exhibition, which opens tomorrow at The Lillie Gallery in Milngavie.
The show combines photographic works, installations, textiles and poetry to great effect to tell the story of Doreen, who died in 1967 at the age of 41, in Whalley Asylum, Clitheroe.

As Sims and her own sister, Fiona, discovered, their aunt Doreen had been in residential care since she was a child of four or five. She suffered from a severe form of epilepsy. In one set of records which the sisters found, noted when Doreen was 39 in 1965, it seemed these fits occurred on a regular basis. "She appeared to take her time to recover," says Sims. "It makes for grim reading. The terminology in one describes her as a 'spastic crippled idiot'."

It's not the first time that Sims has used her own family as a starting point for examining the ties that bind we human animals together. In 2010, she staged an exhibition called The Memorandum Series at The Park Gallery in Falkirk. In this show, she remembered and recorded a specific emotional journey; her response to the death of her mother, Sybil.

One of the most affecting exhibits in The Lost Sister is a large double-sided freestanding diptych. On one side, there is a grainy black and white ima
ge of a smiling chubby-cheeked Doreen and on the other is Sybil, who was 12 years younger, at a similar stage.

Sims and her sister spent over a year chasing down the few remaining records which documented Doreen's life.

"With so little information to go on," explains Sims, "I realised this project wasn't about trying to tell the story of Doreen. That was lost forever. What was really pulling at me were questions of connection, broken bonds, denial and loss. My focus became how to express the intangibility of a lost personal history; to find a visual language for it, and to lament my Mum's loss while articulating the importance of the sister bond in my life."

Almost 50 years after Doreen's death she finally has her place in this poignant and beautiful exhibition.

The Lost Sister opens tomorrow at the Lillie Art Gallery, Station Road, Milngavie and runs until August 13. Melanie Sims will give a talk at the gallery on Saturday July 25 at 2.30pm.

[Jan Patience]
Photographer reveals a family secret

Published in The Herald
10 July 2015

There's a scene near the end of Mike Leigh's award-winning 1996 film, Secrets and Lies, in which actor Timothy Spall, playing emotionally put-upon husband and brother, Maurice, cries: "Secrets and lies! We're all in pain! Why can't we share our pain!"