Northern City (Between Light and Dark) At The Lighthouse, 11 Mitchell Lane, Glasgow, until 4 March
If it is possible to read a city, Edinburgh makes a great story.
The rugged landscape and successive human interventions have stirred literary imaginations for three centuries. The city is often linked to R L Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, suggesting a place of hidden contradictions in which dark and light, poverty and wealth, modernity and tradition, rationalism and romanticism, are written into the urban grain.
'Northern City' sets out to respond to the idea of the contradictory city and to investigate both the Scottish Enlightenment and the work of Patrick Geddes. The show is made up of four artworks: one by the artist Nathan Coley, another by landscape architect Eelco Hooftman (Gross Max), and two collaborative projects between architects and artists - Northroom, by artist Victoria Clare Bernie and architects Mark Dorrian and Adrian Hawker; and Latitude, by artists Dalziel + Scullion and Sutherland Hussey Architects.
Each of these works embraces the idea of the Enlightenment with a different degree of enthusiasm. In Old Town New Town No Town Hooftman has created a small study space (complete with curios such as a stuffed grouse, land models, postcards and books) where the visitor is invited to dwell on the work of the city's intellectuals. On the reading desk is an adaptation of a Victorian city guide in which Hooftman has inserted futuristic passages designed to challenge our rather sentimental view of what constitutes the natural world.
In the book, Dolly the Sheep is hunted by a wolf on Arthur's Seat and Miralles' parliament has become a ruin.
Coley's work, a big single line of illuminated green text, spells out the words 'We Must Cultivate Our Garden' - a phrase spoken by Candide in Voltaire's novel. It's an ambiguous statement that could be understood as an argument for social 'cultivation' or an argument for the quiet life. Latitude is reminiscent of the mechanical contraptions that pioneering scientists built to understand the universe, and of Geddes' Camera Obscura.
A panoramic screen rotates slowly on a long arm while the film pans slowly around Edinburgh, providing a cross section of the city from skyline to roads. Northroom is a reinterpretation of the David Hume mausoleum on Calton Hill designed by Robert Adam.
The work uses 31 small DVD players to catalogue the impact of the passage of time on the ora surrounding the rooess stone drum.
Some of the show's contributors suggest that Edinburgh's contemporary dirty secret is the urban poor who have been driven to the city's periphery. It's a poetic description, but it doesn't quite grasp the social reality. Of course there is poverty and excessive wealth in the city, but the premise that Edinburgh remains a place 'whaur extremes meet' is not convincing.
Nevertheless the idea is an interesting starting point for an artistic exploration.