Out of focus
Builders are busy at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP), where a £9.5 million expansion is under way. Feilden Clegg Bradley's visitor centre is taking shape near Bretton Hall's formal garden while, with the purchase of another 100ha of land, a 'cultural industries' quarter is being created from a former equestrian centre on the hilltop at Longside. This has been designed by Leeds practice Bauman Lyons, whose new gallery, glazed at one end, offers broad views over the intervening landscape back to Bretton Hall.
Even Rem Koolhaas is in evidence just now, though you have to listen out for him.
The architect features in the soundtrack to a new work by Matthew Dalziel and Louise Scullion, which is part of their exhibition this summer at the YSP.
Dalziel and Scullion live near Aberdeen and, says the leaflet, 'are greatly influenced by the people, industries and landscape around their seaside home'. Any romanticising of this landscape is tempered, for it is a place of huge fish-processing plants, oil terminals and helicopters buzzing overhead.
Three innocuous-looking plastic beach balls sit just inside the Pavilion Gallery: the caption tells you that they are filled with water from the two-mile exclusion zone around Dounreay Nuclear Processing Plant.
So Dalziel and Scullion are shrewd about what we have done and are doing to the natural world. But does their work increase our understanding of the environmental issues that it touches upon or - more pertinent in the context of a gallery - does it transcend 'issues' with the richness and ambiguity of art? Or neither?
The piece that Koolhaas features in, called Driven, consists of four convex lightboxes, each showing a blurred scene (a featureless road or a power station and caravan) shot from a vehicle in motion. There is a late echo here of the sensibility that Alison Smithson described in AS in DS: An Eye On The Road, written in the early 1970s and just reissued by Lars Muller Publishers - the particular way in which landscape is perceived by the passenger in a car (in her case a Citroen DS).
Fragmentary soundtracks are incorporated in three of the lightboxes: Koolhaas on 'the urban condition' becoming 'universal'; a discussion about digital communication;
and another about survival of the species - all these bearing on the theme of evolution.
Surfing the radio while driving is presumably the reference, though the soundtracks soon overlap and the arguments blur like the images they accompany. You are left with just a generalised sense of debate.
In Another Place, a video shown in the adjoining room, eight of Dalziel and Scullion's Aberdeen acquaintances are put under slow-motion head-and-shoulders scrutiny in their particular bit of the great outdoors. Hair waving in the stiff east coast breeze, they peer at the camera to the strains of a Brian Eno-like 'ambient' soundtrack that you will either find lulling and hypnotic or irritating and bland. Presumably we are meant to register specific people in specific places, but the cliched audio could soothe shoppers in any Safeway. Surely natural sound would have been better?
More successful is the one work placed outside, Vo y a g e r , at the far end of a terrace in the formal garden: three two-person tents cast in aluminium with every ridge and crease in the canvas intact and the silvery metal susceptible to any change in the light.
They are grouped together as if on a holiday or expedition, but they are rigid facsimiles, shorn of function.
With tents, we discreetly visit remote parts of the Earth (though rubbish at Everest's base camp says otherwise). But at London's Stoke Newington festival one night last month, 500 local people camped out in Clissold Park - in their own back yard, as it were. So Vo y a g e r touches a nerve.
But beyond any personal associations it awakens in its audience (memories or dreams), Vo y a g e r directs attention to the way that structures, temporary or permanent, engage with their site and how they shape or mark the landscape. The YSP's Bretton Estate, with architecture from the 18th to the 21st centuries dispersed in its grounds, is a fit place for such reflections.