Faith was an important concern for the artist Paul Carter, who was a key figure in the Scottish art scene and an influential teacher at Edinburgh College of Art. Being agnostic, or undecided about the existence of god, drove Carter to question faith and belief systems in general, including politics and our assumptions about the role of art. Carter’s own art was full of visions and miracles, as well as ingeniously home-made contraptions, but at its heart lay a deep questioning of our expectations of both this world and the next.
For GENERATION the works on show at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop have been drawn from two key exhibitions: Icaro Menippus at Chapter Gallery, Cardiff (2002) and Edge of Darkness at The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh (2003). Both dealt with questions of pioneering.
Daedalus (2002) is a floating allotment that draws on ideas of anarchist gardening and eco-activism, but also on the 1972 sci-fi movie Silent Running in which a rogue captain saves a spacecraft of botanical specimens after the extinction of plant life on planet earth. The theme is developed in Moses Basket (2002), a clear balloon somewhat inadequately designed to transport its inhabitant into space.
Light and dark were strong features of Carter’s exhibitions in practical terms and in their associations. In the work 13 (2002), set in a darkened gallery, light flooding out through a punctured wall gives peephole access to an ominous abandoned room – the scene of a crime or terrible accident. Stepping back from the work, the pattern of light coalesces into the image of a face, which might be that of Jesus or Che Guevara, as though created by the splatter effect of gunshot. Carter’s interest in such figures was an examination of the power and economy of their images in popular culture.
In one of his best-known public projects, Carter worked with young people at Royston Youth Action, Glasgow setting up a transceiver on the Royston Spire in 2002. Messages from the local community were beamed into space. To date no response has been received. Carter’s support for peers and young artists was generous and decisive. If many of his artworks suggest that the search for spiritual or artistic satisfaction was an individual, and at times futile, quest, they also remind us that the effort is worth it.