One Revolution per Minute

Surprising. He shows no trace of saw marks on his hands. Calum Stirling, a Glasgow-based multimedia artist, learned the tricks of the trade from his dad. “I learned how to make things in the shed,” says Stirling, counting all his fingers. “Wooden models, planes and things. I hurt myself, but not that bad. I’ve still got all 10.” Stirling’s dad was an architect. And now Stirling is making diorama-like reconstructions of modern cities out of toy train accessories. Coincidence? Not really. Is he carrying on his dad’s metropolis tradition? Kind of. “Architects work on a bigger scale,” says Stirling. “But with my work there’s an element of the practice in the work-although I hope I’m bringing sensitivity to the work as an artist.” He is, in some ways. Everything in Stirling’s work has an intimate and lo-fi DIY aesthetic, a refreshing unpretentiousness for work that’s so technologically inventive. Why? “Everything is hand-made that I produce,” says Stirling. “It’s more satisfying. Digital stuff is all too removed, there’s no human touch. I have a need for the tactile.” He sure does: “Outopia” is the DIY diorama city spinning very slowly on the base of an office chair. And we get to see it two ways: a) with our eyes, and b) through the video camera that projects it onto the wall. Just like the naked human eye can’t see bugs and bacteria, it also can’t see how slowly this city spins (hence the video camera). It’s like the universe is losing its balance, and perfectly articulates how the world looks and feels right after you get off a roller coaster ride but just before you throw up. This piece is truly brought to life on the black and white projection on the wall, because you notice the magnified details: figurines in their homes looking out at you, disco-patterned curtains, numbers, labels, trimmings, titles on the buildings. “This city is part abstract painting, part film,” says Stirling. “It’s a playground.” But is it? Who is playing here? The streets are dead. The buildings are unlit. There’s no sign of moving life except maybe the teetering office chair that’s holding this architectural pizza. It’s in the DIY materials: the constructions are doing all the playing. Similar is in the other piece in the show, the conceptual reconstruction of vinyl culture in “Tectonic Plates,” where-get this-a microscope shows each groove of a 12″ record onto a TV screen (imagine a moving Barnett Newman painting, or a Daniel Buren unmeasured). Up close vinyl watching could also resemble tire tracks, or sticks of black licorice. Essentially, Stirling has given us another set of eyes, or a third eye if you will. An eye to look, and I mean really look, inside of what’s going on. “You don’t have to make a building to be an architect,” says Stirling. Yeah, that’s true. But you do have to understand architecture to make a building. Or at least have a pretty cool dad to help you with the basics. (Nadja Sayej)

Dir. Calum Stirling at Gallery TPW