Category Archives: Arte Povera

Silent Bells

Jannis Kounellis at Tramway

It’s been an incredibly busy six months, filled with more art exhibitions than I have had time to write about in any depth. Now suddenly I find myself in September, with the daunting task of documenting a rapidly expanding and slightly erratic collection of notes and photographs! Relevance is king, and with that in mind I am going to start with an exhibition which is currently running: Jannis Kounellis at Tramway.

Artist Rooms

The large solo exhibition includes work created especially for Tramway, together with pieces from the Artist Rooms collection. A joint collaboration between the Art Fund, Tate, and National Galleries of Scotland; Artist Rooms has a broad scope, enabling smaller galleries to exhibit works by internationally renowned artists. There is nothing small about gallery 2, which is where Kounellis has been installed: Tramway’s previous life as a southside tram depot is visible from the tracks which still cover the floor, to the steel rafters of the roof high above. This vast, industrial space suits Kounellis’s aesthetic well.

A grid of steel beams, stacked on the diagonal and self-supporting, echo the rafters above, and seem to indicate the triangular skeleton of the roof of a building. However, rather than the neck-craning ceiling of the gallery, the structure is brought down to our level, rising from the ground. This foundation is covered with fine rugs: a sharp contrast of texture, material, and function. It invites further exploration, although situated in the corner of the gallery it is not possible to circumnavigate.

The same cannot be said for the piece which occupies the central space of the gallery. Steel beams are laid out at regular intervals along the floor, wrapped in dark toned coats and jackets, a contrast in texture of soft wool and hard metal, but also of human warmth and industrial cold. In the foreground, a selection of bells lie on a metal panel. Above, huge cloth sacks hang in their place, suspended from the rafters, like giant laundry bags yet the jagged outline of their hidden contents would imply otherwise. Their unexpected proportion plays with our perceptions of weight. Again, there is this contrast of soft and hard edges, and unexpected juxtaposition of homely comforts with unyielding man-made objects and machinery.


Around the walls are smaller works, arranged in a linear display and somewhat dwarfed by the two larger works which necessarily dominate the space. Once again these include bells, this time secured tightly to wooden beams against the wall so that, again, they are rendered silent. I wonder what this restraint of bells means? Traditionally the ringing of bells conveys a message of celebration, time, or warning. Perhaps the significance here is of the autonomy, or lack of it. In the industrial man-made landscape people are increasingly replaced by machines. Here the traces of mankind are like ghosts in the empty clothes that seemingly float across the fourth wall, and are arranged on and around the metal works in various ways…

A bed frame hangs from a hook against an area of wall rendered yellow, a row of filled burlap sacks containing coffee beans and grains stand on a metal base, and a pile of coal lays in front of two sheets of metal leaning against the wall. In this context of trace, the bed frame hints at domesticity while the commodities of grain and coal represent human endeavour, perhaps of earlier times and now discarded in the name of technological progress exemplified in the larger metal works. Alternatively perhaps the opposite is true: they are so elemental and essential that they are taken for granted and do not need to take centre stage. This spotlight is reserved for examples of technological progress and engineering prowess, which are fleeting and always temporary.