Archer, Michael, Artforum International
As part of Ross Sinclair's recent show, he ran a stall in one of London's street markets for a day. You could buy T-shirts, mugs, key rings, and pens, all bearing the legend "I ?? Real Life." For Sinclair, "real life" is not something that exists but something dreamed of or longed for, something that exerts itself as an idealized possibility out of the more immediate situation of cultural uncertainty.
At the gallery hung seven photographs of Sinclair lying face down like a corpse in a variety of otherwise idyllic natural settings: on a woodland path, in a river, at the water's edge. In each image he is dressed in tartan shorts. Sinclair is Scottish, but what that term means, either to us or to him, is always up for discussion. The words "REAL LIFE," tattooed across his bare upper back, are clearly visible, especially as each scene is lit so starkly that the heightened colors make nature itself seem almost artificial. Turned away from his audience in what has now become a familiar pose, Sinclair makes a show of his sincerity to the world. We, in turn, accept the gesture as a legitimate gambit, a stance adopted in the artist's search for an answer to the puzzle of identity and cultural location. In that he and we are facing in the same direction, there is a possibility that something might be shared, but the consequent inability to acknowledge us is a mark of introspection, solipsism, and the inevitable failure of communication.
Part of a larger installation, the photographs hung on a wall painted in three broad horizontal bands that bore the text "Not as it is/but as it/could be." One imagining of what "could be" formed a major component of the show. Titled The Hamnavoe Free State [Free State London], the installation reappropriated Sinclair's exhibition last year at the Pier Arts Center in Stromness, on the main island of Orkney. Part of Scotland, the Orkneys are near the mainland, but they are also geologically and socially distinct; in terms of folklore, culture, and history they are perhaps closer to Scandinavia. …