One of Rory Middleton's earliest memories is of a childhood holiday with his family. This isn't unusual in itself, except for the fact that his free-spirited parents never booked any accommodation in advance, but would wing it once they reached their destination. One time they arrived in Greece at around two in the morning, and, with Middleton in tow, ended up sleeping in a graveyard. Once they did find somewhere with a roof over their heads, misunderstandings due to the language barrier saw them wind up in a kitchen full of chickens. Exposure to such environments has clearly fed into Middleton's own adventures in imaginary landscapes, the latest of which, The View, takes its audience on a bus trip to Cove Park in Argyll as the latest in the Cryptic company's Cryptic Nights series of one-off events. Where previous Cryptic Nights have explored works in progress in the CCA's state of art auditorium, The View gets back to nature with a panoramic architectural installation, as Middleton explains. “It was originally conceived in the Rocky Mountains,” he says, already in residence in Cove Park following a three-week recce. “I was looking at the forest, stripping things back until I focused on this one particular view. Then I built this frame, which gave things this strange hyper-reality, and I did lots of field recordings as well, so the forest became amplified both in terms of sound and vision, and it became this kind of meditation. As it got to dusk, this view literally did glow. There was something about the forest that had its own mystique, and I think I've found somewhere equally special in Cove Park, although it's going to be a lot different here.” As well as the Rocky Mountain version of The View, previous works by Middleton have included an infinity swimming pool on the terrace of a sixth floor building in Zagreb, while he's just completed a six month residency in the far snowier climes of Fogo Island in Canada, where he created something resembling a house made of ice. Projected onto the back of the structure was an out of focus sunset. “Fogo was really dependent on the weather,” Middleton points out, “and there ended up being this massive snowstorm, and I went out one day and the entire construction had gone.” Middleton has also been working on a film that follows the flight of an eagle through a modernist building. “Everything I do is site-specific,” he says. “It's not just about transferring a work from one place to another. I never like to repeat myself in that way. Each work develops into something else as it goes, and tries to highlight something that's already there, but which people might never notice. It's very subtle, as if you're turning up the volume on something by one notch, but no more.” As his conversation suggests, sound too is integral to his work, and, as in the Rockies, the Cove Park version of The View will incorporate a live score. Where the Rockies incorporated electric guitar loops into its atmosphere, Cove Park will utilise percussion played by drummer Iain Stewart of Bronco Skylift and The Phantom Band. “He's going to be in the woods,” Middleton explains, “responding to the surroundings with a lot of amplified sounds. In the Rockies the electric guitar created a kind of wall of sound that gave an industrial context in this forest environment, but in Cove Park percussion feels right. I would actually like Iain to be completely hidden, so people don't realise that it's a live drummer that's attempting to create a lot of echo in the valley. Again, it's all about creating an atmosphere that allows people to focus on what they're seeing and hearing.” Middleton came to art relatively late. After leaving school, his dyslexia led him away from word-based pursuits. He worked first as a joiner, then went to Israel, where he ended up working in a zoo. On moving back to Glasgow, he worked in a bar for a while before realising he wanted more, and decided to become a painter. That grew less attractive when both he and the carpet would end up covered in paint. It was only in his foundation year that he discovered sculpture. “That was a real eye-opener,” Middleton says today. Opting to train in Falmouth in Cornwall rather than Glasgow helped shape his work even more.
“Glasgow would've been great on one level,” he says, “but Cornwall gave me the space to develop my own style, which is large-scale. It's quite difficult to find opportunities to do what I do, so you have to stick with it. But this is something I always wanted to maintain, having control over environments.” On paper, at least, Middleton's work sounds akin to Angus Farquhar's epic manipulations of open-air spaces with his NVA company. While Middleton knows them by reputation, he's never actually witnessed any of Farquhar's work, so is unable to confirm or deny any similarities. “The pieces I've heard about sound really magical,” says Middleton, “but I can't really say that I've been inspired by them or anything, simply because I've never seen anything they've done. I get the impression, though, that they're getting people to work in 360 degree landscapes, whereas I'm trying to get people to look at something more specific. ” Inbetween creating environments, Middleton maintains a sideline as a carpenter, something he's kept up since leaving Falmouth, when he went to London and worked at Pinewood film studios. After working eighteen hour days, he was on a train to Glasgow when the call came from Pinewood's construction manager asking him to stand in for him for six months. The first thing Middleton built on his return to Pinewood was a house. “That was a massive learning curve,” he says. The house was used, appropriately enough, in construction workers abroad drama, Auf Wiedersehn, Pet. Middleton also worked on BBC costume dramas before returning to Glasgow, where he gained his Masters of Fine art degree with a sculptural structure of a mountain with a house on top. “That was when I discovered it was landscape I was interested in, but making my own landscape,” he says. “I want them to be on a scale where I can use the whole environment, so, rather than try and adapt my ideas for a gallery, you've got a much bigger place to work, where you don't have to worry about a white box, but have this space to think about things.” Beyond The View, there are already plans afoot for Middleton to create a new work in Calgary, again in Canada. Again, this will see Middleton react to the great outdoors in his own particular fashion. “Working outside is good because there aren't any real boundaries,” he says. “If you're sensible about things, there are no real health and safety issues either, whereas if you're working in a space with windows, that completely changes any atmosphere you're trying to create. But I don't know if there is an ultimate environment. I'm just happy wherever I am.” The View, March 29-30, Cove Park. Bus departs CCA, Glasgow. 6.15pm. www.ccaglasgow.ticketsolve.com www.crypticnights.org.uk
The Herald, March 29th 2012 ends