PERHAPS the auguries of war are always around us, but they are echoing a little louder than usual at the moment. The repercussions in one corner of Angus are to throw the opening exhibition of the autumn season at Hospitalfield into more sobering and elegiac relief. A small group show featuring three artists, two of whom are working together, TRADE looks at the global arms trade, leaving visitors to take onboard the implications.

And there will, perhaps, be more visitors than normal this weekend, as the autumn season coincides with Heritage Open Doors Days in Angus, and as such the wonderful arts and crafts Hospitalfield building and gardens will be open in full to the public. It certainly has the history to engage even those who eschew contemporary art. Left in trust in 1890 to support contemporary artists, it now has an international residency programme and opens periodically throughout the year, commissioning new work and curating exhibitions.

The exhibiting artists this autumn are Iraqi artist Hiwa K, who presents his fascinating two screen work, Nazhad and the Bell, and Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane, who will present a re-edition of their 2007 work, Year Planner, originally produced for the NADA Art Fair in Miami.

Loading article content

Nazhad and the Bell was 8 years in the making, created in 2007 and 2015 in Iraq and Italy, respectively. The first part charts the smelting of scrap metal into ingots in a yard in Iraq. The second the turning of those ingots into a highly decorated bell in an Italian foundry.

“The Bell is an extraordinarily articulate work that has at its core one of the most traditional processes of making any object,” says Lucy Byatt, Director at Hospitalfield. The smelting of metal into a viscous, molten form which is then poured, moulded and cooled is a process “that has been with us for thousands of years,” says Byatt. In K’s film, a scrap metal merchant in the Middle East walks around his scrap yard taking bits of metal to melt down into ingots. The terrifying thing, of course, is that this scrap metal is in fact the off-cuts of war, the detritus of conflict, the heavily armoured trash of armies and despots. The yard owner points out the remains of war planes and armoured cars; the artist remains impassive, responding only as a buyer of metal.

The lot is melted down into portable bars “retaining no evidence of its previous form,” Byatt tells me. The workers have “lots of experience and knowledge but very little sense of safety.” Seven years later the metal bars find their way to Italy. The contrast between the scrapyard and the clean, protected and cautious working environment at the foundry in Italy is stark.

It is a reversal of history in a way, says Byatt. “Historically when a community required metal for the making of weapons in war time, bells tended to get hauled out of their towers and reduced to molten metal ready for recasting. Here most of the metal is from spent weapons. As K selects the metal to make his huge beautiful bell, his conversation with the scrap metal trader provides a lesson in the weapons trade.”

“Hiwa K simply absorbs, as we do, the information about the materials that go in to the making of weapons that are manufactured in every western country. By now we know that we are all involved.”

The work was originally shown in 2015 at the Arsenale, one of the focal venues of the Venice Biennale and a place, incidentally, where war ships and cannons were once made, as the name suggests. In 2015, the video work was accompanied by the eponymous bell – made in the foundry to Hiwa K’s design and decorated with Assyrian motifs alluding to the destruction of cultural artefacts by jihadists – although it is now in private ownership. It is represented at Hospitalfield, Byatt tells me, by a new post card image that visitors will be able to take with them.

Visitors this weekend will also be able to take away the Deller/Kane work, too, a new edition of the “2008 Year Planner”, a mass-produced style office wall chart that shows not high days and holidays but the dates of all the international arms fairs and art fairs that year. A new edition has been produced for 2018. “There is something quite similar in the form of each of these modern global forms of trading as they move from one country to another,” says Byatt. Both sets of artists, she says, are very articulate in crafting their thought-provoking responses to a situation in which we are all complicit.

TRADE, Hospitalfield by Arbroath, Angus, today to September 16

www.hospitalfield.org.uk