Tim Abrahams reports on art world activity
Designs on Aberdeen
The long search for a new home is perhaps finally over for Peacock Visual Arts. The Aberdeen-based arts facility long ago evolved from its original brief as a printmaking collective and for several years has been looking to move from its cramped home in the back streets of the Queensgate. Two abortive attempts to move fell through, once when the Salvation Army decided to keep the property PVA were interested in, and secondly when Aberdeen University sold their student union to developers instead of the arts organisation. However, the SAC have spotted them £70K to flesh out a suitably audacious design proposal. With £8 million of public money and hopefully more from the private sector, PVA director Lindsay Gordon aims to plant a world-class chunk of contemporary architecture in the middle of Queensgate. The sunken pavilion will nestle into one of Aberdeen's picture-postcard views, looking down Union Street, across the square towards the Citadel.
It is ambitious. Gordon, however, along with PVA staff, has made great efforts to build a consensus through the artistic community in Aberdeen. A 'public natter' after the Lighthouse's Common: Place exhibition in 2003, and another one around the issue of skate-boarding and politics in 2004, helped highlight the issue of the built environment and exclusion. Past residencies by Sans Façon and future ones by Danger Museum have taken and will take this debate even further. Steve Duval, who is the current resident, brings his unique brand of quiet yet insistent relational aesthetics to the debate. Having mapped the worlds of refuse collectors in Delhi and apple-growers in Italy, he is turning his attention to the people of Torry in Aberdeen.
More developments in the north. With the £20 million Perth Concert Hall almost complete, several months before its September 2005 opening, the latest phase of the Horsecross project is about to get under way. Situated in the foyer of the new Concert Hall, it will be a centre for computer generated, interactive art. Richard Ashrowan, one of the lead artists on the project, admits that Threshold would have been better realised if they had been invited into the design of the PCH earlier in the process. 'However, even more than FACT in Liverpool, Threshold technically makes Perth Concert Hall a "smart building" which surpasses every other public building in Britain and puts it on a par with only a handful of other venues in Europe,' he says.
The array of impressive toys on offer is sure to attract the attention of new media artists from all over the country — a series of 22 40-inch LCD screens, two large-scale wall projection areas and a boxed entrance foyer for light and sound interventions. The design team is a diverse one. Richard Ashrowan was formerly new media director with Rapido, the company behind Eurotrash but now an acclaimed new media venture. Alexander Hamilton was director/chair of Edinburgh's Collective Gallery in the 90s. Iliyana Nedkova, New Media creative director, is also Honorary Cultural Attaché to the Bulgarian Consulate in Scotland. This band of creatives has convinced a sceptical design team that the Threshold project is not just an add-on to the building.
'We want to commission exciting work ourselves — around 100 different works within two years and access archives of digital art from archives of video art such as Intermix in New York,' says Nedkova. The artistic team's ambition is to create a huge archive from which they can then create specific cycles suitable for those who are using the building.
It's all change at Number 10. Well in one respect at least. Although the Blairs take up residency for another term at least, they'll have some new pictures to look at. 'Event on the Downs' by Paul Nash hung on the landing at 10 Downing Street until recently. It was taken down when Tacita Dean chose it as part of her curated exhibition An Aside which comes to the Fruitmarket in May, 2005. Nash was an official was artist during the First World War, where he painted in and around the front lines. After the war he had a breakdown, and until he became war artist again in 1940, he founded the Unit One art movement and sought artistic solace in the English countryside. This picture, first hung in Downing Street in March 2004, was his greatest work from that period of post-war soul searching.
Ever felt you are being watched? Ian Baker is writing his PhD on 'whether or not the brain processes another person looking at you from beyond the range of conventional senses'. A postgraduate research student at the University of Edinburgh in the highly respected Koestler Parapsychology Unit, Baker is 'looking at what the nature of the processing might be. It essentially ties into the uncomfortable feeling that some people report about being watched by someone behind them'. He has been conducting a series of experiments under laboratory conditions, which have inspired Swedish-born artist Victoria Skogsberg's forthcoming installation at the Collective Gallery, Edinburgh. Skogsberg, a recent graduate of Glasgow School of Art, became part of the experiment herself as the pictures attest. 'I collected a bunch of material — video footage, web-cam footage and data from the specially designed computer programme running the experimnet,' she says. She has edited the data, which will feed into the new work; an installation using video, sound, drawings and photographic prints. This collaboration has had a profound impact on both participants. For Baker, it has altered radically the way he thinks about his field. 'Science is a creative process. Victoria and I think that there might be more similarities between the processes that scientists and artists go through than is initially apparent.'
In this Swedish-born artist's forthcoming installation at the Collective Gallery, Edinburgh, Skoksberg, a recent graduate of Glasgow School of Art, became part of the experiment herself as the pictures attest. 'I collected a bunch of material—video footage, web-cam footage and data from the specially designed computer programme running the experiment,' she says. She has edited the data, which will feed into the new work; an installation using video, sound, drawings and photographic prints. Working with Skosberg on this project, post graduate research student Ian Baker says, 'Science is a creative process. Victoria and I think that there might be more similarities between the processes that scientists and artists go through than is initially apparent.'
'Danny Baker is now all hair. He scares regular humans.' Just one of the startling revelations that appear in the third issue ofthe highly successful Running Amok publication series produced by Edinburgh's Analogue Books. 'Ideally we'd be putting out gorgeously designed, sumptuous books but we didn't have any money,' says Analogue co-owner Russell Fergusson. 'We thought, well let's just do it anyway and celebrate the lo-fi aspect of it. So basically they are seven sheets of folded A4, with black and white print on both sides. We ask these illustrators and designers to do whatever they want beause we like their work and trust them.' The first issue of megalomaniac urban sprawls by Nigel Peake as since sold out (see MAP Portfolio). A second issue designed by Elph is flying off the shelves too since he also desinged a dedicated website to the series.
In the third series, Simon Shiel, who studied illustration at ECA, throws us into a universe of superheroes, B-list celebrities and pirates. ('I ate Vanilla Ice's heart to steal his courage,' says a figure in a gimp suit.) Currently supplementing his design work with a data-entry job, Shiel says his work is informed by spending 'too much time in the 1980s watching any kind of television, comics and science fiction which featured talking vehicles.' Tommy Perman is producing the fourth issue, out at the beginning of June, with a whole array of other illustrators and artists queuing up to work on later issues. You can buy a copy at Analogue Books, Magma in Manchester and Best in London. Or via www.analguebooks.co.uk/runningamok/
The first time Myrtle Smyth was beaten by her husband was on her wedding night. 'Over the course of 16 years, I left my husband 16 times and went back to him each time. Over those years he brutally attacked me and made my life and the life of my children a misery,' she says. At the height of the Troubles, when they were living on the Woodvale Road in Belfast, there was violence inside and outside of the house. When Smyth finally divorced her husband, she says she 'spent the next two years moving house. I lived in eight different houses and each time he would track us down and tear up the house.' Not an experience that would make many give thanks. Myrtle Smyth, however, is the remarkable woman behind the 'Thanksgiving Beacon', a sculptrue by Andy Scott, which after years of difficutly has finally been erected in Belfast. Accrording to Scott, Smytn had originally intended to create a full-scale archibtectural project modelled on the groundbreaking Thanksgiving Square in Dallas but was forced to downscale her plan due to interminable arguements. 'Over the ensuing years and as a result of political and financial wrangling which I was not party to, the landscaping was modified completely and the buildkng was cancelled. However the overwhelming consensus fortunately for me was that the beacon remained, and became the focal point of the project,' he says. Even after that, budgets were slashed, the volatile political and religious situation continued to play into the project and Scott was forced to resign from the project at one stage.
Finally, however, it ahs been completed—a mother figure, symbolic of the role of women in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. A truly transformative moment in Myrtle Smyt's incredible life and a successful job done for a Scottish artist. Though it leaves Scott with some depressing thoughts for his home city. Despite the pioneering work done in Glasgow on public art in the Gorbas, he believes there has been a failure to carry this forward. 'I find it ironic that a Glaswegian and Glasgow-based sculptor is commissioned for a presitigious riverside landmark artwork in Belfast, when so far the role of public art on the much-heralded and publicised Glasgow Harbour and assorted Clydeside developments have paid scant attention to the opportunity for a prominent statement,' he says.
Anyone for tea?
Degree shows are upon us. At the Glasgow School of Art, they kick off on 18 June and run for a week. Fifty-three-year-old Helen Gilmour's work will sit alongside others from the ceramics honours course. While bringing up her two children, she attended pottery night-classes and completed an HND in ceramics at Cardonald College. With her children grown up, she became a full-time student. Knitting may be all the rage at the moment—the Knit 2 Together:Concepts in Knitting exhibition has just closed at the Craft Council in London—but Gilmour had to experiement with knitting as much as with the porcelain slip she dipped her pottery in and the kiln in which she fired it. 'Like most women of my generation, I was taught how to knit at school while the boys got all the interesting stuff to do—so I can only knit basic stuff. I have had to work out how to knit a teapot from scratch,' she says.