Glasgow International DB
Sam Durant, Iconoclasm, installation view, Dixon Street. Photo: Donald Butler

Walking along Pollockshaws Road, the sun is coming in and out of focus like my hazy thoughts. Low hanging clouds pass above and I wonder what it might be like to touch one. The air is thick with petrol, pollen, polymer; thick as in it is pushing against my face. In Scotland we call this weather ‘close’; Glasgow has become a fragrant arm pit. I am beginning to sweat through my t-shirt, the loose cotton clinging to the small of my back. Thick herbaceous odour falls from trees and I become conscious of the extra weight I’ve gained around my stomach over the last months as I speed up my walking pace.

I’ve just been to Tramway with D, but we ducked out before seeing any of the video works through to their end. This is my third time visiting Tramway since they reopened for Glasgow International and I keep walking out. The director’s programme loosely orbits around a theme of attention, and each time I’m reminded of this theme I try to think of the last time anything actually managed to hold my attention. The rhythm of my days have started to flow with the streams of my different screens. I keep finding myself in dialogue with three or four of them at a time. In one of Martine Sym’s video works at Tramway they include a clip from a lecture by theorist Robin Williams where they are talking about TV having consciousness. When I wash my face in the evening I always have to be playing something on YouTube, usually someone also doing their skincare routine. This is one way I have learned to imitate touch.

As we near the flat we walk past a new shop which has opened in the last week. The words ‘interiors, patisserie, coffee’ adorn the top right of the shop front in a white sans-serif font; the space goes by the auspicious nomenclature of studio. The windows are spotless and behind the open door a long mission statement in black vinyl reaches from just above the top of the glass door to its midsection—a lot of justification. I make for a quick glance inside as we’re walking past and instinctively it feels as if the shop/cafe/studio is rejecting me. I can’t make head nor tales of its terms of engagement; walls of neutral tones and minimalist shelving units of white and pale wood hold items I don’t recognise. The whole thing seems as if it has been turned inside out carefully. I imagine myself walking past in the future having still not ventured in.


Erika Silverman, Raymond Strachan and Debbie Young have put together an exhibition in a curious sooty building on Fox Street titled Sex Club. They each draw on the activities of the previous tenants that have occupied the building, which is where (I am assuming) the title for the exhibition comes from. Except, the whole place feels more like a vacated office, all blue carpets and dim fluorescent lighting, rather than a sex club. I try and picture myself having sex in a place like this, and then remember I actually have had sex in an office before (not great). I take a picture of a textile impression of a Magnum condom packet because it makes me smile, but am failing to see much sex in the works besides these condom packet reproductions. I feel short changed.

T is peering out of a window, a sculpture by her feet titled ‘Pile of Sperm’. The white vinyl objects look more like props from Total Wipeout, but I still chuckle—I think this is the intended purpose of the work, to make you awkwardly laugh. Outside the window stacks of building materials are waiting to be used, separated from the street by temporary fencing. Two new tower blocks are being constructed across from the exhibition venue. At street level their exteriors seem complete but if you tilt your head high above, raw concrete support structures reach up for the sky, slim cranes attending to them. Fox Street seems such an appropriate name for this shaggy little forgotten alley. I picture a sly lone fox covered in the grime of the city’s waste languidly pawing its way through the tangle of construction sites.

Glasgow International DB2
T & Pile of Sperm, Sex Club, 40 Fox Street. Photo: Donald Butler

Coming out on to the street I count four of the cranes. To my right, boarding has been erected around the construction of one of the towers, shielding the raw innards of the structure from curious eyes. Along the boarding are temporary advertising spaces, two of which are filled with reproductions of drawings from Sam Durant’s Iconoclasm series, graphite works which document monuments being torn down. In one, the likeness of what I make out as a Spanish or Portuguese conquistador is rendered frozen as his bronze body is toppled from its monument. A small crowd at the base of the statue await its collapse. The placement of these works on the construction site of a hotel seems too ripe for analysis; property development as monument; the unending mutation of capital; the temporary nature of cities.

I’m reminded of the demolition of the Red Road Flats and how people came out to cheer as the buildings crumbled to nothing. Somehow I didn’t notice any of these new towers until they were already ten stories high and partially clad. I went on a walk with friends around Glasgow’s city centre in February when the city was still under the strictest lockdown conditions. The entire place was empty and periodically we hid behind soon-to-become-developments to smoke joints shielded from the wind.

Out of sight out of mind.


Springburn Museum hasn’t been used as a civic space since 2003 when it was leased for private office space. Thomas Abercromby and Holly Takenzire have curated You’re Never Done in the now unused space, in the hope of demonstrating ‘the need for community owned cultural spaces within such areas like Glasgow North.’ [1] Focussing around gendered unseen labour, the first thing I notice is the untouched corporate displays which adorn the reception of the space from the previous tenants. Statements around assisting clients into work frame disused office cubicles, illustrated by the image of a satisfied young man.

Harriet Rose Morley has fashioned a series of support structures—benches, plinths—from what looks like wooden pallets. Metallic plating has been attached to each of these structures referencing care instructions for objects, little icons of broken wine glasses etc. In one of the two rooms which make up the exhibition, these structures are used to support the moss covered remains of maiden statues which adorned Springburn’s public hall before it was demolished. These are curious objects: women styled in the Greek tradition with flowing robes and pleated hair, clasp steam trains, cogs and wheels in their hands. Women holding up industries which traditionally excluded them.

Across the city in the Gorbals—a neighbourhood of Glasgow closely linked to Springburn through the rehoming of communities into newly built housing in the mid-20th century—Nora Turato’s large scale graphic work has adorned the side of an unused former school building since Glasgow International was delayed in 2020. Stained and slightly torn a year after its install, in big yellow Helvetica font it reads: there is no business happening in the business lounge. The sound of the UEFA Euros fanzone can be heard drifting with the wind across the Clyde. I feel inclined to challenge Turato’s statement, because it feels like Glasgow International has steamed ahead as it always has done. There seems little in the way of reflection on the totemic societal shifts which have occurred since the festival was delayed because of the pandemic.

I keep thinking, who is Glasgow International for? During its opening weekend I sat at home and watched Instagram stories of curators, press, art world social crowds, all binging shows in two or three days and then leaving again. Who is this benefiting, other than as an excuse for certain circles to have a social gathering? Launching only a matter of days after Glasgow’s covid restrictions were eased, there is an opportunity for sensitivity towards audiences and communities which has been greatly missed. In many ways the complex booking systems, lack of printed directories and confusing website design for the festival have made it feel distinctively exclusionary in a city that seems to be changing every time I turn my head around.

As Matilda Bernstein Sycamore says in the opening of their book The Freezer Door: ‘One problem with gentrification is that it always gets worse’. [2]


Donald Butler is an HIV positive artist and writer based in Glasgow, currently studying on the MLitt Art Writing programme at The Glasgow School of Art. He is co-founder of Tendency Towards, an artist-led project based in Aberdeen. His poem, ‘For Barry’, will be published as part of the edited collection Soft Tissue later this year through TACO, London.


[1] From You’re Never Done exhibition handout

[2] The Freezer Door, Matilda Bernstein Sycamore, MIT Press, 2020