Glasgow International2021 2
Kate Davis, Flaw, installation view at A-M-G5

Two utilitarian clothes lines bisect the intermedia gallery at CCA, framed drawings and a video screen slung crookedly between the posts. The film, Weight, presents a claustrophobic portrait of mid-century daily life, of women pushing oversized prams around concrete housing developments, washing dishes, or chatting in the aisles of a grocery shop. These glacial images from the BBC archives are set against the monumental language of art history, as a patrician voice narrates a script lightly tweaked from a 1961 documentary about sculptor Barbara Hepworth. The film is thus a wry investigation into how these two labour forms—domestic and artistic—have been subjectivised, and whether the two states of being can comfortably coexist. Although Weight was made by Kate Davis in 2014, its household imagery acquires a new charge given the conditions of this past year. The artist’s investigations of gender, labour and value find fresh resonance as we emerge from months of domestic boundedness, yet no freer from the crisis of social reproduction that the pandemic has deepened.

Davis’s fastidious pencil studies are generally well-suited to GI’s theme of attention, yet it is striking how appropriately her recent body of work, Flaw, responds to the programme’s question: ‘How has attention shifted in light of the global pandemic?’ There are four works on paper hung in the CCA group show, Termite Tapeworm Fungus Moss, and a larger exhibition installed a few miles down the road at A-M-G5.

Meticulous pencil drawings that look vaguely insect-like from a distance invite the viewer to get close and peer carefully. The focussing shapes resolve into kernels of dust and dirt, the leaves and crumbs that gather in unswept corners and under furniture. There’s something obsessive and discomforting in this prolonged surveyance of fuzzy scraps and dust, a drawing out of things we tend to avert our gaze from. These dusty constellations accumulate on the back of torn envelopes, a tension between the carefully observed drawings and their throwaway surfaces. Routine reminders to book an MOT or renew a travel card, encrusted with drawings of dirt, communicate a parallel message about excavating time from mundane pressures. As Davis writes in the exhibition text these drawings began with ‘abandoning housework to make artwork’, of following Woolf’s edict to kill the Angel in the House. ‘Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing.’ [1]

A number of envelope fragments incorporate the unmistakable scrawls of a young child, expansive and careless against the tiny details of Davis’s pencil. The inclusion of these pages quietly but powerfully insist on that such scribbles do not destroy the artist’s work, the child does not kill the mother’s creativity, although it certainly has to be negotiated. There could be something oppressive in the repetition of these close, careful drawings, an intimation of the walls closing in, the world shrunken to the cataloguing of a room and its daily sweepings. This is gently reinforced by the chains that frame each page, although cast in neon or crayon colours these lightweight links seem ambivalent jailors at best. It is a good example of how Davis’s work is always undercutting itself, moving swiftly between the weighty and trivial, calling attention to the value systems that relationally structure such categories. The lack of severity in those chains acknowledges that there is a pleasure in these various labours and, although there are certainly far graver battles at present, all work is connected in the same broken social order.

The drab clothes lines strike a surprising note in CCA’s gallery (and recall Roberta Cantow’s 1981 feminist classic), while the installation of Flaw at A-M-G5 offers a complementary platform for Davis’s work. Here, the space is not a contemporary white gallery but a repurposed domestic building; the walls left fashionably unfinished, with crumbling plasterwork, worn floorboards and bare bricks in the disused fireplace. A huge rock monolith fills the entrance, uncomfortably oversized and resolutely undomestic. Mounted on the reverse of this fabricated boulder is a grease-stained hob, rendered precisely in pencil and drawn perfectly to scale. Housework abandoned to make artwork.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising after the burdens of the past year that so many of GI’s exhibition spaces have been punctured by films, drawings and installations representing the demands of domestic work, while the sexual division of labour is a recurrent theme. Home Economics ( at Chapter Thirteen presents documentary photographs taken by Franki Raffles to record women’s working practices in late 1980s Govan. These images sit alongside Margaret Salmon’s Icarus, a 35mm film capturing women’s work in the district thirty years later. A large chunk of this film consists of dull, drawn-out sequences of women at work, in dental clinics, food banks, tailors, and hairdressers. However, woven together these produce a mesmeric snapshot of contemporary working life, Salmon’s lens focussed on hands efficiently slicing meat, touching hair, threading spools, answering phones, stacking shelves, typing keyboards and wiping surfaces clean. Global connections can be drawn at Springburn Library and Museum, where Adelita Husni-Bey’s silent video Gestures of Labour focusses on migrant workers in Jakarta. These seductively gritty images decontextualise hands from labouring bodies, capturing repetitive actions of scrubbing, ironing, and cutting cloth, which are meaningfully intercut with machines steaming, pressing, stamping and folding.

Glasgow International 2021
Gabecare (Rachel Adams and Tessa Lynch), Packets (Reckitt’s Blue), 2021. Photo: Bart Urbanski

Husni-Bey’s film is included in the group exhibition, You’re Never Done, which was inspired by the community household labours of Glasgow’s public washhouses or ‘steamies’. Remnants of these historic sites can be traced in the neat white tiles of Gabecare’s Packets, which lie on the gallery floor draped in sheets of pleasingly graphic, retro packaging announcing carbolic soap and laundry blueing squares. These overblown graphics sit among a series of wall-mounted bathroom cabinets, their astringent cleanliness a taut contrast to grimy smeared mirrors and shrunken doll’s furniture. In a second room, Harriet Rose Morley has repurposed the Springburn Maiden statues that once decorated the community’s public halls; the decaying, mossy figures hauntingly misplaced in this managerial space, like stumbling across a tomb in a shopping centre. The anonymous maidens (as Marina Warner points out female statues are rarely historical figures but personify allegorical qualities) [2] hold train carriages and wheels aloft, symbolising the anonymous feminised work that sustained this community’s railway industry over a century ago.

Mhari McMullan [] has already written beautifully about the collaborative textiles of Arrange Whatever Pieces Come Your Way, which transform domestic remnants into striking modernist quilts of swooping curves and blocky architectural shapes. The pieces are hung or placed on raised plinths to be contemplated from various angles. Yet the creases, waistbands and buttonholes that elegantly disrupt the quilted surface recall the cloth’s earlier function, and the regular, methodical stitches point to hours of repurposing labour. These figurative ‘loose threads’ unravel a story of the quilts’ production and, like the other shows considered here, insist on the interwovenness of domestic and artistic labours, with all the gendered, classed and raced connotations that correspondence evokes.

After a year of makeshift labour reorganisation in which the boundaries delineating homework, waged work, personal and community life became increasingly porous, it’s notable how many of GI’s artists have engaged with those issues directly or obliquely. The matter of time and attention emerges cogently across the assorted projects—where and upon whom we focus our attention historically, how artwork is balanced with the daily demands of housework and waged work, of how we choose to share time with others collaboratively, and of finding time to put together an exhibition in these strangest of circumstances.


Victoria Horne is a senior lecturer in Art & Design History at Northumbria University, Newcastle

Termite Tapeworm Fungus Moss, CCA Glasgow, 11-26 June, new work by three Glasgow-based artists—Kate Davis, Charlie Hammond and Hayley Tompkins

Kate Davis, Flaw, A-M-G5, 11-27 June

Franki Raffles and Margaret Salmon at Chapter Thirteen, Pearce Institute, Govan 11-27 June

You’re Never Done, group exhibition, Springburn Museum, 11-27 June


[1] Woolf, ‘Professions for Women’, 1931 lecture

[2] Monuments and Maidens, 1985