Volcano madness… the dust hasn’t settled and flights are grounded. This year’s Glasgow International has a distinctly national audience in its opening proceedings, but an irrepressible festival atmosphere fills the air.
First stop is Trongate 103, the new glass-fronted base for a handful of respected Glasgow venues. There, Street Level’s Lost and Found presents a selection of early video works from the 1970s, including Tony Sinden’s ‘Behold Vertical Devices’, a sequence of nine TV monitors placed on an upwardly sloping ramp. A clothed figure ascends in the manner of Muybridge and Duchamp. Zoë Redman in another room has a pyramid of TVs above a reflective pool: calm, meditative media. Next door and upstairs, Glasgow-based Claire Barclay’s Overlap at the Glasgow Print Studio is beguiling. The work resonates with both dark and light, and is elegantly monumental. A project made in collaboration with Edinburgh-based Dovecot weavers, Barclay presents two new pieces, tapestries on looms that bring a gorgeously unfinished, meaningful layering of medium and material together—sculpture, textile, object, commodity, domestic furniture.
Round the corner in Transmission, Dark Light, initiated by the collective Faculty of Invisibility, is decisively out of step with the largely object-based presentations at GI. The project sits within, and attempts to speak about, the conditions of the Institution, drawing parallels between the Faculty’s organisation, the structure of Transmission’s committee and, more generally, the structures of global assemblies such as the UN. There is little to be seen in the main gallery space: a circular MDF table, chairs, lecterns hastily pushed to one side of the room. Scattered across the table, the Faculty’s text printouts welcome the visitor with a modest disclaimer that states the show was ‘difficult for us to open’ and a question about ‘who is reading this letter’. Downstairs is less minimal, yet maintains visual sobriety: on display are letters from the Faculty, recordings of previous meetings, as well as images of meeting halls, transcripts and video recordings. The presentation is not exactly archive, documentation or exhibition, but benefits from raiding each of these formats. In a voice recording, a member of the Faculty discusses constitutions, models, and meetings with a dry, bureaucratic manner. At one point she makes an intriguing connection between the similar desire to ‘assemble’ both within democratic bodies and within art practice, but the discussion quickly returns to a more general tone of speech, voice, public good etc. Debates of doing/not doing, attentiveness and engagement are unquestionably sincere and vital to the making and display of art. But without specificity, the Faculty’s circular endeavours seem overly abstract and often self-indulgent. Given the profile of the gallery at GI, the idea of the exhibition seems under scrutiny here, as is the role of production: what is it, exactly, that is going on at Transmission? Whatever it is, it comes across as a partially open and ongoing debate. Private talks have been held already; communiques are being developed by the Faculty to be sent to selected members of the gallery’s database; events will be staged. But there is a strange desperation for substance, and there are no concrete outcomes in sight: the effectiveness of the Faculty, then, is questionable. That said, the project’s prolonging of eventfulness, slow unfolding of content, and anti-object stance provocatively resists the ‘dash-round’ consumption of festival art. Dark Light ’s appearance at the time of GI is an undoubtedly ballsy move by the current Transmission committee and, in many ways, regardless of its success, the intentions of the project are a much-needed injection of criticality within the city.
In contrast to the antagonism of Transmission’s resistance tactics, The Modern Institute makes a high profile launch of its new space on Osborne Street with the pop kitsch consumables of Jim Lambie. In the converted Victorian bathhouse, Lambie swamps walls and floors with fluorescing surfaces and dazzling sheet metal that proliferates the gallery like well-thumbed pages of a pantone folio.
Developed as part of director Katrina Brown’s core GI programme, a number of temporary exhibition venues have been opened up in the Merchant City area of Glasgow. In the GI ‘Hub’ a white bike hangs on one wall. NVA’s Angus Farquhar has resuscitated the Provo referent, free cycles/anti-car project that was first rolled out in Amsterdam in the 1960s. Launched by a swarm of cyclists ‘storming’ the centre of Glasgow on the opening day of GI, the White Bike Plan (Witte Fietsenplan ) invites everyone to take to the roads and be free. Is resurrection a sub-theme of GI, what with the revisiting of old works by some of the big hitters?
Just a couple of doors down, and into the darkness of another special GI space, the Mitchell Street galleries, Croatian artist David Maljkovic interrogates modernism and its fallout, with particular reference to the grim brutalist works that scarred Eastern Europe, and Glasgow for that matter. Nearby, Gerard Byrne’s videos quote Frank Stella and Donald Judd in conversation; a dialogue that relates to art theorist Michael Fried and his critique of theatricality in minimalism. Meanwhile, the cleaner in Byrne’s video swabs the floor around various sculptures, absorbed, Vermeer-like. No doubt Fried would approve of Fiona Tan’s ‘Tomorrow’ at GOMA. A group of Swedish kids are caught on video. They appear imminent with promise, futurity. Unlike Warhol’s screen tests, these inbetweeners probably won’t go on to five, never mind 15 minutes of fame. But they look confident enough. Tan uses an elegiac pacing of camera; absorption again, with feeling.
Further afield at the Hunterian Gallery, the iconic ‘Fat Chair’ features in Anthony d’Offay’s collection of Joseph Beuys, on tour as part of the National Gallery of Scotland’s Artist Rooms. At CCA, meanwhile, Kate Davis and Faith Wilding have collaborated to develop an exhibition with specifically feminist intent. Virginia Woolf, Kathe Kollwitz, Kathy Acker and others have had their images collaged onto Wilding’s colourful works on paper, while Davis presents a new black and white video work featuring the artist’s mother.
Down to the Clyde, where the river is empty save a lonely orange lifebuoy floating among the rubbish. Under the stone bridges just off Jamaica Street and seemingly appearing from nowhere, artist Susan Philipsz’s plaintive voice sings ‘Lowlands’, one of GI’s special commissions. Two young men walk past paying no attention at all. Can they not hear? Their response is eerie; not even a flicker towards the sound, which fills the damp, cold space. So plugged in that they’re switched off? The sound installation is a timely reminder too of contemporary Glasgow’s musical strength in the visual art world. On the opening night of GI, emerging artist Cara Tolmie presented a similarly pared-down but stunningly edited performance live at Tramway as part of The Voice is Language, while later in the opening weekend, Muscles of Joy, a band including artists Katy Dove and Victoria Morton, lived up to their name.
Across the river at Tramway, in the gloomy darkness, Douglas Gordon revisits his best known work, ‘24 Hour Psycho’, 1993. The only sound is the cawing from a murder of crows coming from a new video piece tucked in a corner. We’re all entranced again, this time by the slow pan into Janet Leigh’s room. Canonisation officially comes from Don DeLillo who says of the work in his new novella: ‘He was mesmerised by this, the depths that were possible in the slowing of motion, the things to see, the depth of things so easy to miss in the shallow habit of seeing.’ In Tramway 5, Keren Cytter’s videos dissect the clichés of cinematic convention with schmaltzy music and spreading pools of redness from spilt wine. A GI/Tramway commission, Christoph Büchel’s installation, LAST MAN OUT TURN OFF LIGHTS, dominates the south side gallery; inside the maw of this huge industrial space, shipping containers have been converted into jail cells, the main hall is filled with the exoskeleton of a crashed jet with burnt-out seats. A rank burning smell of fills the space. It’s a terrifying reconstruction of sorts, and produces an omnipresent sense of dread.
In the west of Glasgow, Jimmie Durham at the Glasgow Sculpture Studios has us falling and laughing at his McCarthyesque video. Durham sits at a table apeing the role of a bank teller. With lovely hand gestures, he pulls up his cuffs after smashing a sequence of objects.
Durham has done his local homework: this exhibition contains strands of historical and personal connection (he was resident at the studios for three months this year), which in today’s globally-informed interpretations of our existence, invest in the idea that each person can make up their own mind to know more. Sculptures formed from Glasgow-found objects have been rearranged alongside drawings, photographs, archival material and poems. Durham’s work invites further links and questions from us all. So, in drawing links between the American Indian and the Scot, he shows the latter as coloniser of, and biologically-connected to, the former; they are one in the same. Beside them, on a presentation board, he tips golf into art and the life a Mohawk Indian who was caught up and killed in the fight over a golf course in Quebec. From there, it does not take the imagination long to reach the luxury golfing resort being bullishly bulldozed right now onto the Aberdeen coastline by Donald Trump.
There’s something just across the carpark at Glasgow Sculpture Studios. ‘Roll up, roll up’: artist attraction at Vestiges Park! This sideshow of Glasgow International, organised by Lowsalt (one of the city’s artist-run organisations), is fun and thought-provoking in equal measure. Visitors are politely accosted by uniformed invigilators at the entrance, while a path among the Japanese knotweed between railway and road leads the way; this art-infected scrubland sidetracks seriousness without entirely giving it away. Marketed in gothic style, an unseen, sometimes spoken narrative pulls a forelock towards Darwinian theory, creating an outdoor exhibition as continuous ‘performance’. Work by 16 Glasgow-based artists including Clara Ursitti, Jim Colquhoun, Alex Gross, Shelly Nadashi, are packed into this little art game. There is some rigour, some vigour, and a fleeting dose of intelligent playfulness on the subject of the art of nature mirrored along the way.
Down the road, at Washington Garcia, Corin Sworn’s ambitious and engaging installation, Prologue: Endless Renovation, is one of the highlights of GI. Comprising a double projection synched with a cassette tape recording, as well as a series of incongruous props illuminated in ambient light, Prologue is an attempt to navigate a series of found photographic slides via the artist’s monologue. The slippery narrative relates both the artist’s finding and the content of the images. Sworn occasionally lies about the provenance of an image, only later to admit deceiving the viewer: ‘I misled you when I said that I found all of these slides in a skip, I did not. I made this one myself. But a counterfeit is only of value if it can mislead someone.’
To Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum for David Shrigley’s sculptures, which are typically absurd: a bell to be rung when Jesus returns, a display case of cheese crackers. Criss-crossing back into town there’s another strong showing by an emerging artist, this time Gerda Scheepers at Mary Mary. It is a cerebral collection of offerings in different formats—drawing, sculpture and collage. The blurb says that the show is also ‘a strategy of withstanding essential Aporia’. A puzzling statement. These exhausting treks between new and old spaces, performances and talks, is offered a salve by Le Drapeau Noir, a Dada-inspired temporary bar on Renfield Lane which runs for a single month. Renovated to the point of functional ambience and no more, the space was initiated by Glasgow-based artists Rob Churm, Raydale Dower and Tony Swain, replete with a daily programme of readings, performances, and musical sets. On opening, Le Drapeau Noir quickly became the default meeting place for all involved in GI, and its durational urgency has developed a temporary community among the ephemeral and local inhabitants of the city: an off-duty in-crowd. Its formal links to bars such as Lucy Mackenzie and Paulina Olowska’s notorious Warsaw one, Nowa Popularna, and Venice’s Manchester Pavilion are inevitable, particularly in terms of the community-building aspects of its endeavours. But Le Drapeau Noir’s unhurried and casual tone acts more as a friendly escape from GI’s hectic insistence of visual consumption, than a frantic space of production and city interfacing.
In another temporary renovation project, the old Glue Factory in Maryhill has been gutted and transformed by the Finn Collective—a group of artists for whom Glasgow has at one point or another been a connective base, and whose members include Bobby Niven, Anna McCarthy and Manuela Gernedel. On a shoestring budget, Finn have put together a startlingly ambitious number of artists, selecting from peers and colleagues both local and abroad. Although the quality of the work on display is more rough than ready, the drive behind the project is evident. A stand out piece is an absurd and provocative video work from Alex Gross and Anna Mields, which intercuts documentary footage of an ex-convict living life on the periphery of a German dumping ground, with snippets of a glamorous transvestite scaling the mounds of rubbish. The Glue Factory is watched with anticipation, as it is confirmed as the site of the imminent Glasgow School of Art graduation show. Meanwhile, Linder, wielding her scissors, is showing at Sorcha Dallas and performing at The Arches. In her exhibition King’s Ransom (Hybrid Tea), cut flowers replace heads, her trademark domestic appliance is in evidence, and the lingerie masks, of the sort she once made for Howard Devoto, also make an appearance. Linder continues to reference fashion (this time Cerutti’s designer Richard Nicoll), performance, suburbia and sex. In the annex next door, some of her iconic 1970s works, soft core spliced with cakes, share space with a new sculpture akimbo on the floor, a woman dissected, an accordion as torso.
Everyone loves a parade, and there are few more epic than the 13-hour performance Linder has orchestrated for the Arches space in central Glasgow. Allowed up close to the core cast of seven, (their number supplemented by dance troupes, musicians and a Northern Soul DJ), the audience is promenaded through a raw and hypnotic 12-act pop fairytale turned rock and roll suicide, as gold lamé jacketed Star crashes and burns his way into narcissistic oblivion. With a Witch, a Muse, a King and Queen and a trying-too-hard party girl in tow, the first three hours possess the lysergic magick of Kenneth Anger if he’d made films for girls, before lurching off into several different directions at once to contemplate the addictive spell of fame, bodies beautiful or otherwise, and the transcendent power of dance. Cinematic Orchestra guitarist Stuart McCallum provides a live soundtrack with three drummers, a trumpeter, double bass and piano, while, immaculately clad in outfits designed by Richard Nicoll, Linder herself appears sporadically, looking for all the world like a gimlet-eyed Prospero in fetish-wear. The whole glorious spectacle is to be restaged on 10 July at The Chisenhale Gallery, London.
Now in its third presentation, Glasgow International continues to grow. This year, the series of GI commissions, pop-up venues and strong contributions from artist-led organisations ensures a confidence in its future.
GI compiled by a group of MAP writers including Alice Bain, Neil Cooper, Isla Leaver-Yap and John Quin