Birgit Megerle The Amusement projected slide show at Flourish Nights 2003 Courtesy of Lucy Mc Kenzie
Birgit Megerle, 'The Amusement', projected slide show at Flourish Nights, 2003. Courtesy Lucy McKenzie

Glasgow has a habit of forgetting itself. Activity that goes unwritten and undeposited fast eludes the search party and in a community often mythologised for its anti-authoritarian, leave-no-trace DIY culture, the blackouts build up. How do we understand the proliferation of an immaterial, time-based work like film and video exhibition in the amnesiac city?

A captivating origin story, much has been written about the community of artists working in Glasgow since the late-1980s. Ambitious graduates of the Glasgow School of Art’s radical Environmental Art pathway, established in 1985 with the pilfered axiom that ‘context is half the work’, went on to populate the committee of artist-run Transmission Gallery.[1] By 1996 Hans Ulrich Obrist had iron-branded what was happening The Glasgow Miracle and it was Glasgow’s artistic community that video-maker Douglas Gordon thanked in his Turner Prize acceptance speech the same year. Not incidentally, the parallel story of artists’ moving image and its exponential popularisation in the UK also finds expression in Gordon’s win, the first for video, compounded recently by Glasgow-based winners Duncan Campbell (2014) and Charlotte Prodger (2018).

Far from the Thatcherite fable of entrepreneurship, however, Gordon’s imagined colony was faced with a more discordant situation with a cultural policy developing in contradictory knots. Whilst the fertile DIY scene that gathered around Transmission thrived, bearing legacy exhibitions like Windfall (1991), the white cube institutions of Scotland were undergoing often-fatal structural revisions. Between 1990 and 1991 Glasgow’s Third Eye Centre and Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery, 369 Gallery and Richard Demarco Gallery had all closed, the latter two indefinitely. Tramway, the poster child of the city’s campaign of gentrification as 1990 European Capital of Culture, went someway to plugging the gap—though often facing an irascible public and press—with significant exhibitions including Gordon’s much-lauded 24-Hour Psycho (1993), group video show V-Topia (1994), and Trust (1995) curated by Charles Esche and Katrina Brown which featured international names in moving image, Willie Doherty, Tony Oursler and Stan Douglas.

Elsewhere, slow-moving civic and national collections were categorically failing to collect or exhibit contemporary art, let alone moving image. Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art, established in 1996 under the directorship of vocal anti-conceptualist Julian Spalding, became a testament to this contemptuous neglect. Spalding, curator Nicole White remembers, ‘spent public money on his own tastes with an almost Victorian conviction of what the good people of Glasgow needed.’[2] In a public indictment, artist Pavel Büchler decried, ‘as the municipal cultural policies and practices of Edinburgh and Glasgow are putting the good name of the country at risk, the community as a whole must be mobilised to do or be damned.’[3]

Attitudes began to change at post-Spaulding GoMA with exhibitions like Infinitude (2000) and a reparative Art Fund award of £1m (2007) that asserted an unflinching contemporaneity—and the position of moving image—within the collection. It is still notable, however, that over two decades later the only major institutional exhibition to explicitly address artists’ moving image in Scotland, Running Time (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, 2009), was denounced for its glaring omissions by the press and artistic community. Running for only five weeks via a rotating programme organised by loose trans-historical themes, the exhibition featured around seventy artists and filmmakers crowded across two screens and three monitors. Under this compression, with no catalogue produced and only a couple of artworks eventually acquired, the exhibition left a smaller legacy than its contents warranted.

Still from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art Video Production Board Glasgow Event Space 1986 Courtesy of Malcolm Dickson
Glasgow Event Space, still from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art Video Production Board, 1986. Courtesy Malcolm Dickson

Where Scotland’s sandstone-and-mortar institutions afforded inadequate support to those practices which now constitute artists’ moving image, the mantle was assumed by DIY exhibitors working nimbly but with interminable precarity. A preface to this might be Event Space, an agency formed from an eponymous exhibition series. Remarkably, Event Space 1 (Transmission, 1986) was the first exhibition in Glasgow dedicated to moving image work since Video: Towards Defining an Aesthetic (Third Eye Centre, 1976) a decade before. The programme included film and video installations, videowall pieces, performances and screenings from artists like Zoe Redman, Stephen Partridge, David Hall and Michael O’Pray. In October that year, a second iteration included a more comprehensive programme of curated screenings: video art from the Federal Republic of Germany; work on 16mm by women artists; and recent Super 8 films from Scotland. A third instance was organised in April 1988, featuring Isaac Julien’s Sankofa Film and Video Collective, Tina Keane and John Latham amongst others.

Working on a project-by-project basis, Event Space was central to the organisation of the first New Visions Film and Video Festival (1992–1996), a biennial showcase in Glasgow largely comprising single-screen contemporary work in video, film, animation and digital imaging. New Visions quickly superseded its parent organisation, becoming an autonomous and well-regarded assembly for experimentation and discourse, curated voluntarily by Malcolm Dickson and Doug Aubrey from 1992, and latterly Ann Vance and Paula Larkin. The festival ran with insecure public funding, decreased with each iteration, and by 1996 receiving nothing at all from the Scottish Arts Council (SAC). On the east coast, Edinburgh’s more established Fringe Film and Video Festival, which had operated annually since 1985 faced an equally uncertain future. The FFVF was ‘saved’ by a last-minute grant from Edinburgh District Council three months before opening in 1992 and would eventually also cease operations in 1996. The SAC strongly encouraged the merging of the two festivals and, together with the Scottish Film Council, ploughed £9,000 into strategic consultancy reports on the development of a single new organisation, resulting in the laboured formation of the Moving Image Art Agency in 1998, which soon morphed into New Media Scotland in 1999, abandoning festival activity in the process.[4]

The festival model of exhibition returned with confidence over a decade later, no doubt coaxed by the global programme of festivalisation and the favourable cultural policy this affected. After the troubled merger of Scottish Screen and the Scottish Arts Council, forming Creative Scotland in 2010, another 2018 divorce saw the constitution of Screen Scotland and the subsequent establishment of a dedicated Film Festivals Fund (£600,000 annually), manifesting the endorsement of festivalisation within Scottish cultural policy. This neoliberal rebalancing redirects funds from the inglorious business of year-round support and concerted investment in artistic production, to the festival—a highly visible but short-run interface with audiences, easily measured and easily reconciled within the content creation campaign of city branding. Within these seemingly antagonistic economies, however, the largely non-commercial practice of artists’ moving image has enjoyed significant exposure at the hand of adept programmers, both as a festivalised form itself and as an enduring fixture of film and arts festivals proper. Tramway, latterly joined by co-producers LUX Scotland, have re-engineered the format in their annual Artists’ Moving Image Festival (2012–) which abandons industrial emphases on premiere status in favour of artist-curated, thematic propositions. Meanwhile the activities of Glasgow Film Festival (Crossing the Line) (2005–), Glasgow Short Film Festival (2008–), Document Human Rights Film Festival (2003–), Scottish Queer International Film Festival (2015–), and Africa in Motion (2006–) have endorsed artists’ moving image, arguably to an increasing degree.

Artists Moving Image Festival 2015 LUX Scotland and Tramway Glasgow Photo by Matthew Arthur Williams
Artists’ Moving Image Festival 2015, LUX Scotland and Tramway, Glasgow. Photo: Matthew Arthur Williams

Despite the award of visibility bestowed by the festival, the necessity of regular curatorial attention is not precluded. In the image of Event Space, a number of exhibition projects have attempted to sustain more flexible, year-round activity. Operating without funding continuously since 1993, Café Flicker serves a filmmaking community working with the single-screen format via an open submission policy. Once a fertile platform for testing and critique, Café Flicker was hosted by the production hub Glasgow Film and Video Workshop, now GMAC Film, and has mirrored the trajectory of its host. Writing in 1999, Ann Vance described a sense of transformation: the proliferation of scripted dramas demonstrating increasingly ‘overwrought focus on The Industry as the mecca for new talent.’[5] By 2007, artist Luke Fowler lamented that the workshop ‘now seems firmly dedicated to commercial short films.’[6] This pernicious turn towards glossy production has in recent years seen the disappearance of Café Flicker as a fixture in the artists’ moving image community. Nevertheless, its impressive alumni include artists Sarah Tripp, Mandy McIntosh, Gillian Steel and Shaz Kerr.

Programme notes for Cerith Wyn Evans At various times colours had various names at the time I recall this colour was called Puce So a Puce Moment 2003 Courtesy of Lucy Mc Kenzie
Programme notes for Cerith Wyn Evans, 'At various times colours had various names; at the time I recall this colour was called 'Puce'. So, a 'Puce Moment', 2003. Courtesy Lucy McKenzie

As artists’ moving image fell outside Café Flicker’s remit, a number of more radical initiatives rose in its place. The informality of this activity has left little archival trace, making it a difficult terrain to map, nonetheless key examples might include Flourish Nights (2001–2003), a programme organised first by artists Sophie Macpherson, Alex Frost and others, then continued by Lucy McKenzie, which featured the moving image alongside music, performance and readings. Occupying a shared studio on Robertson Street, Glasgow, amongst ‘a couple of other strange businesses like a Freemasons regalia outfitter, taxidermy and the invisible menders’, the organisers acquired a second-hand projector, screen and about thirty old wooden chairs that ‘the CCA were chucking out’.[7] With modest support from SAC grants of £1,000 in 2002 and £1,880 in 2003, they initiated a series of evening events which played with forms of sharing, including a gallery in a coat jacket and a women-only audience. Using the platform as an excuse to collaborate with personal heroes, McKenzie invited Cerith Wyn Evans to curate a film programme, poetically titled At various times colours had various names; at the time I recall this colour was called ‘Puce’. So, a ‘Puce Moment’ (2003) and Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Cosey Fanni Tutti’ debuted her video ‘Confessions Projected’ (2003). Glasgow-based Luke Fowler collaborated with Sue Tompkins and Stretchheads member, P6 (Phil Eaglesham) on a screening and live performance (Be Dear Crazy Loud, 2003), while Bonnie Camplin, Marc Camille Chaimowicz and others also staged moving image interventions. Flourish Nights retained an anarchic leaning: writer Sarah Lowndes recalls one particular evening ending in disarray ‘when one of the guests started an unscheduled fire in a sink in a corner.’[8]

Left Babak Ghazi slideshow video 2006 right Torsten Lauschmann Digital Curtain 2006 Bazaar Open Eye Club Tramway Glasgow Courtesy of Karen Cunningham
Left: Babak Ghazi, slideshow video, 2006. Right: Torsten Lauschmann, ‘Digital Curtain’, 2006. Bazaar, Open Eye Club, Tramway, Glasgow. Courtesy Karen Cunningham

Born out of the will ‘to provide an appropriate environment for works that share a time-based element,’[9] artists Karen Cunningham and Leonora Hennessy led The Open Eye Club (2005–2008) as a nomadic series of unique moving image events in Glasgow’s Project Room, CCA and Tramway.[10] Premised on an insistence that exhibited works were new to Glasgow audiences, the programme featured international work imported from Geoffrey Farmer, Pil & Galia Kollectiv and Babak Gahzi, in theatrical environments often intervened by sculpture and performance from Glasgow artists including Scott Myles and Sara Barker. Like its predecessors, funding arrived intermittently. Whilst in 2005 the SAC finally acknowledged the vitality of moving image practice in its Artists’ Film and Video Fund, this included no specific provision for exhibition work, though an SAC grant of £7,500 in 2007 supported the club’s last three projects. Alongside a cluster of cabaret-inflected happenings rooted firmly in the mid-2000s interdisciplinary moment, The Open Eye Club went some way to plugging an institutional gap, but under ultimately untenable economic circumstances.

Recent projects have confronted these conditions directly by working para-institutionally, itinerantly and without prescriptive form. These might include Transit Arts (2015–), Mount Florida Screenings (2016–2018) and Cabbage (2018–). The former, my own initiative, opportunistically smuggles artists’ moving image into the programmes of larger film festivals, public installations and publishing, working with filmmakers including Deborah Stratman, Taus Makhacheva, Amie Siegel and Fern Silva. A bi-monthly peer-to-peer platform programmed via a daisy chain of artists’ recommendations, MFS sought to create informal dialogue around artists’ work but would ultimately succumb to ‘indefinite stasis’ following two unsuccessful funding applications. Newcomer Cabbage centres underrepresented artists, with a tongue-in-cheek programme of accessible work.

Soft Cells curated by Transit Arts Glasgow Short Film Festival 2018 Photo by Ingrid Mur
Soft Cells curated by Transit Arts, Glasgow Short Film Festival, 2018. Photo: Ingrid Mur

Art historian Andrew V. Uroskie has described a provocative condition of ‘homelessness’ suffered by the moving image within the institutions and discourses of contemporary art.[11] Despite the practice’s now perpetual residency within international contemporary art fora, in Glasgow it continues to endure a precarious and marginal position with no fixed premises. A slow but pernicious deskilling in industrial cinema spaces has removed specialist analogue equipment—and its operators—while the programme at the city’s only repertory film theatre continues to be ceded to low risk auteur seasons and event cinema. Whilst resourceful exhibition work will always be undertaken by enchanted and foolhardy programmers, myself included, the act of interfacing the moving image with history, academic scholarship and a greater public—remains the province of civic and national institutions.

A body to challenge, advocate and nurture has emerged in the form of LUX Scotland (2014–), whom I have worked for and collaborated with since 2017. The sister of LUX, this small organisation has acted to affect change in resource, quickly becoming Scotland’s most prolific exhibitor of artists’ moving image. Significantly, LUX Scotland has planted the seed of a major collecting project, proffering to gently but assuredly seize the means of authentication from its pillared, sandstone-and-mortar colleagues on either coast via the establishment of a new artist-centred distribution collection of moving image in Scotland. The organisation has taken responsibility for the Margaret Tait Award—the country’s largest commissioning award for artists working with the moving image—and has instigated significant presentations of moving image work by artists including Lizzie Borden, Margaret Salmon, Laida Lertxundi, Ephraim Asili and dozens more. Venueless, LUX Scotland evidences the maximal capacity of an approach dependent on collaboration and co-production, but where do we go from here? To resist forgetting, to leave a trace and build a history, Glasgow needs an aide-mémoire, something physical, immovable, an importer of influence, an archive of action, a testament to its residents: a dedicated space for the exhibition of artists’ moving image.[12]

*

[1] Artist Placement Group manifesto, 1966

[2] Nicola White, ‘In Motion’, Generation: 25 Years of Contemporary Art in Scotland: Reader, ed. Moira Jeffrey (Edinburgh and Glasgow: National Galleries of Scotland and Glasgow Life, 2014), 19

[3] Pavel Büchler, ‘Bad News’, Variant 2, no. 2 (1997): 2

[4] Ann Vance, ‘Who’s Afraid of Film & Video in Scotland?’, Variant 2, no. 8 (1999): 12; Alexandra-Maria Colta and María A. Vélez-Serna, ‘Between Scenes: Glasgow’s Alternative Film Spaces in the 1990s’, NECSUS, Emotions (2019)

[5] Vance, ‘Who’s Afraid of Film & Video in Scotland?’, 13

[6] Luke Fowler, ‘Report: Expanded Cinema: Time/Space/Structure’, MAP Issue #9 2007

[7] Lucy McKenzie interviewed by the author, 7 February 2020

[8] Sarah Lowndes, ‘The Key Material Is Time’, in Generation: 25 Years of Contemporary Art in Scotland: Reader, ed. Moira Jeffrey (Edinburgh and Glasgow: National Galleries of Scotland and Glasgow Life, 2014), 85

[9] Neil Mulholland, ‘Master of Ceremonies’ (Glasgow: The Open Eye Club, 2008)

[10] Mason Leaver-Yap, ‘Report: Can Video Thrive as a Marginal Activity?’, MAP Issue 7 Autumn 2006

[11] Andrew V. Uroskie, ‘The Homelessness of the Moving Image’, in Moving Image, ed. Omar Kholeif (London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2015), 54

[12] An example of which might soon be found in Glasgow Artists’ Moving Image Studios (GAMIS), a new organisation currently reviewing the development of Govanhill Picture House, Glasgow, as a dedicated studio facility and exhibition space for artists working with the moving image.

***

Marcus Jack is a Glasgow-based curator and writer. He is currently a PhD researcher investigating histories of artists’ moving image in Scotland at The Glasgow School of Art. In 2015, Jack founded Transit Arts and has developed projects with partners including ATLAS, the Goethe-Institut, Glasgow Film and Tyneside Cinema. He is a Research Associate at LUX Scotland, submissions panellist at Open City Documentary Festival and Glasgow Short Film Festival and recently coordinated the Margaret Tait 100 project @marcusfjack