Susan Mansfield, (The Scotsman, 02/05/2006)
As the second Glasgow International draws to a close – although some of the larger exhibitions remain open for a while yet – the city’s festival of contemporary visual art is firmly established as a biennial. This year saw it lose the roughest of its rough edges: most things opened when they said they would and had information on hand for visitors, and the map in the programme actually worked (hurray).
But it’s not slick, and we wouldn’t want it to be. A sense of edginess, of being in touch with the grassroots, is essential to GI. The festival might host distinguished guests from elsewhere, but Glasgow’s artists, art collectives and artist-turned-entrepreneurs are the driving force behind the bulk of smaller shows which send visitors prowling around the backstreets of Merchant City and give the event its true flavour.
These organisations give artists opportunities to work in spaces other than white-washed galleries, and these can prove fruitful. The Modern Institute placed Miami-based Mark Handforth, who makes huge aluminium signs, in the historic space of Hutcheson’s Hall. His main sculpture, a huge, battered road sign saying simply ‘No’, could hardly be more at odds with John Baird’s sumptuous 19th-century meeting space.
It read like an act of resistance, a big vocal modern protest against Victorian pomp and circumstance. Bu the sign was battered and bent, as if the conflict with wealth and hierarchy and tradition is a tough one, and the establishment is more deeply entrenched than any modernist would care to admit.
Jonathan Scott, making work for artist collective EmergeD, created Face of an Angel, Voice of a Demon in response to his space, the ruins of a salsa bar in the Briggait, with peeling murals and rusting ironwork. But large and striking though the installation was, it was still dwarfed by its surroundings. Its complex dialogue about ‘the emergence of grotesque consciousness through constructed moment’s [sic] latent with an inexplicable air of carnival’ was drowned out by the building’s more direct story of time, decay and broken dreams.
Film plays a significant part in GI, with an uneven amount of success. Francis McKee’s Streams of Story show at Tramway was disappointing, particularly because it sounded so fascinating on paper, and Miranda Whall’s animations (EmergeD’s other offside project, open until today) of a woman using sex aides while watched by a variety of animals, were best forgotten.
But Torsten Lauschmann continued to explore new ways of projecting film, by using various facets of two-dimensional sculptures. And Mark Neville’s Jump! Films, shown for the first time in the UK – and continuing to show at Street Level until 3 June – had an uncanny power. You need to know your art history to know that when he jumps from a bridge in Amsterdam he is recreating a work made by Bas Yan Ader in 1970, and is ‘investing a mythology associated with ‘heroic’ male performance artists’. But, even if you don’t, it’s compelling. Filmed on a high-speed camera, the sort normally used in crash testing, it is shown on a whirling 16mm film, slowed almost to stop-motion, so he barely seems to be moving at all. You almost long for it to speed up as he edges painfully towards the inevitable.
Sarah Lucas comments on the obsessiveness of some contemporary art in her garden gnome made of cigarettes on show as part of Material World at the Gallery of Modern Art (until 25 September). And this was a further thread that ran through the festival, a trend that suggests that in another life, some of these artists might be building scale models of the Titanic from matchsticks in their basements.
Gary Rough, showing at three locations with Sorcha Dallas, whose past work has been associated with words and neon and a certain romanticism, seems to be moving towards something more minimal. His work at Dallas’s main gallery ( on show until 6 May) consists of a series of drawings on lined paper, replicating the lines of the paper by Hand. Next door there are two slight video works which seem to reference Breughel. Though these clearly offer some rewards for him, the pay-off for the viewer is less clear.
The works of sculptor Karla Black, at Mary Mary’s new Dixon Street Gallery until 19 May, are large, but the drama happens in the detail. Early Equals Deep fills a whole room with a carpet of white chalk dust, punctuated by barely visible disruptions, a dollop of face cream, a balled up tissue, a tiny square of towel. Opportunities for Girls is a hanging paper sculpture smeared with hair gel and nail varnish, already drying and flaking, a fragile, aching thing heavy with meaning.
In the Blue Star Red Wedge show at WASPS, Sarah Walton’s Matchstick City Limit used that first choice material of the obsessive model-maker, the matchstick, but transformed it to make a futuristic cityscape in at least four dimensions, built on an Ikea coffee table. There was something if the same obsessiveness in Matt Stokes’ ongoing investigation into the history of a defunct Cumbrian rave promoter, and display of their ephemera in musicological cases (also part of his submission for Beck’s Futures, at 73 until 14 May), and in Jo Coupe’s flowers cast in Bronze, Cath Campbell’s intricate paper cut-outs and Peter J Evans’s supernova made from parquet flooring.
Blue Star Red Wedge, which showcased the work of contemporary artists in the Newcastle area, was one of the more interesting shows of this year’s GI, and bodes well for them, as they consciously model themselves on Glasgow’s success. It also provided two of my favourite GI moments. One was Joe Hillier’s Dumb, a meticulous sculpture of man, half lifesize, studying his own cupped hands, redolent with time and skill and emotion. And the other was a bucket of water.
On first sight of Ginny Reed’s Sparklebucket you doubted it should be there at all, and suspected a leak in the roof. Then you looked down to see that the water had glitter in it, and you realised that reflected and re-reflected in the water’s surface, against the black sides of the bucket, were galaxy upon galaxy of stars. The bucket – and the moment – were transformed. And this is the flipside of obsessiveness, which is also part of contemporary art. Nothing meticulous, no skill in the traditional sense. Just a bucket of water, and the power to surprise.