Duncan MacMillan, 'Floored by the Festival' (The Scotsman, 11/04/2008)
Glasgow International is the city’s biggest ever venture in the visual arts. Strictly contemporary, there are more than 30 exhibitions opening this weekend and a range of artist’s talks and other events. Inevitably, it was up to the wire for many of them, but three important shows were ready in time for me to see them yesterday. If any of the rest are as good as Jim Lambie’s show at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), it will be a big event.
GOMA has never-looked so good. The great neoclassical Exchange Hall on the ground floor, where the city’s merchants did business, has never been a happy place for art. It has to try to dominate the architecture, but has rarely succeeded. the architecture is simply too grand and refined in finish for most contemporary art to complete. But Jim Lambie has fixed it. He has been given the whole enormous space. There is only one wall, as there are tall windows on the other three sides. These have been cleared and the room is full of light.
Lambie has started with the floor. It is covered with black-and-white pattern that he calls The Strokes. White vinyl was laid first and then over that lines of black, dividing the surface into blocks of narrow, parallel black and white curving stripes, all equal in width. Set at different angles, these blocks seem to be part of larger bands that run right across the floor, moving over and under each other like Celtic interlace on a huge scale. It is stunning. Whatever floor the Exchange once had is longer gone but, fittingly for the building, Lambie’s austere and complex pattern echoes in vinyl the marble floors of the Renaissance, and before that the mosaic floors of ancient Rome that inspired them. The double row of Corinthian columns that march along the room look as though this is how they have always been. Both on the floor and above it, Lambie has introduced a variety of art works, all of which are so highly finished that they complete the discipline of the floor and the building itself.
As you enter you are met by Get Back, a small freestanding wall that partly blocks the doorway and is made of vividly coloured bricks, pointed in bright pink and each neatly covered with coloured fabric from women’s clothing salvaged from old clothes shops. The whole thing appears to be supported on tow pairs of men’s patent leather shoes, toes beneath the wall. Halfway down the hall, these sharp bright colours that contrast so well with the black and white floor are repeated in a structure like a breaking wave. It is made of wooden chairs, cut in half, painted in glass paint and then adorned with mirror handbags. It is a piece of visual music, a sparkling arpeggio against the floor’s continuo. The work’s title, Seven and Seven Is or Sunshine Bathed the Golden Glow, in fact pays homage to songs by tow pop groups, Love and Felt. Music is hinted at elsewhere too. Sonic Reducer is a group of small concrete blocks, set like rocks among the waves of the floor, and with LP record sleeves set into them, end-on. A-Side Forever Changes, a brightly coloured picture decorated with collage of found flower pictures, Love, as its starting point.
There are other works carefully placed around the room. The Spell is half of an enigmatic gold door hanging above the floor between two windows, for instance, and above it all Stars of Cancer, a set of mirrors arranged in the form of the constellation of Cancer, hangs from the ceiling. As stars guide seamen, it hints that the waves of the floor below might indeed be the sea, source of the wealth that once passed through the building.
If Lambie has given life and dignity back to the architecture of the Royal Exchange, Calum Stirling has been less successful with the great barn of the Mitchell Library. The ponderous, ornate rhetoric of the building seems even more remote from contemporary sensibility than the Royal Exchange. Stirling has built a platform and a canopy. Both are set at an angle to the axis of the room, as though they would rather disregard it. The canopy covers a projection screen to shade it from the light from the roof, but it also looks as though it was huddled in defence against the architecture. All this construction is to present an extraordinary random collage of images. On the platform stand turntables loaded with a collection of miniature models and other similar items. As the turntables rotate very slowly, these small items are scanned by cameras. The resulting images are projected to intercut randomly on screen, the small models appearing to be on the scale of reality. It is all very ingenious, but the effort that has gone into making it doesn’t seem commensurate with the result.
Artists’ films always are a dodgy venture. Film is such a sophisticated art form that most artists who tackle it end up looking like the amateurs they are. One artist’s film that might have been an exception, but sadly was never made, is celebrated in Sorcha Dallas’s gallery. This was a project that back in 1972 was to have been a collaboration between Alasdair Gray and Liz Lochhead. It would have been fascinating. Gray is best known now as a novelist and story teller. Lanark, his first great success includes a wonderful surreal account of harum-scarum student life at Glasgow School of Art 50 years ago.
Gray always decorated his books and has never really stopped being a painter despite his success with his crossover to writing. This never-realised film would have been a different crossover and a highly original one. The idea was to intercut the narrative of a doomed romance between sequences of film with live actors and paintings by Gray of the characters and situations set as contemplative moments in film. Eight of those paintings survive – one of them was rescued from the bin-men very recently - but now they have been brought together again. Gray is a fine draughtsman and these are beautiful pictures. The Distance Between Lovers shows the two lovers embracing. In Snakes and Ladders, the girl, alone with her cat, contemplates the ups and down of life and love in the symbol of a savage-looking snakes and ladders board. Credit Panel includes a self-portrait and a portrait of Liz Lochead. It is testimony to a collaboration that never was, but which would have been fascinating and original.