Oliver Basciano, 'Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art' (Artreview.com, 27/04/2010)
Glasgow International: less of a show and more of a marketing umbrella. But you know what? There is nothing wrong with that. Instead of some sledge-hammered theme – ‘affect’, ‘touched’ – it would seem the organisers programmed a few key events and asked everyone else to make an extra special effort with their shows. The result was an influx of Volcano-surmounting artworld types journeying north to meet their Scottish counterparts for two days of art and frivolity. Clutching maps, we toured Glasgow’s myriad of publicly funded, commercial and artist-run spaces and found, by and large, quality stuff.
I’ve written about David Noonan before. Back then I think I said something like: “What’s all the fuss about? I don’t get it.” Well, now I do. Sorry, David, I was a fool not to fall for you in the first place. My ignorance stems from missing the 2008 show at London’s Chisenhale, so having only ever seen single entities of Noonan’s stage-prop silhouetted figures. When massed, as they are at the Mitchell Library, they play off each other, making for gothic graveyard theatricality. It’s reminiscent of something between Hammer Horror and the sculpture gardens of displaced Soviet-era public statues. The venue is fitting – it’s the site of Glasgow’s family records bureau and picture library – so the looming cutouts depicting mythical creatures of indeterminate origin and arch Victorian gentlemen embody not just their own characteristics but also those of the ghosts that operate throughout the archives. All very romantic… dark, haunting strangers, but certainly not in a bad way.
Down an industrial back road, opposite the Modern Institute’s new space (the Jim Lambie show was still being set up when I popped my head round: very colourful was all I could make out), is a series of rail arches, one of which has been commandeered by the artist-run organisation SWG3 as a project space. The whitewashed walls played well with a tight solo show of work by Dan Miller. Not known to me before – though he has a good CV of shows around Glasgow, with solo outings in Copenhagen and Düsseldorf – there’s a pristine pale minimalism to his practice. The pared-down nature of the paint application operates, refreshingly, at odds with the usual glossiness that in-vogue Scottish minimalism so often adheres to. The exhibition plays with a sense of symmetry and repetition that suggest an interlocking algorithm operating, hidden, behind the curation.
Tramway is either a short taxi ride or a long Lynne Ramsay-feeling walk out of town. The latter allows you to hear Susan Philipsz’s Lowlands (2010) sound installation, in which three versions of the titular folk song, lyrics warped, are played like an adhān from successive bridges over the River Clyde. It is kind of cheesy but still manages to disorientate the unsuspecting pedestrian (or even the suspecting, as I was); where it goes from there, though, I’m not so sure. At the former industrial building housing Tramway, there’s the major Christoph Büchel installation Last Man Out Turn Off Lights (2010) to navigate. No filming or pictures, no interpretation; all at the artist’s behest, as has been the rule throughout his career. Visitors are thus unprepared for their immersion into the full recreation of a jail complete with aeroplane salvage workshop, screws’ office, football pitch, visitors room and crafts workshop. As these types of installation play on the spectacular, the most serious error – made here – is to be unspectacular. This lacked the geographical, claustrophobic myriad of surprises that characterised the 2007 installation Simply Botiful, in London. Once the first shock of entering the installation had passed, there lacked the narrative diversity to drive you through the rest. Douglas Gordon and Keren Cytter made an excellent couple in the adjoining main building, however. Gordon restaged 24 Hour Psycho Back and Forth and To and Fro (2008). The super-slowed-down enormous screening of the two films was echoed in the melodrama of Cytter’s Four Seasons (2009). The Berlin-based Israeli artist’s film is the story of two neighbours, in which the female protagonist comes under the spell of the shamanistic male. Told in stilted conversations and repetitive scripted lines mixed with a texturing use of slippery motifs – blood and snow, steam and flames – the film is hypnotic and affective.
Claire Barclay is one those Scottish minimalists I referred to before. Yet I don’t say it disparagingly, really, at least not in her case, as she must be one of the first generation to have worked the seam. This show, curated by Kitty Anderson and Siobhan Carroll, and housed on the first floor of the Glasgow Print Studio, contains Barclay’s slight sculptural arrangements which play with often-misleading textures as the materials intersect. It’s all rather calming in the wood-floored space, and the natural light flowing in through the windows highlights the seeming organic nature of what is, in fact, a tightly controlled practice. Across town, textile plays an integral part in Inhale, Exhale, Alice Channer’s exhibition at the Glasgow School of Art. Channer’s work, with its pleats, combinations and sewn interventions, has a sculptural effect even when it’s hung flat against the wall. Her practice does appreciate good lighting, and Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s architecture is perhaps more resistant to the work than the artist makes out when she states in the press release that she wants to ‘clothe’ the building. That said, the viewer almost feels a symbiotic relationship forming between the work and its material space, tying them, lightly, together.
I’m running low on words and time, and I haven’t even touched on David Maljkovic’s really rather great weighty and ruinous, stark and political show at the festival’s brutally concrete temporary HQ; Gerard Byrne’s slick contribution of four films ruminating on 1960s minimalism next door; Fiona Tan’s overexposed but nonetheless well-constructed film installation Tomorrow (2005) at GoMA; and neither Jimmie Durham at Glasgow Sculpture Studios or Gerda Scheepers at Mary Mary, both of which were well worth their visit. Instead let’s make the final stop Linder’s small, tight show at Sorcha Dallas. If you don’t know Linder’s punk-influenced collage, make it your priority to rectify that at the soonest. If you do, then there aren’t necessarily startling revelations to be had at this show, but it reaffirms her neat line in repositioning media imagery and everyday objects to an outcome which is both cheeky and salted with sadness. Mixed with the photocollages and an early series of explicit line-drawing portraits is the mournfully hanging Male Lingerie Mask (1977), seemingly a tad depressed about the razzle of its source object: a pink tasselled bra. Likewise the accordion in Shee Pleaded Not Guiltie (2010): partially stretched, with a bedraggled pair of shoes attached, it has all the sexiness of a postclub shag in a provincial park. Which seems a good point to leave Glasgow.