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Kristina Johansen's Glasgow International review diary
Kristina Johansen reports on her multiple visits to Glasgow International 2008.
Final Installment Tuesday 29th April
Since day one of the festival I have been trying to see Asking for it at Glasgow School of Art. It began with the cancelled curators talk at the Glasgow Film Theatre, then over a succession of days I managed to always arrive just as the last TV monitor was being switched off - sometimes things just don't go your way. It took a lot of determination but one uncharacteristically sunny morning I'm there as the doors open, determined to see the show.
This is an exhibition full of tensions. Many of the works have undertones of violence, from Chen Xiaoyuns Drag and Lash to Shi Qing's List of Weaponry. Even works which focus on everyday objects such as Kan Xuan's Garbage and Two Yuan! Two Yuan! have a quick and disruptive editing style. Chinese art has the been the hip new kid in the international art market over the last few years and its great to see that this hasn't mellowed out any of these anxieties, particularly in light of the furore surrounding the Beijing Olympics.
It is into this atmosphere that the daily tour of the GSA building arrives, flooding the space with tourists and architecture lovers. They are so transfixed by the beauty of the woodwork that they are oblivious to the presence of the exhibition. "Mackintosh was just so obsessed by repetition, as I am, as we all are!" one observes, walking in front of me totally blocking my view of the video screen.
Later that day at the Modern Institute, as I am being lulled to sleep by William E. Jones's video of spliced and repeated gay porn footage, the Mackintosh-fanatic's comment starts to make sense. This exhibition feels very safe, it's repetition of kitsch imagery harks back to a golden age when you could be reliably shocked by seeing two men having sex in an artwork. Celine Duval's slide show of found holiday photographs sustains this sense of comfort. It's a beautiful calming piece but has no creative tension.
Summing up your experiences of a two week festival in only a few sentences is difficult at the best of times, especially one without any unifying theme like Glasgow International.
Like all large scale events it had its annoyances, Simon Starling's offsite work never materialized and I never saw one of Iain Kettles' inflatable sculptures, which the festival guide promised would be popping up around the city centre unannounced during the GI festival. (If an inflatable sculpture sits in a deserted Glasgow alleyway and no one is around to see it does it really exist?) But what really made the GI was its energy and its embrace of new and difficult art and spaces. From Wilhelm Sasnal's polarizing video installation to E J Major's exploration of love at Street Level, the successes far outweighed the disappointments.
We are entering a new era for arts in Scotland with funding cuts at council level and the major restructuring planned for Creative Scotland the future seems uncertain, I hope that the energy and vibrancy of Glasgow international can be a beacon for the future.
Installment no.3 Friday 25th April
A large Victorian townhouse, with stunning views of Glasgow - who lives in a house like this? Douglas Gordon, apparently. Located in the well-heeled west end of Glasgow this house has been taken over by The Common Guild for a one year residency. Now showing the work of Adel Abdessemed, I couldn't wait to use the opportunity to snoop around.
I arrive in the middle of what looks like a coffee morning, hosted by Katrina M. Brown herself and attended by the great and the good of the Glasgow contemporary art scene. The adults chit-chat over hot drinks whilst their children loudly helter-skelter around the space oblivious to the art work; something quite refreshing after all the intellectual head scratching of the last few weeks. Feeling a bit awkward and out of place in this fashionable gathering I go in search of the art and I don't have to look far.
In the front room a large projection of singer David Moss dominates the space as he screeches his way through a multitude of unintelligible national anthems whilst wearing plastic vampire teeth and standing in a building site. I am sure this work has a lot to say about the politics of nationality but I can't help but be distracted by the beauty of the fireplace, whose large mirror winks at me with the reflection of the video.
Meanwhile in the hallway a boxy monitor shows the artist suspended from a helicopter trying to draw on large sheets of brown paper. The effect is underwhelming, it all seems like macho Jackson Pollock one-upmanship to me. Similarly, upstairs a work involving a group of men giving Abdessemed the 'bumps' like at a twelve year olds birthday party as he tries to write on a carpet leaves me unmoved.
The work in Trust Me never allows you to escape the all powerful figure of the artist, whose actions seem prioritised over his output. The final product is less interesting than the celebrity status of the works host which permeates your experience of this space. I leave quickly before my curiosity gets the better of me and I go looking for the bathroom.
Installment no.2 Friday 18 April
Life is simple in the world of free festival maps. But after half an hour wandering up and down Osbourne Street, an area on the guide map so full of art that it is completely covered with little green numbered gallery squares, I realize the real world is rarely quite so easy. I pass several people clutching crushed wads of green card looking just as lost. My first port of call is Simon Starling's piece at The Bath House, but inside all I see is a flurry of stressed looking workmen who tell me that the opening is delayed. I move on to Transmission where a sign informs me it is temporarily closed due to "technical difficulties".
Finally I reach Wilhem Sasnal's The Other Church - at last some art! The girl working behind the counter reassures me that even she couldn't find the place that morning. It's not surprising, located in the desolation of an abandoned shop, this is not your typical pristine white cube. The assistant hands me a lyric sheet and points down a rickety flight of steps, at the bottom of which another assistant sits in the pool of light bouncing down the staircase.
There in the darkness loops a 16mm film, showing two performances of a song about the recent murder of local Polish student Angelika Kluk. The first is by a Polish punk singer, the second by a naked actress who crouches, hiding herself from our gaze. Under the low unfinished ceiling it's an uncomfortable and claustrophobic experience, do you dare to wonder what it was like to be buried under the church floor? Thoughts like these are deeply troubling, is this just voyeurism? A cheap trick?
In the dark I can't look at the lyric sheet, and as I leave I am told that the subtitles aren't working today. But it doesn't matter this work has a raw power which speaks without words.
Installment no.1: Monday 14 April
I start my Glasgow International by visiting one of the festival's much publicised highlights. Held in the palatial grandeur of GoMA's ground floor is an exhibition of Jim Lambie sculptures, underpinned by one of his characteristic vinyl-tape floor installations.
When I arrive, mid-afternoon on a weekday, the gallery is fairly empty with just a few visitors milling about taking photographs of themselves and the work on their camera phones. I join them wandering between album covers suspended within concrete blocks and spray cans whose paint has exploded onto the beautiful vinyl floor. Then something catches my eye: Jim Lambie himself is in the corner of the room speaking to a TV crew. I try to subtly move closer, wondering if I will be able to catch a glimpse of myself on the local news later that night.
I'm playing it cool when suddenly I am struggling to keep my balance, and with a clatter my foot hooks itself onto the straggling chair leg of one of the technicolour sculptures. Lambie turns around disrupted from his train of thought while the TV people glare at me. Visitors snigger into their gallery guides, "Should have worn these love!" a warder shouts across the space, waving his glasses at me.
That evening, having just about recovered from the afternoon's embarrassment, I venture out on the town. Glasgow is amok with opening parties, fashionably dressed people with asymmetrical haircuts and black rimmed glasses run from gallery to gallery clutching free drinks desperate to see and be seen.
At CCA the crowd is so dense that it is impossible to see the work. Rumors circulate of a hot show opening just round the corner, so a friend and I make our way to the beautiful hushed interior of the Mitchell Library. Here Calum Stirling's absorbing and meticulous installation is wowing the in-crowd, making them stop networking put down their whiskey and actually look at the work - something virtually unheard of at a gallery opening. Seeing the quality of this show I hope that Glasgow International has started as it means to go on.
Jim Lambie: Forever Changes
GoMA Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow, G1 3AH
Calum Stirling: Rostra Plaza
Mitchell Library 201 North Street Street, Glasgow, G3 7DN
First published: a-n.co.uk April 2008
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