Set up for graduates who suffered from the Mackintosh fire and backed by a £750k grant from the Scottish Government, the Phoenix Bursary Programme gave 100 artists 15 weeks studio time along with living costs and a material budget. The exhibition sees the Reid Building transformed into an art gallery for the first time, and brings the programme to its close.
Come degree show time the unique architecture of the Mackintosh building created a mystical order for experiencing students’ work. This architectural connection runs strong throughout the Reid building too. Designed by Steven Holl, as curator of the Phoenix exhibition Sukaina Kubba explains, it is a “fully flexible building which can be turned to many academic and creative uses.”
It’s difficult to forget GSA’s 2013 Fine Art degree show. Peering out of the grand Mackintosh windows back then, across the street you could see the foundations of the Reid Building as yellow cranes pulled apart earth to make room for its impressive structure.
Even if the Mackintosh does loom, in more ways than one, over the Phoenix exhibition, the artists now have experience beyond art school to help push their work out from under its shadow. For their bursaries half the recipients stayed in Glasgow using a dedicated studio at the Whiskey Bond, the others joined sister institutions in Scotland and across the world.
Fresh environments, new directions
Sculpture graduate Katy Hassall spent time in Canada during her studies and acknowledges the importance of travelling with support from an arts institution. She split her time between University of the Arts Helsinki and the Whisky Bond during her bursary, which, as she says, “created opportunity to develop new ideas.”
For her degree show Kassall had installed a site-specific piece in the room where the fire started. “It is emotional, showing work in the Reid building now and spending time next to the Mackintosh again. But the Reid is an exciting building to show work in, and the exhibition has meant we have remained a lot closer than if we’d dispersed after graduating.”
Zivile Siutilaite, a graduate from GSA’s Sculpture and Environmental course who lost all of her work last year, recognises the Phoenix Bursary programme’s part in helping graduates move on in new directions. “It was a shocking experience but you can’t get stuck in the past. The Phoenix bursary has helped us in many ways.”
Siutilaite’s degree show featured a sound installation in the distinctive loggia at the back of the Mackintosh, a three-windowed corridor space overlooking the city. She exhibits three new works in the Phoenix exhibition; sound recordings from different cityscapes installed at interconnecting spaces in the Reid building.
Siutilaite spent her bursary at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA). For her this helped provide “a greater degree of independence” during the transitional period after art school – allowing space and time to research and develop new skills. She also sees how the bursary provided freedom for artists in other ways.
“It’s so important to have facilities to be able to continue making work with peer support.” She adds, “Groups of people have set up studios and workshops using money from the bursary. Others have gone on to post-graduate study. Some of have continued studying at GSA.”
Siutilaite plans to remain in Edinburgh to nurture connections made during her bursary and share studio space with ECA graduates. For Hassall, the next stop is Japan, for a two-month residency – a form of professional experience she already has in her skill set thanks to the Phoenix programme.
Hassall’s work for the Reid exhibition oke aɪm hɪər – which features draped ‘spectrograms’ and opera performance – uses one of the building’s signature void spaces. It is the result of research with Glasgow University’s Linguistics and Phonetics department, where she completed a 3-month residency to finish the work.
“It was never my intention to stay in Glasgow after graduating,” she explains, “But the bursary meant I could return here and continue working with the same university professor, who I’d started interviewing as part of my work last year.”
Wherever the graduates go next, any knowledge built throughout the bursary programme will go with them. As Professor Tom Innes, director of Glasgow School of art, concludes; “It enabled the artists to spend time in some of the world’s leading art schools, or visit places they might never have been able to. We are sure that the experience will have a formative influence on their practice going forward.”
An exhibition catalogue has also been published for the exhibition, which runs until 2 August 2015. For more information see the www.gsa.ac.uk.