Glasgow International

What remains once the biennale is done? The view of the city from the air, its people, its traffic and street signs, … the art?

Coming in to land for April’s Glasgow International, I was struck by the numbers of back garden trampolines. Perhaps every third plot in the generously built pre war council houses that stretch between Glasgow proper and Prestwick had one of these blue rimmed, black-coated means of temporary escape. Glaswegians clearly want to get higher…

I wondered if that other, less fortunate, class of international traveller, stopping off at Prestwick between Dulles and whatever rendition awaited them in eastern Europe or beyond would share these thoughts. Probably not.

Unlike them, we got out of the airport and into our first negotiation of a common language to get a cab into the city and breakfast.

Interrupting some men painting the street litter bins an absurdly bright hammerite purple we inquired about the latter:

“Is it a real killer ya want? A reglar heart attack?”

We nodded

“Then you need to go to Leeches”



So, passed on by the painters into the care of a couple Traffic Wardens, we were escorted to what turned out to be Luigi’s for a slap up feast of deep fried blood with ketchup.

Fortified, we were ready for art and went everywhere and saw absolutely everything…

A month on memory has filtered out almost all the art. By and large, its determined ‘ungemutsbewegung’, had to compete very hard indeed to remain as firmly lodged as the sights and sounds of the Glaswegian street. For instance, the poignant yet hopeless single word ‘NIRVANA’ scraped in shaky capitals into wet concrete at the base of a road sign. Seen (and subsequently revisited and photographed) as we made our way towards a grander, yet ultimately less effective, celebration of urban roadside notation in the form of Mark Handforth’s ‘No’, transposed by the Modern Institute into the clashing setting of the National Trust’s Hutcheson Hall – perhaps because otherwise it would hardly have been noticed.

There was a lot of art competing with site. An odd installation cum vestige of performance by Jonathan Scott entitled ‘Face of an Angel, Voice of a Demon’, playing out Grand Guignol references in shattered red painted pallet wood, had been lodged by EmergeD in the back room of a former night spot on Bridgegate. But the work – which did well to be recalled at all – could do nothing to compete with the magnificent faded grandeur of the building within which it squatted and whose exquisitely painted art nouveau motifs, inchingly attacked by years of damp and low life, had become a flaking glory. In the same way two nearby bland semi commercial galleries could offer up nothing to compare with the bizarrely named ‘SHAMGATE’ store that separated them.

That’s not to say that there was no good or memorable work. Marcus Coates’ ‘Journey to the Lower World’, a knowing documentation of his shamanistic ritual for Liverpool flat dwellers, was a clear exception. The market Gallery knows its stuff: a welcoming sofa and a nice big TV in a deserted shop is all we really need to appreciate the fine farrows of affection, intimacy, discomfort and exploitation this artist treads. Another itchy performance in a cold dusty shop was Transmission’s presentation of Anthony Howard’s ‘Oui We’. This didn’t make it into the official guide but was one of the few difficult and uncomfortable works in the entire International: its jerky, frustrating, historicised narrative and moments of unpleasantly real (sado machistic) violence lifted this piece into a place of genuine distaste and confusion – perhaps partly because (unlike say the work of Fikret Atay, shown in Tramway and depicting a re-enacted ritual) I could fully understand the cultural context.

So back to the hotel and my first close encounter with someone else’s syringe – there it was bobbing up and down in my washbasin’s u-bend, (we’d seen plenty before in the stairwells of the grungier alternative spaces but this was just a bit, well, too close). Outside, the now pink cowboy-hatted Glaswegians, had pulled down their jeans and were mounting the very same bins our friends had painted earlier that morning.