scotland's second city becomes its art capital as glasgow international rolls into town

78 exhibitions, 50 events, and 220 artists from 33 countries, but these are the highlights.

by Jeppe Ugelvig
13 April 2016, 8:45am

Last weekend Glasgow celebrated its vibrant artistic community with the three-week festival Glasgow International, which under the direction of former Frieze Projects curator Sarah McCrory has gained widespread recognition from the art world and its local community alike.

Glasgow's rich industrial history, and its post-industrial demise after the closure of its famous shipbuilding and textile manufacturing, heavily influences the curated programme: many of the exhibitions look at histories of production, manufacturing, youth culture, and labour - and focuses particularly on narratives of female labor within it. But beyond the curated section, Glasgow's many cultural institutions, project spaces and galleries open their doors to constitute a vast amount of shows, performances, and parties.

1. Tessa Lynch - Painter's Table at GoMA
The Sussex-born Tessa Lynch is one of the artists who has settled permanently in Glasgow (the city offers the economic and social headspace to sustainably develop a practice, artistic or otherwise, making it a popular escape for London creatives). The city and its emotional impact on the human subject are the key concerns for the artist, who deconstructs perceptions of built environments through her sculptural practice.

Exploring the 'flâneuse' (female flâneur) as a kind of stock figure of cultural myth, she proposes a less masculine binary to Charles Beaudelaire and the Parisian dandies of the 19th Century, the Situationists of the 60s or contemporary psychogeography scene (which is still a pretty male dominated activity).

She describes her new work as "an architectural drama" that loosely mimics the objects, scenarios, and histories found on her daily commute. Her sculptures resemble bus stops, bike bags or fragments of buildings, before dissolving into abstraction once again. Lynch draws a self-portrait as much as a commentary on accessibility and what it means to be a young female artist in a city.

2. Rough House at The Glue Factory
Contemporary Glasgow is in a way an image of an urban process many British cities have gone or are going through: recovering from the demise of large-scale manufacturing industry, plagued by widespread poverty, and trying to regenerate or re-define itself culturally, economically and socially. Leaving the more-or-less regenerated city centre, spectacular in its Mackintosh-era architecture, one is confronted with the seemingly endless amount of industrial space north of the city (cut off by the M8 motorway in the 60s, the area has struggled to regenerate at the same pace as the urban centre).

Here, tucked away behind a Chinese food importer, resides The Glue Factory, an independent arts venue and workspace run as a non-profit community interest company by artists, designers, architects, and musicians. 25% of the building is designated to house studios for local creatives - possessed with a kind of peer-to-peer immediacy that feels long-lost in the market-driven city of London. For Glasgow International, The Glue Factory becomes a host for another artist-run space, The Woodmill in London, which has been nomadic since the closure of their space in Bermondsey last year. The group show, organised by artist Alastair Frazer, responds to the spatial premise of this project by imagining new methodologies of artistic co-operation in a time of cultural austerity and the rise of the 'sharing economy' - and included work by Jenna Bliss, Oscar Murillo, and #temporarycustodians (Helen Kaplinsky and Maurice Carlin). 

The highlight is Gili Tall, whose installation sees an anonymous room suddenly transformed into a dark dancefloor with banging house music, only to reverse back to bland exhibition space a few seconds later. Her ubiquitous sculptures mimic perfectly the half-empty fridges you see at clubs and warehouse parties - in fact, they're easily overlooked when installed in the workshop-like Glue Factory. Tall poetically highlight the temporary and fragile nature of any cultural space under neoliberal capitalism, a concern of many young artists working today.

3. Matthew Smith - Pussycat at Koppe Astner
The art scene in Glasgow is centered on the famous art school, which has produced some of Scotland's most famous artists including Douglas Gordon, Richard Wright, and Lucy Skaer, and survived an extensive fire in 2014. However, a few galleries with an international scope ensure a continuous influx of art shows in the city: most notably Mary Mary and Koppe Astner, both located in a derelict town house close to the river. For Glasgow International, Koppe Astner (run by Kendall Koppe and Emma Astner) are hosting the first solo show of London artist Matthew Smith. Smith belongs to the London crew of artists that include Eddie Peake and Prem Sahib, using a similar subversive sculptural language that repurposes everyday found objects to form new (mis)interpretations. In his wall-based works Lady Somerset 1-4, he pairs monochrome depictions of the plumbing of his London home with nectarines cast in jesmonite. This unusual pairing is almost sexual by default, but Smith actively directs and redirects forms of viewing by refraining from attaching any direct narratives to the paintings. Rather differently, the sculptures in Smile 1-27 appear as hastily drawn comic strips that suddenly takes on a sculptural three-dimensionality in the middle of the room.

4. Akram Zaatari at The Common Guild
The Common Guild is one of Glasgow's most important cultural institutions, a non-profit space supported by Creative Scotland and the Glasgow City Culture. Until June, the multi-storied space in the picturesque Park District overlooking the city is dedicated to the Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari, who represented Lebanon at the Venice Biennial in 2013. Zaatari works with and through vast archive material, combining personal photographs and video recordings with relics of cultural and national history. His delicate pencil drawings are based on stills from gay Xtube porn films, and even includes the specific hyperlink at the bottom of the work - a reflection of sexual desire that crosses space and time in the age of virtuality. Differently, but with a similar forceful investigation into the archivation of sexuality, his reproductions of the work of 50s Lebanese photographer Hashem el Madani shows young boys posing with cardboard film advertisements or manifesting their same-sex desire from a long-gone and relatively undocumented era.


Text Jeppe Ugelvig

glasgow international