All posts by Mulholland Dr.

The Aye of the Tiger

I didn’t get where I am today without knowing good old-fashioned painting when I see it. People and their fads, eh? Still, no use kicking against the pricks. Neither Mrs. Ruskin nor myself has ever kicked against a prick. And never use two words where one word will do, that’s my motto, that’s my axiom, that’s the way I look at it.

John Ruskin, Lectures on Architecture and Painting delivered at Edinburgh in November 1853, London: George Allen, 1891.

Painting has changed a little bit since John Ruskin voyaged by donkey to deliver his aesthetic sermons to the good people of Edinburgh. Gone are the days when painters laid out their whole palettes in an arrangement of tones which, with slight variations and a certain amount of glazing, formed a basis for painting all the different fields of a composition. Ulglinous, waxy, greasy surfaces have been replaced by alchemical readings of painting based heavily on the writings of French revolutionary martyr Jean-Paul Marat. In today’s media-dominated society, contemporary painting graduates must work with celebrities on behalf of their favourite charities. Hannah Gordon took this year’s graduates to the spectacularly beautiful Les Baux de Provençe; a Nazi-occupied Renaissance village perched on top of a rocky crag. There they busily examined the phenomenology of figure-ground relationships in the local bouillabaisse spilled over their laps in classic Galton & Simpsonesque sitcom style by Rene François Artois. The lucky pups were also treated to lectures by eminent German art historians Lieutenant Hubert Gruber and General von Flockenstoffen, whose pataphysical research on Van Clomp’s Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies (1583) is unparalleled. In Avignon, the students set up right in the centre of the bustling town hall square, full of pavement cafes and tourists, where some worked with modern materials such as laser beams, frozen food and telepathy. One intrepid student made obscene gestures, like Italians flicking their chin, at dwarves in a vivid and fragrant lavender field in the heart of Van Gogh’s St Remy de Provençe. Gordon then flew the peer-group to Hollywood where they were expertly tutored by neo-expressionist painter Sylvester Stallone, who attributes his artistic success to his constant confrontations with adversity, hard work and dedication, much like his alter ego Rocky Balboa. Important advice was also given by inimitable portraitist Derren Brown, who was in town acquiring some Windsor and Newton turpentine and a biro to fill in a Scottish Arts Council grant application. I would like to think that this year’s graduates from the School of Drawing and Painting will easily achieve the celebrity status of bleeding-edge artists such as Stallone and Brown. Combining Brown’s bewildering powers of psychological illusion and perceptual manipulation with Sly’s dogged Italian-American determination and infinite patience, I’m certain that they who continue to dare shall win.

Lucy McKenzie | TATE

Lucy McKenzie

Motivated by the shelter of like-minded people ruled by friendship, Lucy McKenzie’s philosophy is clearly signalled by the conviviality of her work and by the ways in which she has clearly remained determined to tackle success and failure communally, to be judged by her foes as well as her friends. While a student at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee, McKenzie drew on her teenage experience as a rriot girrlesque fanzine writer, hauling together gloriously ragged exhibitions such as Shake the Disease. Mixing work by established international artists Richard Kern and Kai Althoff with Scottish, German and Polish upstarts such as Keith Farquhar, Alan Michael, Ewan Imrie, Paulina Olowska and fellow members of Deutsch Britsche Freundschaft, McKenzie was certainly a precocious magpie, but she was no networker. Then as now, her practice centres on respect and a highly tuned sensitivity to the ambience of the work of other artists and writers. Proud of her alleged provincialism, she works only with close friends, establishing elegant affinities between her work and that by those she admires.

Group exhibitions organised by McKenzie have transformed the pseudo-globalised neo-conceptual facade of contemporary Scottish art, bringing together works by artists long separated by generations and geographies. Curated with Charisma collaborator Edinburgh-based artist Farquhar, It May Be a Year of Thirteen Moons, But it’s Still the Year of Culture at Transmission Gallery in Glasgow re-wrote the history of nineties Scottish art. Rebuffing the slick café-bar cultural caricature of Glasgow and its artists, Charisma reclaimed the working practice and inspired mistakes of New Glasgow Boy Steven Campbell, reading his work in relation to their own idiosyncratic practices and the maverick theatrics of Martin Kippenberger and Albert Ohlen. The Best Book About Pessimism I Ever Read at the Kunstverein Braunschweig broke new ground between a number of younger European artists and perambulating Scottish elders painter-playwright John Byrne and painter-novelist Alasdair Gray. Charisma also pioneered the sartorial cause that is Mark Leckey in Scotland, while taking glutinous greyhound paintings by Edinburgh’s Archie Webb and the psychedelic outpourings of Glasgow’s Ronnie Heeps to guttural comrades across the North Sea. McKenzie remains fiercely independent of the dominant aesthetics and promotional curatorial sectors of the art world, both in Scotland and abroad, rigorously overseeing all aspects of her public exhibitions and dealing only with imaginative private gallerists that fully understand what she is trying to achieve.

While living in Glasgow, she has been involved in a number of more intimate projects with close friend Olowska, a Gdansk artist that she met while on exchange to Karlsruhe Kunst Akademie in Germany in 1998. Drawn to the rich visual culture of the former Communist-bloc, McKenzie collaborated with Olowska on a number of exhibitions in Gdansk, including apt art show Dream of a Provincial Girl and Aesthetic Integration, a vast series of works painted on the walls of the Solidarity Shipyards as part of the annual Festival of Mural Painting in Kliniczna. In Scotland they conjured Heavy Duty, a substantial joint exhibition held at Inverleith House in the capital’s Botanic Gardens. In Warsaw they recently ran Nova Popularna, an organic moonshine bar decorated in psychic homage to the Korova Milk Bar in A Clockwork Orange. McKenzie and Olowska flourished by ensuring that their saloon remained outside the trade routes and prosaic chit chat of global art. Women-only-Wednesdays at Nova Popularna made sure that Warsaw’s women didn’t get hassled. The local Polish clientele were greeted with a flurry of aniseed schnapps, honey vodka, Charles Rennie Macintosh curtains, seductive carved furniture, etched Nova Popularna chalices, vorticist wall paintings and diplomatic posing. The bar vitrine offered lady tennis player favourites KIM cigarettes as well as CDs showcasing the talents of the clientele. Edinburgh fashion designer Beca Lipscombe designed the official Nova Popularna dresses, aprons socks and belts worn by landladies McKenzie and Olowska and their loyal bar staff. Events were spearheaded by McKenzie and Olowska’s friends such as French artist Mathilde Rosier, who played piano behind the curtain, gentle jazz chanteuse Bianca Glazebrook and London covers band Donatella, featuring Bonnie Camplin dressed as a middle class housewife. Slideshows accompanied Thai barbeques while painter Merlin Carpenter played Take That records. During her days off, McKenzie worked on double portraits with Olowska and produced six hand-made posters advertising upcoming events, a few examples of which feature in this issue of Tate. A communal labour of love, Nova Popularna was a volte-face against insipid art groupies and globalised cultural entreprenurialism; its adjacent European fraternity might only be found, perhaps, in the small dark illegality of DIRT bar in Berlin or in the unreserved cultural intransigence of the Manchester Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

This summer, McKenzie returns home to her native Glasgow to organise another series of rainy Flourish Nights, shambling affairs that take place amongst the Baudelairean decay of Flourish studios and the Victorian wood panelled sumptuousness of Sloan’s Bar in central Glasgow. Last year saw music from Country Teasers’ decorous frontman Ben Wallers in addition to numerous films and performances, including McKenzie and Olowska’s poised Oblique Composition. This year will feature performances from Mancunian punk legends Howard Devoto and Linder Sterling in addition to Keith Farquhar and Craig Gibson’s A Rites of Passage From T-Shirts into Shirts, an elaborate cat walk presentation by Edinburgh’s self-styled Charisma Police. McKenzie continues to work on moist paintings and flashy iconographic short stories about haunted architects and balding popstars. For her solo show at Tate Britain, she will flaunt the Glaswegian Flourish posters within a faux salon-style gallery setting, festooned with marbled effect columns and courteous wainscoting inspired by 1980s editions of The World of Interiors magazine. The Flourish posters will be duly canonised, deliberately paraded with a baroque panache that is as dated as eighties wallpaper borders and museological art. The cultural and political devolution of the eighties and nineties has, of course, rendered Tate Britain an annex of heritage culture, no longer the axis of Modern Art in Britain but a nursing home for the aristocratic customs of a dying empire. McKenzie’s trompe l’oeil approach to institutional dogma and fashion is affectionately oblique, a sure sign that her alluring art périphérique is more widespread and influential than whatever she might produce personally, and is undoubtedly beyond the jurisdiction of any cultural plutocracy. McKenzie’s is a generous art that continues to be one made by her people for the good of people.

Rip it Off and Start Again

It’s ten years since opera critic Jeremy J Beadle penned Will Pop Eat Itself?, detailing the plagiarist tactics of the Kopyright Liberation Front, M/A/R/R/S, Technotronic and Jive Bunny. Believing they had overcome the hip-hop copyright crisis, record corporation lawyers suddenly faced bigger battles. Increasingly Baroque copyright breaches were aided by the explosion of cheapo samplers based on the £13,000 Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument (1980), once the exclusive preserve of Her Majesty The Kate Bush. The early nineties were a musical carnival, during which the reproduction of cultural history became exponential to the swiftly escalating rate of consumption.

This account of pirate pop culture tells only half the story. Programma 100, a Soviet plan to replace 100 Western products denied in the embargo that followed the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, overshadowed maverick breaches of copyright in the West. Knowing that their technological research was lagging behind the capitalist countries, the Soviet Union dispatched KGB spies to steal Western technology plans. Meanwhile, denied access to basic home computing by exorbitant prices, Soviet citizens took matters into their own hands, smuggling in small bits of Western computer technology and making back-room copies. Since the Soviets had no domestic software or pop music markets and no laws to protect imperialist copyright claims, Western software was regularly hacked and recorded music freely bootlegged. By the late eighties, Soviet gamers were enjoying Cyrillic versions of Manic Miner (1983) on machines such as Hobbit, Moskva 48, Bajt, Spektr 48, Dubna 48K and Fanny – homemade clones of Sinclair’s 1982 ZX Spectrum. With Spectrum clones used widely in schools and even on the odd nuclear submarine, one time samizdat Soviet culture was churning out instant nostalgia for the masses. Glasnost helped to accelerate the bedroom mores of pirate video games, music bootlegged on vinyl and exposed x-ray film and apartment-based Sots Art.

If Beadle’s harbinger of future pop correctly predicted the trend towards piracy and über self-consumption in the West, it perhaps overestimated the continuing appeal of pop glamour, a bastion of Official Culture. Browbeaten by the pantone boyish girl bands of the nineties, the plagiarist pop world of the early 00s more closely resembled the black market of the USSR’s twilight. If pop music was finally buried in the later nineties, it was being regularly mourned by a magpie möbius strip of retrofuturism aided by the speedy distribution of eighties computer simulators, MP3s and MP3 mixing freeware. Retrogaming on 8-bit simulators regularly breeched software developer’s rights, and the utopian polyphonic minimalism of the Commodore 64 SID chip bounced of the bedroom walls of the world once more. C64 superstar composer Rob Hubbard played live gigs, the Internet filled up with SID files and Commie rockers such as Ladytron did good business with their Uncle Robert’s analogue Moog, Trio’s Casio VL Tone and a Speak and Spell once swapped on Swap Shop.

Bastard Pop made headway on the airwaves in the early 00s, skilfully broken into the mainstream by XFM’s Remix Show, which encouraged young listeners to send burnt CDs. Home mixers sporting pseudonyms such as Freelance Hellraiser, Girls on Top, French Bloke and Soulwax pulled off inspiring and often hilarious mixes, combining metal with hip hop, grunge with R&B and new wave techno pop with, er, R&B. Totalitarian Superstar DJs were placed under house arrest as the masked masses took to their PCs. Inspired by Orc, the spirit of Revolution, the firstborn of Los and Enitharmon, they pulled up the spiralling roots of corporate pop, and shared the spoils among the lepers of Soho. ‘Destroy originality’, they instructed as they dug their polished nails into the eyes of Whitney Houston. Despite the DIY democratic energy, sticking to the rules of ironic juxtaposition quickly threatened to transform Bastard Pop into a musical equivalent of Dogma film. Luckily for the majors, this restricted the sacking of the back catalogues. Unluckily for the listeners, unnecessary dogmatism transformed Missy Elliot’s whining acapellas into the James Brown back breaking beat of Bastard Pop. The customary litigation threats piling up under XFM’s letterbox soon came in perfumed envelopes, S.W.A.L.K as the record companies whiffed the sweet stench of cultural sterility. Sporting MBEs awarded for charitable contributions to the world’s fastest burning subculture, by 2002, the major players of the bootlegging blip were signed up as Kylie and Cher’s superstar megamixers. Those who remain

Trading Spaces: Switchspace and The Chateau, Glasgow

Sorcha Dallas and Marianne Greated opened the countless doors of Glasgow’s nomadic gallery Switchspace in February 1999. Dallas’ West End tenement became host to the first of over 15 shows. Tiring of appeasing stairhead neighbours and of watching telly in the kitchen, the duo curated 9 exhibitions at a disused space under the Offshore Cafe the following year. Subsequent fundraising events allowed the organisation to curate the launch of Glasgow arts and music venue The Chateau, an old dilapidated Gorbals warehouse. Refurbishing the 5,000 sq ft venue, covered in dead pigeons and broken glass, was a gargantuan task eagerly tackled by Switchspace and Chateau volunteers. The independent space opened in December 2002 with a huge extravaganza featuring the work of ten artists in addition to live cabaret from Franz Ferdinand, Uncle John & Whitelock, Scatter and Park Attack. Since then, The Chateau has provided cheap studio space, Pointless Cinema film screenings, barbeques, firework recitals and a Hogmanay bash, as well as celebrated exhibitions such as Big Friendly Show.

Switchspace continues to programme innovative venues, encouraging grass-roots cooperation rather than competition among artistic peer groups. Edinburgh artists such as Craig Coulthard, Tommy Grace, Dave McLean, Julia Schnabel and John Mullen have all exhibited under the Switchspace umbrella at the Glasgow Project Rooms, an artist run space willing to accommodate Switchspace’s interest in the East coasters. Lorna Macintyre recently exhibited in an East End tenement loaned to Switchspace by property agency Fab Flats. Switchspace and their artists clear the place up, paint the walls and use the property as their gallery, before the organisation moves on to another Fab Flat. For nearly five years, Switchspace have relied on ‘subsidy’ provided by part-time work, fundraisers and the generosity of exhibiting artists. Recently, Dallas and Greated’s hard graft was awarded a grant by the Scottish Arts Council, something that will finally allow Switchspace to pay artists, writers, invigilators and invest in an education programme for locals schools. Regrettably, Scotland’s cultural commissars giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other. In the future, the sweat equity of the Scottish art community may have to know no bounds. Glasgow’s Tramway 2 – Europe’s largest contemporary art space – has been threatened with anschluss by Scottish Ballet, an dreadful slight on artists’ enormous contribution to Scottish culture and a clear signal that outmoded aristocratic cultural hierarchies endure. As Scottish Ballet enjoy their new underfloor heating at Tramway 2, let’s hope that Scottish artists are warmed by the friction burns caused by scraping pigeon shit off windows broken from both sides.


The Chateau