Category Archives: Criticism

Win Together Lose Together Play Together Stay Together

Win Together Lose Together Play Together Stay Together

28 Leven Street, Tollcross, Edinburgh.

Edinburgh’s abysmal lack of independent artist initiatives has been confronted lately with discreet domestic organisations such as Magnifitat, Tag Team Experiment and a spattering of large group shows at The Roxy. Despite the best efforts of some, new galleries have nevertheless failed to emerge. A courageous group of recent Edinburgh College of Art graduates have at last temporarily beaten rabid property speculators to borrow an empty property from Alec Farquhar of Macbet bookmakers. Craig Coulthard, Ruth Ewan, Tommy Grace, Astrid Johnston, David MacLean, Cathy Stafford and Kate Owens have lived and worked closely together since graduating and are determined to remain, unlike many artists who flee the city for the laser lights of London, New York or Glasvegas. The Tollcross Clock seems to have been chiming last orders lately for the shambling nocturnal theatre district of Edinburgh. The impact of major supermarkets has encouraged closure of Tollcross’ long established fishmonger, florist and ice cream parlour in addition to a spate of dry cleaning and turf accountant fatalities. Bad news for the merchants of the gateway to the Old Town but good news for locally based artisans, inspired by an ardent love of its magnificent Baudelairean decay and united by an Epicurean sense of purpose. Motivated by the shelter of like-minded people ruled by friendship, their philosophy is clearly signalled by the exhibition title; these artists are not just playing to win, they are tackling success and failure communally. Their work is loosely connected by a utopian neo-romantic sensibility and a common interest in ritual, myth and heraldry. Coultard has painted a commanding series of defunct mediaeval heraldic shields used to represent the old Scottish counties before they opted for dreary corporate identities. Grace’s beautifully distressed ‘Paulus Group’ photoprint represents a quasi-Masonic checkerboard of Renaissance tiles disappearing infinitely into the painterly horizon. Using plastic beads and glue, MacLean conjures an intricate image of Christ playing dice, a blasphemous emblem of the triumph of chance over divination, and an excellent metaphor for the show as a whole. There isn’t one weak moment. The main draw, nevertheless, must be Owens’ ‘Divine Geometry’, a decorative window display made from unfashionable reformed potato snacks such as Mini Chips, Monster Munch, Space Raiders and Discos. Owens’ witty window dressing skills make her a formidable challenger to the baroque sensibilities of Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen. It’s good enough to eat.

Until 30th May 2002
(Wed- 6-9pm, Fri-Sun 12-7pm)




Bertrand Lavier, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 31st May – 22nd September 2002; Philippe Parreno, Alien Seasons, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 31st May – 15th September 2002.

Contemporary French art appears to be on the threshold of crisis, rudely awakened from bureaucratic slumber by the Right who, encouraging debate on museum privatisation, seek to revoke massive increases in state funding introduced in 1982. These attacks on cultural statism threaten French endorsement of the Euro Kunsthallen model, and may shift emphasis away from neo-conceptual practices. Additionally, Nicolas Bourriaud perceives a waning of critical spirit in French culture. Committed to the work of emerging artists, Bourriaud’s dressed-down Palais de Tokyo Site de Création Contemporaine may serve as a corrective. Equally, it could exasperate the problem by pampering the few peripheral French art practices that circumvent €urokunst. Siting an ‘alternative’ space in the 16th arrondissement is not an ironic gesture in the face of horizontal cultural coordination. To make matters worse, the Palais de Tokyo has been parading Parisian squat art; an alternative scene that has little to offer other than misplaced hippie sentiment and attendant expressionist relativism. Despite its faults, the inclusive approach of the Palais de Tokyo does at least suggest that ‘international profile’ can no longer be the only desirable cultural aspiration.

As such, the Musée d’Art Moderne’s concurrent solo exhibitions of Bertrand Lavier and Phillipe Parreno may amount to nothing more than nostalgia; Lavier being a major French figure of the 80s and Parreno, of the 90s. Lavier engages with the intersection between museological endgames and consumer culture. His concerns may be semiotic, but his work is primarily ironic and parasitic rather than erudite. Composition rouge, verte et jaune (1989) looks like a hard-edged abstract painting, but turns out to be a section of wooden sports floor. The semiotic implications of allegedly pure signifiers are probed only for the hollow applause of the converted. Such works are the cultural products of an 80s France that understood the role of museums. Knowing his place, Lavier found these desublimating puns endlessly amusing. A series of Relief­-Peintures (1987-91) are constructed from portions of brightly coloured prefabricated building façades; Lothar (1999) is a pylon snapped off by France’s 1999 hurricane painted silver to resemble a Modernist steel sculpture. Only when Lavier leaves literalism and uncooked juxtapositions behind do his museological musings become worthwhile. Walt Disney Productions 1947-1984 – an arrangement of paintings and sculptures based on a cartoon of Mickey Mouse’s visit to a Modern art gallery – works on the level of the pun certainly, but it has awesome psychological force. This realisation of a virtual space is truly nauseating; green and yellow walls enclose bright biomorphic polyester resin sculptures, mobiles and silvery abstract cartoon cibachromes. Lavier’s recent cibachromes, Harcourt/Grévin (2002) unite the glamorous chiaroscuro developed by Harcourt photography studio in the 1930s with the gauche celebrity of the Musée Grévin wax museum. Taste apart, Harcourt and Grévin are equally accomplished mythologisers of Parisian cliché. By photographing waxworks of contemporary figures such as Vladimir Putin and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the now unfashionable Harcourt style, Lavier not only mocks the epochal pretensions of such individuals, but pricks at the heart of representation’s canonising power. More pressingly, Lavier prophesises the avaricious populism that we might expect if French museums are privatised.

Parreno, like Lavier, is respectful of the institution, taking just as great care to produce an exhibition grandiose in aspiration and solemn in tone. Parreno is also drawn to discordance and conflation. The opening work of the exhibition, his short 35mm time-lapse film of growing Norwegian vegetation El sueño de una cosa (2002), is projected onto a Robert Rauschenberg White Painting (1951) every 4 min.33 Secs. (John Cage, 1952). The long painful wait through Cage’s music while staring at Rauschenberg’s equally uneventful monochrome is finally rewarded with breakneck rendition of genesis. Parreno here appropriates time and space rather than material culture, he does not use objects but memories, collective hallucinations, ‘the dream of a thing.’ In this way he avoids Lavier’s cynicism, circumventing vulgar materialist questions that museological art tends to raise verbatim, focusing instead on the structures of feeling that permeate culture as a whole. Parreno’s vision of the world is more nuanced, fragmented and estranged since he has faith in the ability of the imagination and our biochemical selves to reconstruct semiotic and spatial relationships. Alien Seasons (2002) a video projection of a cuttlefish camouflaging itself by changing colour to match its surroundings can be read as a metaphor for the means of subterfuge by which Parreno leads his audience into an alien environment constructed according to his wishes. The show’s final work Crédits (1999), extends this metaphor to a false dénouement. A collection of coloured plastic bags hang from a tree planted in waste ground near a 1970s housing project. The luminous bags filmed under relentlessly changing lighting conditions, flutter in the wind and rain to the accompaniment of electric guitar by ACDC’s Angus Young. The sound, lighting and mise-en-scène continuously alter our reading of the video: extra-terrestrial, utopian, haunted, grunge, dystopian, stage-set, children’s game. Blaming the government for France’s allegedly low international profile may not be the solution, for such exhibitions, like life, are movies without cameras, and such movies have no directors.

Neil Mulholland, Edinburgh, October 2002

City Art Centre, Edinburgh Joan Eardley: Paintings and Drawings – 3 Stars Until 22nd February Toil: Rural and Urban Working Life – 2 Stars Until 22nd February Recent Acquisitions – Until 22nd February Transmission, Glasgow David Musgrave – Until 18th January

Joan Eardley: Paintings and Drawings – Until 22nd February

Toil: Rural and Urban Working Life – Until 22nd February

Recent Acquisitions – Until February

David Musgrave – Until January

The City Arts Centre’s current selection box of exhibitions covers everything from weaving to a Big Brown Dog, Basil Blackshaw’s memorable painting in The Public Eye, a collection of otherwise pallid works drawn from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland Collection. Joan Eardley’s work is showcased with a few studies of Glaswegian slums and a small assortment of expressionist landscapes painted in the dreich cliff tops of Catterline in the early 1960s. These works are well known, and there are no surprises in the display. They would have benefited more from inclusion in the adjacent show Toil, which explores the themes of rural and urban working life. The main theme here is the dramatic shift from Romanticism to Realism that took place in Scottish art in the latter part of the 19th century. It’s a story oft told, and not particularly compellingly by this limited exhibition, dominated as it is by literal readings of work in the form of images of domestic labourers, peasants, industrial workers and keelies. The odd shrewd juxtaposition is made, for example, between James Wingate’s idealised Harvest in Arran and Robert McGregor’s gritty Gathering Stones, which is attuned with the social Realism pioneered by Gustave Courbet in the mid 19th century. The problem is that, with the possible exception of Walter Geike and Ken Currie, these artists are no Courbets, even in Scottish terms they are largely third rate. Currie’s early charcoal drawing Peace, Build the Future, a mixture of youthful idealism and doddery Socialist Realism, is the best here, its naïveity making Howson’s sentimental caricature The Noble Dosser look belligerent in comparison. Perhaps lack of artistic merit wouldn’t matter if Toil told us something meaningful about work, the countryside or the city. It is a wasted opportunity to explore what ‘toil’ means in the post-industrial, post-Cold War, urbanised Scotland we live in.

This might have been partly remedied with the inclusion of Chad McCail’s gouache drawing People Take Turns to do the Difficult Jobs, currently on display amongst Recent Acquisitions bought for Edinburgh’s citizens by the Jean F Watson Bequest. The new additions focus on artists and images associated with Edinburgh, such as local artist Sandy Moffat, who is represented by his drawing of Lallans poet Sydney Goodsir Smith. Insularity is a questionable acquisitions policy. Edinburgh Museums might want another Elizabeth Blackadder but do they really need six? Do Edinburghers need two paintings by one-drip wonder Callum Innes? Although resident in Dundee, Nathan Coley slips through the Reekie radar by photographing himself in Princes Street Gardens Reading Burns to the Scott Monument and Waiting on the Scottish Parliament in Dumbiedikes. These are not Coley’s best works, and were, I suspect, purchased mainly for their parochial subject matter. Focus on Edinburgh artists must be intensified if the city is ever to generate credible contemporary art, but selectors should heed the populist mistakes made by Glasgow Museums. They will also need to pay far more attention to less established artists who will flee the capital if it fails to give them the support they deserve. Thankfully, there are a few enlightened purchases here, Kate Gray’s Mission, a miniature light box version of her Collective Gallery installation in 2001, and a paper halo by Jonathan Owen, which pillories male heroism and sporting prowess. On the whole, however, this collection is too slow on the uptake and will not compete with that currently being acquired by Glasgow Museums to right the wrongs of the Museum of Modern Art debacle.

At Transmission, master of understatement David Musgrave exhibits epoxy putty sculptures and a range of fine liner drawings of tiny skull and crossbones. Many Lifeless Heads and Bones poses what the minimum amount of pictorial information needed to recognise a ‘dead’ head might be. Minute crosses represent ‘dead’ eyes, a novel convention popularised by adult cartoons such as Viz and The Simpsons. Musgrave’s sculptures, cast from randomly squeezed plastercine, are frozen at the point where we stop seeing jumbles of volumes or pictorial conventions and start to ‘see in’. Some resemble roughshod heads, but only just. “I stop fiddling around when it becomes readable”, says Musgrave. These quiet works ask candid questions about how pictures and sculptures work, but such enquiry bears rich fruits.

Nasal and Facial Hair Reactions to Various Heritage Disasters | Charisma

Nasal and Facial Hair Reactions to Various Heritage Disasters


Bureaucracy is specifically rational in the sense of being bound to intellectually analysable rules; while charisma is specifically irrational in the sense of being foreign to all rules. Within the sphere of its claims, charisma concurrently repudiates and rejuvenates the past, and is in this sense a specifically revolutionary force.


Kerry McKenzie and Nichola Farquhar


Horrified visitors watched helplessly at Transmission in Glasgow this July, as Charisma wilfully produced It May Be A Year Of Thirteen Moons But It’s Still The Year Of Culture. The temperature averaged 63F, but was set to fall below zero in January. Keith Farquhar and Lucy McKenzie’s confidently resketched Celtic font gallery sign, How Long Can We Keep This Up? (2000), was officially unveiled by local DJ ‘Tiger’ Tim-of-Stevens of Radio Clyde 261 and furtive painter Jack Vetriano, who arrived on a BMW Motor Scooter Called ‘Charisma.’ Curators Farquhar and McKenzie, holding no convictions concerning the ultimate futility of vision, fulfilled their quest for an art which exploits the illusory character of history based on conquest and the mysteries of a not so distant cultural past. Charismavergangenheitsbewaltigung.

Combining innovation and commitment, Charisma’s Procrustean bed revisits Patrick Geddes’ dream of a vernacular Scots Renascence at the turn of the nineteenth-century. In the foyer, McKenzie exploits her dubious technical facility; the diagrammatic renderings in her Mockintosh doors, Force the Hand of Chance 1900 (2000), painted guidance lash with Channel mascara and egg yolk, are redolent adornment, separate from the half glimpsed, the IKEA, the indiscreet face-lift. With an astonishing clairvoyance in divining the original meaning of the fragment, they suggest the proto-feminist symbolist roots of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s aesthetic in the biological art of his wife Margaret, her sister Frances Macdonald and in the Scots Renascence fascination with the magical asceticism practised by magicians and heroes. McKenzie hollered: “Like Socialist Realism’s combination of avant-gardism and ‘anti-novelty’ formal means, such manifestations of charisma were expressions sketched by Charisma to radically frustrate the fans of these means of communication. They promote, at little expense, an atmosphere of uneasiness extremely favourably for the introduction of a few new notions of pleasure, visibility, mystery and enigma. In order to reach a conclusion such objections must be cast aside without explanation.”

Farquhar’s Polymorph Moderne: Sex in Scotland (2000) is adjacent, a stylish transformation of plastic multi-vitamin tubes into stalagmites. Accompanying them on the carpeted floor are a number of paper arrows and a feminist symbol, fashioned by carefully spilled red wine, a diagrammatic, disruptive sort of abstention buried deep in shagging pile. Inscrutable historical

exegesis takes us to Ken Currie’s painting Sex in Scotland, which hangs in the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art. As Farquhar, speaking for the first time since July, explains: “Hours are long, under these conditions, and constrain us to beguile them with proceedings which – how shall I say – may at first, and to the herd, seem unreasonable. For example, Peter Mandelson’s habitual modernisation of the Labour Party allows one’s precognition to hypothesise a queer negation of Scots-Irish patriarchy which, in time, is distilled into a concrete refusal to put up with out-of-fashion sex.” Farquhar, who has made a full recovery and is on holiday at Dougie Donnelly ‘s yacht The Sterling of Tillicoutry in Majorca, has a message of hope for cosmopolitan, nouveau riche Scotland. “Red wine is a catalyst for sexual and revolutionary consciousness. Moderne reason will stray in the night without end of the abyssal depths, until, like Bergerac after a successfully solved case, it sips cold, clear, alcohol-free champagne.”

Farquhar exhibits alongside Steven Campbell’s early New Glasgow Boy oil paintings Man with Spiral Tree (1983) and To the North with Good Luck (1983). Significantly, Campbell was showing at Transmission for the first time, and it’s no accident that Thirteen Moons resembles his maverick installation at the Third Eye Centre On Form and Fiction (1990). Tiger Tim’s bitter exchange with Campbell is very informative: “You look a wee bit like Van Helsing. Only because of the beard. Why do you give Van Helsing a goatee? He doesn’t have one in the book. He has to have some kind of charismatic authority. Is that what gives you your authority?  It is, aye. Without the beard, I’d go to pieces. What gives this man his authority? I was wondering. It’s my goatee. If that came off I’d suddenly look like a steel fitter again.” Campbell returned to Scotland from New York in 1986, disgusted at the “horribly engineered” qualities of American art. Given this outburst, unprecedented in modern times, it is unsurprising that his performance-based paintings were spurned by the Glasgow art world throughout the 1990s, his oeuvre systematically excluded from critical debate, forever typecast as ‘neo-expressionist’ opportunism.

Charisma, had looked for guidance from Ronnie Heeps who perceived Campbell’s neo-expressionist bedfellow to be Markus Selg. But the Deutsch Britische Freundschaft in Selg’s case was beautiful urban-pastoral serendipity. Selg’s contribution also proposes ways to invest existing, cobwebbed ideas and concepts with youthful vigour. His computer Inkjet print Untitled (2000) has the same pose and personal metaphor as Campbell, but his figures are workers at the ‘WeltAustellung’ and relate more to Currie’s large-scale groupings. Constructivism and all-over avant-garde are put to the test. LEF magazine, with Rodchenko at its head, had attempted to continue the psyche-revolutionising Russian experiment, only to consistently revert to pictorialism and figuration within the magazine’s photo editorials and graphic designs. This conflict is internalised within Selg’s prints. However, it must be pointed out that Charisma’s relationship to the ‘worker’ is in almost binary opposition to Currie’s, and the proletariat is seen for what it is; that which is to be BLASTED, along with the middle classes, the aristocracy and the intelligentsia.

Via the Neue-Sachlichkeit, Campbell’s work finds strong parallels with that of Albert Oehlen, who exhibits Untitled (1981), a painting of a dinosaur. Oehlen judgements are inherently charismatic, newly created from case to case and regarded as revelations: “Consecrate the furrier who is our neighbour in the Street Robertson. Consecrate Go-Kart Mozart in his high rise mud hut. Consecrate the Obliterati. Farbe mit Ihren Brüsten. (Paint with your tits.)” Unlike Campbell, however, Oehlen and his fellow German Jungen im Band, (‘Boys in the Band’) received serious critical applause, scooping a top spot in a poll of feuding critics exercising their conjugal rights. Charisma explain that “this is partly due to his participation in an artistic group, based around himself and his brother Markus, Martin Kippenberger and Werner Butner. The myth and story attached to this group today serves as a model for all whose art world is based around camaraderie, genuine subversion or personal affinities, rather than the conventional, linear system of galleries, dealers and magazines.” Jungen im Band, then, was a charismatic community based on an emotional form of communal relationship while the New Glasgow Boys were curatorial fabrication, opening them to attack from rational authorities. As ever, money was a factor nevertheless, and like Campbell, these artists capitalised on eccentricity. As Oehlen put it: “Money is the essence, alien to man, of his labour and existence, my dear. And this strange creature dominates him and makes him pay. And the people that nowadays let it and its dirty little devils loaf around are just as dirty themselves and are heading in the same direction. If you want to find many of these flies: churches and their shit are full of them. But this creature always likes to send his dirty little flying devils to your centre, always, if you let it, so you have to learn how to scare them off and get rid of them, and not let the bloody little beasts laze about and hatch the devil’s excrement, all right?”

One time assistant of Kippenberger and Oehlen, Merlin Carpenter only agreed to leave behind the London sunshine after visiting Glasgow and falling in love with Berlin. Carpenter’s cars and girls painting Controller (1999-2000) combines the luxury of X and the plastic vigour of Y with the ferocious single-mindedness of the possessed. In an act of charismatic authority, Carpenter appropriates Martin Boyce’s metal Charles Eames Chair (Noir) (1999), displaying it as an expendable luxury analogous with the reified ciphers found in his paintings. Placed within the well-manicured organogram of Thirteen Moons, Carpenter’s Chair (Noir) (2000) becomes part of the exhibition’s metonymy, synecdoche, and homonomy; their combination increasing its entire ambiguities. Carpenter deems mediation inescapable. Trying to produce an earnestly meaningful image is an endeavour riddled with holes; clichés can be utilised to make an image meaningless: “Paintings are also mediated and overdetermined images. They are as stupid and as mediated as car advertisements. An abstract painting is the same type of cliché. I have an interest in 80’s approaches to art; in making big objects, filling them with empty signification and seeing what happens. But at this point in time it’s a quote about the 80s, it’s not the 80’s themselves.” As Campbell put it “Falling and tripping up was an art, you know, not moving gracefully.” Fearing such supernatural powers, Vetriano burned down the Celtic Charisma banner shortly after the exhibition opened. He said: “It’s a wonderful gesture from people who were obviously close. I were delighted to help. I will be forever united with their supreme quintessence.”



APRIL 1998 “Glasgow: Onwards and Upwards”, Art Monthly, No.216, May 1998, p26-27. This extended version of this report on the Glasgow appeared in basetext, @

Glasgow’s cultural commissars were smarting this March at the loss of the new parliament to Edinburgh.  To make matters worse, Timothy Clifford was refused £30 million Heritage Lottery funding to establish a National Gallery of Scottish Art and Design in Glasgow’s George Square.  The same month saw the Edinburgh establishment challenged when Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts and Tramway arts centre both received substantial Scottish Arts Council lottery awards.  Tramway’s £2.3 m award will be used to expand its arts spaces, which remain largely unchanged since its origins as a tram depot.  Architects Page & Park will be responsible for the £7.5 m re-development of the listed Greek Thompson buildings that comprise the CCA.  The CCA has long been in preparation to meet the rigorous assessment it needed to undergo before being allocated its record SAC lottery award.  Distinctions between programming departments were eradicated last year with a view to supporting five new performance / exhibition areas, while more flexible and accessible cultural agendas have been pursued.

In order to achieve these ends, however, the CCA has  had to provide professional proscriptive cultural presentations.  In this, it is not alone.  Witness such Edinburgh productions as ‘Natural Science’ at the refurbished Stills Gallery (28th January – 21st March),[i] ‘The Science of the Face’ at the National Portrait Gallery (12th March – 31st May), and ‘Inbreeder’ at the Collective Gallery (21st March – 25th April).  The capital is yet to produce anything as sickly as ‘Chocolate’, a sugar-coated pill available for consumption at the Collins Gallery in Glasgow (21st March – 2nd May), although it is highly probable that Andrew Nairne will soon provide a strong challenge to the Central Belt with his new theme park in Dundee.[ii]   The anthropological reasoning of the theme-machine has restructured the poorest of art myths, while ensuring that surplus cultural capital is extracted by as few administrators as possible.[iii] Presented as information rather than knowledge, ‘education’ risks being re-established on the pedestal of the very authoritarianism it ought to challenge.  Any theme is a boon to outreach programming, which attracts more public funding, which leads to bigger administrations, which need better outreach programmes……[iv]

‘With no commercial gallery infrastructure,’ asserts David Burrows, ‘the power brokers of the country’s art scene are the curators of public institutions and the Scottish Arts Council, which perhaps explains in part Scotland’s cultivation of an institution-friendly form of Conceptualism.’[v] Indeed, established Scottish artists such as Douglas Gordon, Roderick Buchanan and Christine Borland have been producing the kinds of engineered work most eminently compatible with the audience-orientated programming commitments needed to keep public institutions afloat.  Their art evokes values of honesty and integrity by way of an illusory simplicity and coolness of tone, limiting themselves to a quantifiable assemblage of denotative thematics.  Glasgow Visual Art Projects’ commissioning of Gordon’s Empire, a neon cinema sign situated discreetly in Brunswick Lane, testifies to his user-friendliness.  As an example of permanent public art, Empire is a vast improvement on the fascistic monuments customarily favoured by Glasgow City Council, although it guilefully harbours the nostalgic qualities needed to sell it to the narcissistic Second City.  Glasgow and Edinburgh do possess an established ‘commercial gallery infrastructure’, although none are as yet willing to deal in conceptual-based works.[vi]  Hence, the Modern Institute – established with SAC support by Will Bradley, Toby Webster and Charles Esche – has stepped in to manage this generation of artists.  Despite accusatory grumblings of opportunism and nepotism, (Esche is said to have used his tenure at the Tramway to promote this gang of artists), the Modern Institute’s main purpose is magnanimous, as it provides a viable commercial alternative to the contaminations of the private distribution network in London.

While welcoming growth and devolution for the arts in Scotland, Transmission Gallery committee member Robert Johnston is ungratified with some of the work being produced for its promotional sectors: ‘People have been looking at work and saying “that’s a nice idea”.  I really hate good ideas.  Why not just write them down?’  For Johnston, the demotion of the visceral in established Scottish neo-conceptualism has meant that it is not discordant enough.  He has ‘had about enough.’[vii] Certainly, the danger with the current managerial situation in Scotland has been that artists might become content with their allotment rather than continue to explore alternatives.  It is therefore crucial that new work not be slurped back into the administrative establishment and absorbed by it.  In some quarters of Glasgow there is a will to reassert the opacity of art, and to recover anomaly against the virtue of art as ‘concept’.  Transmission exhibitions such as ‘Henry VIII’s Wives’ (until 31st January) and ‘I Love This Life’ (10th February – 7th March) have promoted an interest in work which was not just funny, cynical, clever or weird, but passionate.  ‘I Love This Life’ included Micheal Fullerton’s tape of Charlton Heston as the Voice of God (paramount), preserved in a glass wall mounted case as if it were a dead sea scroll.  In stark contrast to Lisson object traditionalism, the tape contained no such recording.  This had something to do with challenging the fascination with blocking ‘facile’ pleasures, such as identification with the fictional world that makes art possible.  Johnston enthuses: ‘The best things in life, and love, are never simple or tidy.  The best art can’t be described in a few sentences, if at all.  Some times all you can really do is grasp your faith in something, faith that although you don’t quite understand it, it’s worth something, it’s good.’ Fullerton’s Porno, including an abrasive drawing of Siouxsie and the Banshees and a sunrise lamp, fused the Apollonian and Dionysian.  The World of Vidal Sassoon, included wall text-pieces celebrating the renowned coiffeur’s resolute political beliefs, and commitment to hairstyling as an expression of freedom.  Alongside hung Fullerton’s earnest attempts to represent AC Acoustics, in hair.

If there was an overriding sentiment in ‘I Love This Life’, it was determinedly difficult to grasp.  Paul Johnston’s The Most Boring Painting I Have Ever Made, which depicts the top of a cardboard box, was devoid of any traces of lyricism.  Yet, simultaneously, the passé proceeduralist mannerisms of much current painting appeared to have been contaminated with a wilful negligence intended to incapacitate those with a penchant for the ascetic.  In Jonny Redding’s purposely ingenuous video Hump ‘n’ All, a young boy is ‘cured’ when he uses his hunch-back to save a goal.  ‘No hump! No hump! No hump!’, chant his new found friends.  Polyvalent, riddled with unofficial inflections, ‘I Love this Life’ provided a complex set of innocent pleasures.  The exhibition was less a serious and planned descent into the openly disgusting and dirty, than something intended to be resonant with wonderment, to make seeing oracular again.  The production of such a negotiable art surely has much to do with making things than making things up.

Engaging, maximal, emphatically unprofessional, non-technological, non-academic… what more is there to say?  This is not the first time artists have sought to function in an alogical space that might resist being colonised by critical agendas.  Such work risks turning in on itself, as it has before, becoming auto-erotic, rather than rhetorical.  Given that the latest generation suggest that audiences aim to please themselves, we are forced to ask ourselves whether their work is just a means to this pleasure, or a means of pleasing the artist by staving off satiation.  For the Transmission’s most recent exhibition, ‘Theme Show’ (April), Alex Frost built a geodesic dome, and spent two weeks living inside it.  There is, then, a self-critical awareness that the security of artist-run projects’ can offer a deceptive freedom from intimate control operative in any work situation.  Frost seems to relish isolation, which may be welcome only in that it provides respite from playing courtesan to the metropolitan (art)world.

The success of galleries such as Tramway, CCA, and Transmission has created space for smaller venues such as Fly, 18 King Street, Independent Studios, and Free Gallery to provide relatively independent platforms for artists in Glasgow.  The independent Glasgow-based Variant magazine recently received some SAC support, remarkable given that its mission has been to challenge the current tendency to ‘stifle any deviation from the cultural packaging and re-packaging of a benign culture of entertainment.   This imagined utopia, this Disneyland without the rides, is a product of the repressive prioritisation of public funds which has become social Darwinism run wild.’[viii] This may explain why co-editor Leigh French exhibited a large one-eyed Mickey Mouse in ‘Cupboard Love’ (Independent Studios group show, 8th – 28th February), the title of which, (insincere love professed for the sake of gain), jars with the quixotic zeitgeist prevailing elsewhere.[ix]  Much could be said of ‘BARMY artist Ross Birrell who claims a lump of coal he found in a pub is a work of ART worth £3,333.  Art critics and politicians have slammed the council sponsored show as “madness.”’[x] ‘Rough Diamond’ at the 18 King Street Gallery (29th August – 14th September 1997) was just one example of Birrell’s many endeavours to produce an artistic Catch-22.  While deriding the mythologies of the Glasgow art scene, he does so to his advantage by deliberately overstating and capitalising on his ‘working-class roots’.  George Square contains many statues of tobacco barons, and a monument to Walter Scott (who was from Edinburgh!), but no memorials for red Clydesiders such as John MacLean.  It would seem that the anonymous lower-ranks must die in war to be remembered by city fathers.  To rectify this sorry situation Birrell stood stony still for several hours on a small plinth marked Working Class Hero b. 1969 (17th September 1997), much to the bewilderment of the local press.  It was not entirely clear if a (currently unfashionable) class war was being borne out, or if dilettantism was part of the pose.  As a lecturer, Birrell can hardly claim to be an alienated worker, so he acts out oppression.  His performances aren’t simply about debunking and pricking the balloons of hypocrisy, affectation, pretension and stupidity which dominate the art world, nor are they about the avant-garde destruction of art, they are concerned with opportunists forcing art and its destruction onto everyone else. ‘Clean the Clutter and Repeat.’[xi]


Neil Mulholland

[i]Stills re-opened last year following a £865,000 National Lottery funded re-fit.  The new guiding philosophy is public access.  The gallery has darkrooms, processing rooms and a computer room for digital imaging, all of which are intended to get audiences involved practically.  In this, Edinburgh is attempting to catch up with Glasgow’s more generous support of practising artists.


[ii]‘Blood Money’ (25th December 1998 – 1st January 1999) is a simulating programme combining confidential personal account details and vague conceptions of fiscal ‘otherness’, with an uninformative reproach to banking.  Artist-curators John Montague Sandwich & Son Ltd. will address the themes of ‘blood’, ‘banking’ and ‘places’ from the standpoint of their respective credit brokers.  Crivvens! A’ll Ca’ the Lugs Aff Ye! is a turf accountant’s impressionistic documentary, wantonly utilising blood-stained ‘picters’ of brotherly ‘tanner fichts’ conjectured to have taken place in Dundee during the 30s.  Blood bank donors and financiers feature weakly in Giro, a meditative exploitration of physical journeys to a Dundee DSS as seen from the perspective of a Sufi Gold Card holder, blood group A.


[iii]The fear is that major contemporary art spaces might increasingly begin to resemble Glasgow Museums.  The city is still looking for £18.5 million lottery cash to remodel the Kelvingrove into a ‘visitor experience’, scrapping the art gallery and museum to produce instead a themed display of 100 ‘object stories’.  Scottish gallery-goers may find themselves with no alternative to what the autocratic Julian Spalding has described as ‘space-age people’s universities’, in which interactive CD ROMS, tapes and visual imagery will tell ‘stories’ about such enlightening themes as ‘self-mutilation’ and ‘Roger the Elephant’.


[iv]Like the Tramway, the CCA receives the bulk of its funding mainly from the SAC and the cash strapped Glasgow City Council, which boasts the highest council tax in the UK (rising at 3 times the rate of inflation) owing to the Conservative’s gerrymandered abolition of the Scottish Regional Councils.  Of course the Tramway and CCA are receiving their awards from purchasers of lottery tickets, many of who live in the city’s poorest satellite schemes, (conveniently) cut off from the lustrous city centre, where they have suffered acutely from the Council’s savage spending cuts of £150 m over the last two years.  On March 5th the council voted to slash spending by £43.6 m for the coming year.  Hence, despite all the talk of public access, the CCA and Tramway refurbishments primarily function as spectacles designed to improve the city’s image abroad.  Under New Labour tight budgets are being ruthlessly enforced, even in the erstwhile bastion of municipal socialism.  Hence, New CCA will boast increased cafe-bar and bookshop facilities, a restaurant, and rentable office space for ten arts organisations as a means of supporting its activities.  Promotion and programming remain independent for the moment, although the appointment of journalist Ruth Wishart – a prominent member of the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts – as Chair of the Board of Directors is indicative of the direction in which the Scottish art quangos are having to move if they mean to survive.  CCA, which is an independent charitable organisation, is in the busy pub and club district of Sauchiehall Street and is sure to attract extra earned revenue.  Tramway, which is owned by Glasgow City Council and located south of the Clyde, may find itself in financial difficulties.


[v]DAVID BURROWS, “Correspondences, Olympic Village, Waves in Particles Out, Beagles & Ramsay”, Art Monthly, No.213, February 1998, p24.


[vi]‘Historically, commercial galleries have never existed in the city [of Glasgow] and no market exists for the kind of work being produced.’  REBECCA GORDON-NESBITT, “Urban Myths: A Tale of Two Cities”, Contemporary Visual Arts, Issue 17, Other British Artists: Art Beyond the yBas, February 1998, p39.


[vii] Johnston is also a member of the Filthy Swan collective (Gary Rough, Toby Patterson, Scott Waugh, Douglas Payne, Iain Dickinson). Visit their award winning website @


[viii]LEIGH FRENCH, “Editorial”, Variant, Volume 2, Number 1, Winter 1996, p2.


[ix]French has been unsupportive of what he identifies as an uncritical shift towards narcissism: ‘…my frustrations have been in encouraging the younger generation of Scottish based artists/writers to write on anything other than themselves.  […] anything apart from what may be perceived as directly benefiting their careers in the gaze of a particular market.’ LEIGH FRENCH, “Me, Myself and I”, Variant, Volume 2, Number 4, Autumn 1997, p12.


[x]NICK GATES, “Artist is in from the Coal”, The Star, Saturday August 3rd 1997, p10.


[xi]ALEX FROST, “A Diary of Nothing”, British Mythic: Urban Romantic Revolution, No. 1, February 1998, 28 King Street, Glasgow.