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Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art 2012 | reviews, news & interviews

Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art 2012

Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art 2012

The biennial celebration reaches into every corner of the city

Karla Black's 'Empty Now', nicknamed 'Tiramisu' by Glaswegians

If you choose to walk between the venues of the 2012 Glagow InternationaI Festival of Visual Art, the incredible energy of the place engulfs you and you begin to understand why so many artists have made it their home.  All eras of architecture and layers of the City’s history seem to be represented: you gawp at monolithic buildings which seem to rise and fall almost before your eyes, with gems from the past sandwiched as improbable survivors.

The festival presents a wonderful excuse to seek out venues and areas you may never have visited before. Indeed it’s a major part of the visual adventure. 

In the ornate Main Hall at GoMA, Karla Black presents her confectionary delight Empty Now, immediately nicknamed Tiramisu by the locals in a city where there is an Italian café on almost every street corner. As you enter the gallery the first sensual impression is the smell of wood shavings: 17 tonnes of sawdust are layered in the centre of the hall within the space created by the Corinthian columns which stand like posts around a bed. With all those mattresses, the fairytale of the princess and the pea bubbles into mind, particularly as above it hangs a second new sculpture - Will attach - like fragile draperies (pictured below), reminiscent too of the cellophane used to wrap special Italian delicacies. Is the artist thinking of the City’s Italian links and heritage or simply blending colour and material to suit the surroundings?

The city’s particular history is brought to mind again at the Glasgow School of Art where Folkert de Jong has created and installed The Immortals inspired by the figures of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, his wife Margaret MacDonald and their friends. In the calm white and wooden space of the old drawing studio the synthetic figures stand like actors on a stage like so many of those living statues we watch in the streets waiting for them to breathe and move. They are set in balance against several of the classical plastercasts that students use in their training. While the plastercasts are faded white, de Jong’s Immortals are drenched in bright colour.

At Kelvingrove a selection of Richard Wright’s works on paper are on show to the public for the first time. The works range in tone from the purest gossamer and filigree silver and gold to extraordinary vibrant enamelled coloured patterns which snake across like Japanese tattoos or Hindu colouring books. His patterns call to mind whirling arabesques and paper marbling.  In his intricate and delicate gold leaf works you can perceive or imagine the beautiful flowers found in medieval illuminated manuscripts, paintings and tapestries. There is something dreamlike, suggesting the subconscious, in the kaleidoscopic, repetitive symmetry of his work. It is hypnotically beautiful.

Across Kelvin Park and up the hill to Woodlands Terrace, the work of Wolfgang Tillmans is being shown in one of those large Victorian houses which face onto the park with panoramic views of the city beyond. Light pours in through enormous windows. In a corner of the upstairs gallery a very dark photo draws you in. At first there seems to be nothing there, but as you look more carefully a mountain edge becomes visible against the sky and then you realise the sky is full of tiny stars and points of light. It is a mesmerising magical image which seems to carry on developing the more you look. Many of Tillmans’ photographs are not hung in a traditional sense in a frame but are stuck up on walls, doors, mantelpiece, as if the maker is just trying to decide what to do with them or like postcards put up when they meant something special and then left forever after.

Specially trained librarians will install chosen items and collect them three days later

The steep stone stairway which connects Woodlands Terrace to the park below is itself part of the festival as it features in the video This sort of thing shouldn’t happen here by Rob Kennedy at the CCA. In it a man falls down the various spans of the stairway, eventually reaching the bottom and lying there - we are not sure whether badly hurt or not. Eventually he gets up, dusts himself off, straightens his scarf and walks away. The film is then played backwards and everything is reversed. We see him bounce back up the stairs. This is repeated from various angles. It is not clear whether he is acting for the camera or whether it is a genuine accident. Strangely when the film is reversed the movements which you would expect to be the exact opposite of the fall seem to have more bounce and spring and greater choreography: a sort of optical illusion. A group of people stood watching the film with me and our initial reaction was to want to rush forward and try to stop the man falling. We wondered as it played over and over: is there a point when you can intervene to stop someone from doing something they seem destined to do?

From the West End to the East End and Jeremy Deller’s Sacrilege on Glasgow Green (pictured below). This blow-up bouncy Stonehenge is the popular hit of the festival. The sun was out and the bright Spring Green of the grass surrounded the Flintstone-like island. Laughter and screams howled across the Green as hundreds of people flung themselves about. The rules for use told you no shoes, no animals, no sharp objects and no human sacrifice.  

The sort of performance and physical engagement Sacrilege inspires are two of this festival’s particular features, as are sharing and an old-fashioned sense of philanthropy.  At various points you are actively encouraged to play at the ping pong club at the CCA, to touch and operate the various sculptures in the temporary sculpture park, to have a Dialogue of Hands at the City of Glasgow College, to take lunch with artists in their home in exchange for conversation in No meal is complete without conversation. The programme of events which runs in conjunction with the exhibitions is designed to promote engagement. At the Mitchell Library 60 artists have loaned their works to an experimental art-lending library which will last the length of the festival and maybe beyond. The items can be borrowed by anyone living in Glasgow who registers. Specially trained librarians will install chosen items and collect them three days later. If this idea catches on it could be a real legacy for the library and the city.

Beyond the headline exhibitions there is much more to experience in all parts of the city. Small things I noticed: the female voice echoes across the festival and reinforces the visual. At the Lighthouse, as part of Arrives in Starting, Carrie Skinner’s richly, black Gothic tones and dramatic Celtic setting bewitch. At Skypark for Petrosphere  Ruth Barker’s incantatory Gilgamesh Song troubles and haunts. Charlotte Prodger at CCA uses fragments of melancholic spoken personal histories which drift as from the wallpaper of a half-heard radio programme.

The festival not only shows many new artists but gives a greater sense of Glasgow itself. And there was an intense interest in what was being done and why and how. Not that discussion is over-serious or precious. And there is a sense that every encounter could have something to do with this biennial event. I came out of a lift on the wrong floor in one building. A group of women stood chatting and seeing I was lost asked helpfully, “Are you here for the tap dancing?”

The rules for use told you no shoes, no animals, no sharp objects and no human sacrifice


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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