I was told early on in my six-month arts fellowship in wee, bonnie Scotland that Glasgow is where you make art and Edinburgh is where you see it. Being situated outside of the Central Belt entirely, I have had the privilege of holding no allegiance to either of these truisms. Instead, I’ve been able to discern for myself the scope of Scotland’s radically diverse and undervalued contemporary art scene.
Much like Canadian artists who have to jump ship to “make it”, Scottish artists also look south and beyond for recognition. Like the rest of the art world, the majority has moved to Berlin, but that leaves the homeland as an isolated testing ground. Left alone to wrestle with their own formalist art legacies are new formalist artists such as Glasgow’s own Martin Boyce and Karla Black, two of four Turner Prize 2011 finalists, both of whom have also represented their country independently of Britain at the Venice Biennial in the past five years. A unique sense of Scottish identity has long been alive and strong, but even then, I am still not sure what constitutes Scottish art.
Martin Creed, Work No. 1059, 2011 (courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; photograph: Gautier Deblonde)
Edinburgh remains best known for its flurry of festivals each summer, and every gallery lines up to be included in the madness by bringing in big international names like Anish Kapoor (at the University of Edinburgh), Hans Schabus (at Collective Gallery), Robert Rauschenberg (at Inverleith House), etc. The highlights remained outside of the festivals, however, from esteemed private gallery Ingleby Gallery’s consistently impressive group exhibition to Martin Creed’s Work No. 1059. Albeit, Creed’s reimagining of The Scotsman Steps was originally commissioned by Fruitmarket Gallery to open in time for the 2010 festival, but was delayed until early this summer. Coming upon them one day without the festival hype was a fantastic surprise and delight. Consisting of one hundred and four marble slabs, each different in colour and originating from all over the globe, that coat the long dilapidated Scotsman Steps (an important historical thoroughfare for Edinburgh’s markets that remains in constant use,), the work is the best public artwork I have seen anywhere.
Over in Glasgow, I have spent a lot more time seeing small shows, from a plethora of local emerging artists to solos by Tina Seghal (at Transmissions) and a one-liner collaboration between Urs Fischer and Georg Herold (at Modern Institute), which together offers a swell contrast to the overblown British Art Show 7, a major survey of UK contemporary art that has been happening every five years since 1979. Curated this year by Lisa le Feuvre and Tom Morton, BAS 7 made one of four stops in Glasgow before finishing off in Plymouth, taking over all three of Glasgow’s major art venues - CCA, Gallery of Modern Art, and Tramway - with thirty-nine artists including Roger Hiorn, Alisdair Grey, Sarah Lucas, Wolfgang Tillmanns, Karla Black, and the questionably British Christian Marclay. Under the thematic starting point of unworldly transformation pulled from H.G. Wells’ In The Days of The Comet, BAS has been argued as consistently overly ambitious, and this year is no exception, showing works that really have nothing in common with one except for being British (and even that assumed identity is a loaded and problematic term).
Ruth Ewan, Nae Sums, 2011
Getting away from the central belt, Dundee is the third largest city and arguably the strongest art scene in the country (my first impression is that Dundee is the Winnipeg of Scotland). Currently supporting their own with a summer of projects through the artist-led Generator Gallery along with a first solo by Ruth Ewan at Dundee Contemporary Art. Brank and Heckle is Aberdeen-born/Edinburgh-trained/London-based Ewan’s first major solo exhibition in the UK, and it brings together a body of work addressing identity and protest by connecting folk mythology to lived histories in an evocative display of lost symbols and figures such as Paul Robeson and Dundee’s own Mary Brooksbank.
Further reflections on the region by the people who still live there include Ajax/Berlin-based Helen Cho, who was the Canadian selection for this year’s international Glenfiddich residency. The likes of Damian Moppett, Arabella Campbell, and Annie Pootoogook have been past residents. Hosting a sewing workshop in the small distillery town of Dufftown in the speyside, Cho shared her exhibition with residents from the region who participated in her stitch by numbers workshop using a series of repetitive instructions. Similarly, the small fishing town of Helmsdale further up on the North Sea coast included video work by residents of the East Sutherland community working with Glasgow’s Graham Fagen. Hosted by the hamlet’s contemporary art space, Timespan, along with guest curator Kirsteen MacDonald, a weekend of programming highlighted Fagan’s new HD video work alongside works made by community members and a presentation by Glasgow/Vancouver-based Corin Sworn, who was the other artist in residence this past year at Timespan.
Ross Sinclair, Real Life Huntly (surveyed from the Clashmach), 2011 (courtesy of the artist and Deveron arts; photograph: Anna Vermehren)
Then there’s Deveron Arts located in the small market town of Huntly in the North East of Scotland, where they have been running artist residencies progressively towards a socially engaged art programme using “the town as the venue”. Addressing issues ranging from carbon footprints of local food consumption to boy racers, artists in recent years have increased in profile from Hamish Fulton to an upcoming visit by Roman Signer. The artist in residences I have been working with in the last six months include Canadian/British Anthony Schrag addressing the role of fathers in a region where most fathers work offshore, and Kilcraggen’s own Ross Sinclair who is exploring the living history of The Gordon Clan who hail from Huntly in How to be a Gordon in Real Life.
To conclude my time in Scotland, and in conjunction with Signer’s premiere of his new work, Transmissions from the River, yours truly will be organizing Who Are We Writing For? a peer-led symposium addressing the question: can we be both critical and publically accessible? Triggered by Signer’s seemingly simple yet highly theorized body of work, the by-invite symposium will feature writers, curators, artists, and educators from across the UK, Western Europe, and North America, for a think tank workshop that will include writing exercises inspired by the brand new works of Signer and Sinclair.
Amy Fung is an art critic and curator currently based in Edmonton. Her research interests are interdisciplinary, with a special focus on live art and the moving image. Fung has guest curated and programmed artists and projects through independent venues, community partners, and festivals, as well as The Art Gallery of Alberta. Fung is the founding author of PrairieArtsters.com and her writing can be found online and in publications including Border Crossings, C Magazine, Canadian Art, FUSE, Galleries West, etc. She is Akimblog’s Edmonton correspondent.
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Posted by john, on 2011-10-01 20:44:12David Kibuuka is an artist that should be reconised in black arts.