The Herald: Outsiders give the Art festival its edge

Posted on Friday 18th April, 2008

Katri Walker - In Transitby Jack Mottram
The Herald
April 18th 2008

In it’s first year as a grown-up biennial, Glasgow international has lost none of the energy of its original incarnation as the underground upstart off-shoot of the staid annual Art Fair. This is mostly thanks to the glut of off-site projects, shows that have escaped the confines of the city’s galleries and set up shop in unusual venues, from the hushed halls of the Mitchell Library to private homes and near-derelict abandoned buildings.

The fun begins in the West End, at Douglas Gordon’s townhouse on Woodlands Terrace, which plays host to a series of video works by Adel Abdessemed. At first glance, Abdessemed’s documented actions can seem a little slight, but the best of them offer arresting images that linger in the memory. Also Sprach Allah sees the artist engaged in a peculiar ritual, hurled repeatedly into the air from a blanket, gamely attempting to write the titular phrase on a carpet nailed to the ceiling. In Helikoptère, Abdessemed employs an even more extreme barrier to creation, trying to draw while suspended by his ankles from a helicopter in flight.

Down the hill at the Mitchell, Calum Stirling’s use of video couldn’t be more different. His complex, engrossing installation Rostra Plaza consist of a huge canopy sheltering a screen which shows slowly shifting scenes in extreme close-up. The source of this surveillance footage is a set of five curious little dioramas mounted on rotating platforms, spied on by miniature cameras which turn their attention to particular scenes, seemingly at random. The vignettes range from arrangements of modernist architectural models to dinky maquettes of artworks, and the result is distinctly Ballardian, with Stirling creating an urban landscape in miniature in order to observe its mysteries.

Just off Sauchiehall Street, the basement of the State Bar plays host to group show A Stranger Home. Rather than using the room to mount an exhibit, the eight young artists here, working under the guidance of curator Alhena Katsof, have carefully insinuated their work into the fabric of the space. Stina Wirfelt’s brass plaque demands that visitors watch the pub telly, and consider whatever programme they might see a work of art. Baldvin Ringsted has coated various objects – a chair, a bottle of whisky, some books – in glamorous aluminium. Grier Edmonson’s quietly altered photographs line the walls, with subtle etching and painting on the glass of their frames. Best of all is Kevin Pollock’s lovingly hand-crafted, fully functional urinal, carved from MDF and burnished to a high sheen. It’s a neat, witty tribute to Duchamp’s upended Fountain, this, a complete reversal of the readymade, and – thanks to its position in the gent’s loo – one of the best evocations of the Gi’s loose ‘public/private’ theme to be found in the city.

Across town, there’s a cluster of shows between Trongate and the Saltmarket.

On Osbourne Street, Wilhelm Sasnal has taken over a dusty, claustrophobic shop basement to screen his specially commissioned short film, a decidedly bleak piece in which Polish band 19 Wiosen perform The Other Church, a hymn to the memory of murdered student Angelika Kluk. The group are joined by a naked woman who mouths the song’s lyrics, at times defiantly, but for the most part she is huddled in the corner of a dilapidated room, very much like the one in which the film is screened. That might sound exploitative, but this powerful piece of cinema is nothing of the sort, offering a moving tribute to Kluk, underpinned with barely repressed anger at her fate.

Around the corner, the proposed installation at the Bath House by Turner Prize-winner Simon Starling has run into some trouble. At the final stages, Starling’s attempt to fashion sculptural forms from the surface of silver gelatin photographic prints, using hi-tech 3-D imaging techniques, was beset by technical difficulties, but will make it’s delayed debut before the festival ends. In the meantime, the artist is showing Autoxylopyrocycloboros, a slideshow documenting his voyage across Loch Long in a wooden steamboat, its engine fuelled with wood cut from the boat’s hull as it sailed, an oddly elegiac reworking of slapstick cartoon violence that nods to the tension between the loch-side peace camp and the nuclear naval base at Faslane.

On the Saltmarket, Dani Marti and Katri Walker have risen to the challenge of effectively presenting video work, cramming a disused shop with their films, with work projected on big screens, hidden away in cupboards and stuffed into box rooms. The result is a little overwhelming, as pieces compete for attention, flickering away in peripheral vision, but allow your gaze to settle and you’re rewarded with thoughtful, innovative video portraits from both artists. Marti’s David casts an unflinching eye on a young homeless man, slipping in and out of consciousness, and hanging on to his begging cup for dear life. Walker’s Señor Celestino on the Edge of Heaven is another highlight, offering a glimpse into the world of the 80-year-old Celestino and the open air church he has carved into the rocks near his home.

Kalup Linzy’s video work at Washington Garcia’s temporary space in a retail unit on the Trongate is less satisfying. The New York artist is a low budget auteur, writing, directing and starring in scrappy little films that pastiche the high melodrama of daytime soap operas and telenovellas, poking fun at the art world in the process, and, too, examining harder issues, from race to queer identity. Linzy is a gifted comic – his turn, in thrift shop drag, as a struggling, dimwitted artist is laugh-out-loud funny – but as these films unfold, they edge perilously close to becoming that which they parody.

Add to all this activity events like The Secret Agent, Raydale Dower and Judd Brucke’s mixture of street performance and psychogeographic dérive, or the stramash of art, music and conversation at The Local, a temporary artist-designed pub at the SWG3 Studios in Finnieston, and Glasgow international begins to look less like a festival in the ordinary sense, and more like a new thread woven into the city’s cultural fabric. It’s a shame we have to wait two years until the next one.