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Clean the Clutter and Repeat

Clean the Clutter and Repeat

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Published by Dr Neil Mulholland

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Published by: Dr Neil Mulholland on Feb 19, 2009
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07/04/2009

 
CLEAN THE CLUTTER AND REPEAT
Edited version of this was published APRIL 1998 “Glasgow: Onwards andUpwards”,
 Art Monthly 
, No.216, May 1998, p26-27.
Glasgow’s cultural commissars were smarting this March at the loss of the new parliament toEdinburgh. To make matters worse, Timothy Clifford was refused £30 million Heritage Lotteryfunding to establish a National Gallery of Scottish Art and Design in Glasgow’s George Square. Thesame month saw the Edinburgh establishment challenged when Glasgow’s Centre for ContemporaryArts 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 unchangedsince 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 itsrecord 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 accessiblecultural agendas have been pursued.In order to achieve these ends, however, the CCA has had to provide professional proscriptive cultural
 pre
-
 sentations
. In this, it is not alone. Witness such Edinburgh productions as‘Natural Science’ at the refurbished Stills Gallery (28th January - 21st March),
1
‘The Science of theFace’ at the National Portrait Gallery (12th March - 31st May), and ‘Inbreeder’ at the CollectiveGallery (21st March - 25th April). The capital is yet to produce anything as sickly as ‘Chocolate’, asugar-coated pill available for consumption at the Collins Gallery in Glasgow (21st March - 2ndMay), although it is highly probable that Andrew Nairne will soon provide a strong challenge to theCentral Belt with his new theme park in Dundee.
2
 The anthropological reasoning of the theme-machine has restructured the poorest of art myths, while ensuring that surplus cultural capital isextracted by as few administrators as possible.
3
Presented as information rather than knowledge,‘education’ risks being re-established on the pedestal of the very authoritarianism it ought tochallenge.
 Any
theme is a boon to outreach programming, which attracts more public funding, whichleads to bigger administrations, which need better outreach programmes......
4
 ‘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.’
5
 
Indeed, established Scottish artists such as Douglas Gordon, Roderick Buchanan and ChristineBorland have been producing the kinds of engineered work most eminently compatible with theaudience-orientated programming commitments needed to keep public institutions afloat. Their artevokes values of honesty and integrity by way of an illusory simplicity and coolness of tone, limitingthemselves 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 vastimprovement on the fascistic monuments customarily favoured by Glasgow City Council, although itguilefully harbours the nostalgic qualities needed to sell it to the narcissistic Second City. Glasgowand Edinburgh
do
possess an established ‘commercial gallery infrastructure’, although none are as yetwilling to deal in conceptual-based works.
6
Hence, the Modern Institute - established with SACsupport by Will Bradley, Toby Webster and Charles Esche - has stepped in to manage this generationof artists. Despite accusatory grumblings of opportunism and nepotism, (Esche is said to have usedhis tenure at the Tramway to promote this gang of artists), the Modern Institute’s main purpose ismagnanimous, as it provides a viable commercial alternative to the contaminations of the privatedistribution network in London.While welcoming growth and devolution for the arts in Scotland, Transmission Gallerycommittee 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 hategood ideas. Why not just write them down?’ For Johnston, the demotion of the visceral in establishedScottish neo-conceptualism has meant that it is not discordant enough. He has ‘had about enough.’
7
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 thereforecrucial that new work not be slurped back into the administrative establishment and absorbed by it. Insome quarters of Glasgow there is a will to reassert the opacity of art, and to recover anomaly againstthe virtue of art as ‘concept’. Transmission exhibitions such as ‘Henry VIII’s Wives’ (until 31stJanuary) and ‘I Love This Life’ (10th February - 7th March) have promoted an interest in work whichwas not just funny, cynical, clever or weird, but passionate. ‘I Love This Life’ included MichealFullerton’s tape of Charlton Heston as the
Voice of God (paramount)
, preserved in a glass wallmounted case as if it were a dead sea scroll. In stark contrast to Lisson object traditionalism, the tapecontained 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 bedescribed in a few sentences, if at all. Some times all you can really do is grasp your faith insomething, 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 celebratingthe 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 tograsp. Paul Johnston’s
The Most Boring Painting I Have Ever Made
, which depicts the top of acardboard box, was devoid of any traces of lyricism. Yet, simultaneously, the passé proceeduralistmannerisms of much current painting appeared to have been contaminated with a wilful negligenceintended to incapacitate those with a penchant for the ascetic. In Jonny Redding’s purposelyingenuous 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 unofficialinflections, ‘I Love this Life’
 
 provided a complex set of innocent pleasures. The exhibition was less aserious and planned descent into the openly disgusting and dirty, than something intended to beresonant with wonderment, to make seeing oracular again. The production of such a negotiable artsurely has much to do with making things than making things up.Engaging, maximal, emphatically unprofessional, non-technological, non-academic... whatmore is there to say? This is not the first time artists have sought to function in an alogical space thatmight 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 audiencesaim 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 recentexhibition, ‘Theme Show’ (April), Alex Frost built a geodesic dome, and spent two weeks livinginside it. There is, then, a self-critical awareness that the security of artist-run projects’ can offer adeceptive freedom from intimate control operative in any work situation. Frost seems to relishisolation, which may be welcome only in that it provides respite from playing courtesan to themetropolitan (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 providerelatively independent platforms for artists in Glasgow. The independent Glasgow-based
Variant 

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