ART & EXHIBITIONS LIST
The new Glasgow Boys belonged to the Eighties— artist Malcolm Dickson looks forward to new directions (below). Reviews of the Graeme Murray Gallery and Third Eye Centre,
LISTINGS: GLASGOW 59 EDINBURGH 61 MUSEUMS 63
There is a misconception that ‘thc centre‘ (of institutionalised culture) is the arbiter of artistic worth. Four years on and New Image Glasgow, or the ‘new Glasgow Boys‘. is still used as a reference point from which criticism and new developments are assumed to have ‘reacted‘. Such is the acceptance without objection to the construction ofhistory. or in this case. a travesty ofit.
The criticism of New Image was not premature nor misguided by an ‘advocacy of failure‘ (as Neil Ascherson stated in the Observer). Most art is given value at the point of its economic exchange so inevitably cultural assets serve the interests of an elite class: new figuration reinstated art as merchandise and those artists rode the crest of a wave ofenterprise culture (whether they knew it or not. condemned it or rejoiced in it) which has left a tidcmark for other waves quickly to follow.
All of this has only intensified competitiveness for Glasgow artists, but for most it has meant nothing. We all compete for less and less. and with yet more oppressive changes in social security regulations. the material circumstances under which artists are making work are made increasingly difficult. Exploitation of intellectual
and artistic labour is an accepted fact. and artists‘ fees for public exhibition of their work is still not compulsory in Scotland.
Such a situation ofstrife suggests that we either abandon creative ventures altogether (and do what'?). become wildly commercial or become more strategic and at the same time more philosophically committed and culturally active in our endeavours.
Ideas surrounding the ‘expanded media‘ of performance. video and installation became influential a few years ago amongst a few Glasgow artists. It seemed that here was a set of visual and expressive languages and ways of working which could embody the cultural conflicts. political crises. personal traumas. but also challenge the dominance of tradition and the legitimisation of the gallery system. Installation — and more specifically ‘site specific‘ — approaches have proliferated since then and now the bigger institutions are claiming that there is now a new direction in Scottish art that there is a ‘break with tradition‘ (the Smith Biennale) and that there is an ‘identifiable new sensibility‘ (‘Seatter‘ at the Third Eye Centre).
The lack ofcritical and collective awareness (rather than a selective awareness) regarding contemporary Scottish art leaves it open to being appropriate to all kinds ofclaims. What is required is a critical evaluation of a possible ‘expansive philosophy‘ that some recent art
embodies if it is not merely to be categorised as a new item of fashion in place of the outmoded one (painting). Moreover. it involves strategies— of intervention. ofgroup activity — by artists to maintain an element of autonomy and control outwith institutional frameworks, without rejecting them competely.
As part of the ‘Reclaim the City‘ event, Julie Roberts‘ proposal to replace the ‘green man. red man‘ symbolism on traffic lights to that ofa woman was prevented from taking place by Strathclyde Region‘s Roads Department. It would have revealed a text relating to these ‘silent signals ofpatriarchal authority‘, but in effect she put stickers over the templates explaining the project and why it didn‘t take place. This doesn‘t detract from the tactical subversion of the idea. a disruption of the codes and symbols of the city‘s geography which illuminate the gravitation to the centre of power and the exercise of patriarchal authority.
Roberts‘ work occurred within a group and issue-generated event aimed at ‘positive prostestation .‘ Group strategies were also manifest in the exhibition ‘Information’ held at the Paisley Museum and Art Gallery also in November 89. This included 18 artists who made work specifically for the museum space, a range ofwork which equally functioned as a large scale installation. It was a combination of themes around the ‘language ofinformation‘ with artists using various media within the installation format: image/text. photowork, xerox images, the manipulation ofsigns, sculptural arrangement and a self-sonscious use of irony with references to Seventies conceptualism.
‘Information‘ suggested a retrieval of a European
Fluxus tradition recontextualised within art practice in Scotland.
‘Windfall 89’ (October 89) occurred in Bremen in West Germany and involved 17 artists from Scotland, England, and Germany. Douglas Gordon’s contribution utilised a derelict electricity generating factory in a dockside area. This was characteristic of Gordon’s considered work which utilise the notions of a specific site - its spatial, historical, political and cultural contexts— which form the conceptual base of site-specific work. Gordon‘s text on the'window ‘Vergesen’ (Forget) and on the walls of another room ‘Jetztseit’ (roughly translated as ‘Time Now’ or ‘Now Time‘ which Benjamin spoke of) hinted at the sense ofcultural catastrophe and anticipation affecting Germany at that time (similar, possibly, to now).,‘Windfall 89‘ is an example of European interchange in experimental exhibiting contexts which have seen no parallel within Scotland.
For the Nineties artists have to confront dwindling resources and fight against them, to utilises their communicative skills and become more professional in negotiating'the terms in which they operate. On a wider level, those elements required to introduce a dynamic into Scottish art — the political/economic, the socio-cultural, and the aesthetic — have yet to coagulate. To affect change you must take on the responsibility of biting the hand that feeds you.
New Glasgow Boys by Stephen Campbell is at the Third Eye Centre 10 March—21 April and Peter Hanson is at the Glasgow Print Studio 8—30 May. Malcolm Dickson is helping to organise Sights and Positives around Glasgow.
The List 22 December 1989 - 11 January 1990 49