New North at Tramway


Northern lights

‘New North’ at Glasgow’s Tramway is a deliberate attempt to redress the London orientation of the artworld by showing artists from North Britain. Ewan Morrison went to see it.

The word ‘North’ immediately conjures up images of resistance to a dominant South. A position defined as marginal, politically and culturally, by the forces ofcentralisation. ‘New North’ presents us with a healthy new interest in art which comes from beyond the centre, and by doing so promotes a growing devolution in the art world. This is enforced by the fact that the work is being toured solely in Derry, Sheffield, Liverpool, Newcastle and Glasgow. and includes only those artists who live and work in these areas.

The exhibition does not however promote parochialism or rigid cultural identities, but instead proposes the idea of ‘local international‘ sensibilities: a sense that the work arises from intimate experiences, that may have wider social value.

The works show great diversity in their treatment of subjects and in their use of different media. Ranging from the delicate sculptures of Lois Williams to the deliberately crude photographs of Ron O’Donnell, and from the disciplined paintings of James Hugonin to the mixed-media work of Daniel Reeves.

The intention is to give each artist enough space to make a coherent statement, rather than using selected works by many artists, to create a survey or group identity. It is not one artistic community that is represented, but many, and the relationship between Art and the broader community is also presented in many different ways.

The idea of past ceremonies and rituals is threaded through the photographs of Thomas Joshua Cooper; rituals of communion with nature that are lost and can only be retraced ironically through the isolation of the artist and the viewer.

Mythical landscapes are also presented as a social gift in the work of Daniel Reeves. His new installation ‘Eingang/The Way In’ uses the physical presence of a tree cut into seven segments to highlight and contradict the illusory quality of seven video monitors. This produces a

scenario which is both static and temporal, and which involves the viewers physically and imaginatively at the same time.

The isolation of the artist is astuter parodied in the new collages of Steven Campbell. In ‘Study for Frottage of the Void’, young men in patterned suits gaze across equally patterned surfaces, dazzled by the relentless quest for meaning. Campbell’s new collages take the fragmentation of space and narrative further than his painting and manage with a wry humour to reflect and parody our own search for meaning in art.

The pieces by Locky Morris come from a working relationship with the people of Derry, and question the intangibility of the art world community. He does this through work such as ‘Dawn Raid’, which appears to be a formal arrangement of bricks, in the modernist tradition, but which turns out to be small models of council houses. He then reverses the norm where it is people in marginal areas who have to address the centre, and shifts art from purely formal to social concerns.

For me, Maud Sulter’s work ‘Zabat’ forms the heart of the exhibition. both spacially and

conceptually. Nine life-size colour prints present portraits of black women as ‘The Muses’, and thus challenge traditional representations that have placed black people at the margins of a white culture. The work encloses the viewer in representations of a community of people that is not just documented by the artwork, but is made through it. The work then sees cultural identity not as fixed in the past, but as remade in the present. Through public workshops (which will be run by the artists Lois Williams, Ron O’Donnell and Maud Sulter throughout January) and the diversity of work on show, Tramway is encouraging an art-going audience on the Southside of Glasgow, who would perhaps not make the pilgrimage to the city centre. ‘New North’ is the most extensive and thorough exhibition of established artists to be shown in Glasgow’s year of culture, and it is encouraging to know that it will be running well into January, a fact that bodes well for the future of Tramway. New North, a celebration of contemporary art from the north of Britain is a! Tram way, Glasgow unti127Jan I991.

“The List 21 December 1990— 10 January 1991