British Art Show
The nation’s consciousness is being bulldozed by a group of young British artists with attitude. As the fourth British Art Show rolls into Edinburgh, the Britpack is parading its colours. From Damien Hirst, creator of the infamous pickled sheep, to Scotland’s Douglas Gordon and Christine Borland, 26 artists will be representing the state of modern British art. We ask what all the fuss is about.
Glasgow‘s Douglas Gordon has earned himself a place in the British Art Show — and on the frontline of contemporary British art. He speaks to
oday is a gin day.’ announces artist Douglas Gordon. wearing a Beastie Boys sweatshirt and mixing a drink in the kitchen of his Glasgow flat. He is speaking days before his work is exhibited in the fourth British Art Show — touring to Scotland for the third time in eighteen years.
Ask other British artists about who's who on the contemporary art scene and they will probably mention Gordon’s name. liast gaining
himself an international reputation. he is one of
a select crop of 36 bright young things participating in the high-profile British Art Show. soon to storm seven lidinburgh galleries. Also on the hit list are bad boy Damien llirst — with his butterfly paintings and that sheep — and fellow Scot (‘hristine Borland.
Gordon is in Glasgow only briefly. catching his breath before heading off to Europe for more shows. He will go via the art and tilm exhibition .S'pc/llmund. opening soon at London's Hayward
Gallery. where his work will appear beside that of
Peter Greenaway. 'I‘erry Gilliam and fellow British Art Show participants llirst and Steve McQueen.
ouglas Gordon: Art should puzzle -
5 The List 23 Feb-7 Mar l996
it doesn‘t have to be always about entertainment, it can tie poblematic. there has to
‘You wanted to see where I work. well I don‘t have a studio.' says Gordon whose video and film works are inspired by true-life conversations. ‘A good artist has to live in the real world. I listen to music. go to gigs and drink. but as an artist I turn aspects of everyday life [around] — give them a twist.’
Born in (ilasgow in l‘)(i(i. Gordon moved to Dumbarton — twenty miles outside the city -— during the tenement clearances of the early 70s.
llis teenage years involved the Usual dose of
angst. listening to The Smiths and trying to get a grip on the surrealist art of Marcel Duchamp.
‘I listen to music, go to gigs and drink, but as an artist I turn aspects of everyday life around —- give them a twist.’
Gordon believes those heady times inspired some of his best work. In 1984 he went to Glasgow School of Art and began
experimenting with performance art. drawing and film. before moving on to London's Slade for host-graduate training.
Returning to Glasgow in the early 1900s and
be an acknowledgement of the sadistic impulse.‘
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motivated by the city‘s cultural dynamism. he was determined to get his work exhibited. along with a band of fellow artists. The resulting group show ll’iml/all 9/ and his first solo show at the 'l‘ramway in 1993. were the result of ‘hard work and good timing‘. he says. The more progressively-minded of Glasgow’s art community were prepared to give him their backing — something Gordon attributes to working in a city with a relatively young population. “It‘s a young city.‘ he says. ‘Other cities look to the past for identity. but Glasgow can’t do that. It makes for a dynamic city. wide open to the future.‘
Much of Gordon‘s work concerns looking back. but rather than being based on the whim of nostalgia. it explores how time and words can erode. explode or enhance perception. His British Art Show exhibit llystcrical relleets Gordon's fascination with film — the film footage used was discovered while he was looking through medical archives. ‘I was tired and the doctor there said: “I will show you something funny". so there was the expectation of comedy. but it was more disturbing —- my perceptions changed.‘
Dating from l‘)()8. the footage being exhibited at lnverleith House is projected on to two large. sharply-angled screens. The images on each screen are the same. but they are out of sync with one another and the film is running at different speeds. l'iach shows a masked woman having a fit and being restrained by two men dressed in jackets and waistcoats. The figures appear to be in an institutional space. Dating from an age when women were often locked away for simply not conforming to social mores. the film can be harrowing. It raises questions about the woman's identity. her mental condition and the motives of the men who restrain her — are they kindly or abusive?
Gordon enjoys playing with ambiguity in his work. By naming this piece llystcrica/ — which could suggest either excessive amusement or uncontrolled emotion — he blurs the meaning behind it. "l’here are different messages.‘ he says. ‘With old silent films we often expect humour and there is a theatrical element here. but I wanted to force the possibilities of readings. liverything is not always what it seems.‘
Gordon takes seriously his responsibility to raise questions in his work: 'If I didn't ask questions. I wouldn't be an artist. I am not into this bullshit of the artist as genius. but the artist should mirror society.‘ He does. however. prefer to keep the answers under his artistic hat. ‘I don‘t like to give too much information.‘ he says. ‘lArtl should puzzle — it doesn‘t have to be always about entertainment. it can be problematic. There has to be an acknowledgement of tbe sadistic impulse.‘
Gordon has just enough time to finish his gin before dashing off to another appointment. More questions. perhaps'.’
Doug/as Gordon's Hysterical is at t/Ic ('a/cr/mrian Ila/l. Royal Botanic Gan/cit. lz'rlinlnug/z until 28 April.