High-rise illusions and low-level lights
Gone are the dull days of public art. Over the next month Glasgow’s night—time streets will host a dynamic show of lights. colour and video. Susanna Beaumont talks to the artists showing their work in the dark.
Mark Dawes once took his sculptures fora walk. Armed with an outsize pair of scissors and a giant stethoscope. he went walkabout. Not that he‘s an attention-seeking sort ofguy. He wasjust out to get a reaction to his sculptural giants. all in the name of public art. He got it. Passcrs-by asked for haircuts and for heartbeat check-ups.
As art labels go. ‘public art' is deﬁnitely short of sex appeal. If Saatchi and Saatchi were to be given the job of relaunching it. they would bin the term. no sweat. It still brings to mind bronze statues of dead men -— that only get a look in from pigeons and empty beer cans - or sculptural monstrosities hanging out in tarted-up town squares and shopping malls. However you cut it. public art seems a shotgun marriage between two words that should hit it off but don't. It‘s a bit like a public convenience: not that impressive when you can find it. There is an alternative label -- art in public places — btrt it's hardly what yotr call catchy.
Now is the time to kick those assumptions aside. Over the next few weeks. under the cover of darkness. Glasgow‘s streets are to witness a host of arty events in public places as part of the city’s Festival of Visual Arts ()6. Artist Mark Dawes is at the forefront. 'l want people to ask: “What the hell’s that?" ' he says of his latest project Aquarium. They probably will. After dark. down-town pedestrians in Glasgow may well think they are seeing things when they pass the Charing Cross Tower Hotel next to the city's motorway — they are. Dawes‘ work involves video footage of life-size swimmers. projected on the windows ofall four sides of the hotel‘s eleventh floor.
lt‘s illusion gone high-rise. ‘I wanted it to be surreal enough to make people wonder.‘ explains Dawes. ‘People are so used to believing what they see on television. in soaps. but often it‘s an illusion.‘ Dawes is a Glasgow School of Art graduate. who. by taking a commonplace activity and transporting it to an unusual location. wants not just to give visual delight but provoke mental activity. ‘We are often duped by
Street lights: pavement illumination from Stephen Skrynka and Peter McCaughey
what we see. we are usually passive.' he says. ‘But things aren‘t always what they seem.’
Another Glasgow School of Art graduate. 30-year- old Stephen Hurrel. is also exploring media and its manipulative powers. For the past few weeks he‘s been doing some serious leg-work to find a prime site for his video billboard Feed/melt System #I. The billboard will be sited on the podium roof of St Andrew House. at the corner of Glasgow's Renfrew
Street and West Nile Street. and will show footage of
the surrounding urban landscape and the natural world interspersed with snippets of media coverage. ‘lt's a question of reality and technology.‘ he says. ‘How far are we moving away frorn reality to a kind of virtual reality'." Hurrel declares himself to be both hooked on and cynical about technology: ‘I don‘t want to give too much away. but St Andrew House will act like an observation post. and as it‘s in a public space. people will view it in a different frame of mind from a gallery.‘
Training as a sculptor. Hurrel was once anti-gallery spaces. ‘A gallery offers a focus. it's clear of abstractions — I show works in galleries but I atn more interested in the outside public space.‘ says the man who feels as surfing the net and e-mailing your tnates are increasingly the 90s way of communicating. artists should keep abreast of technology. ‘I am interested in the debate surroumling technology. it's important that we are aware of what's going on.‘
Back on street level. artists Peter Mc(‘aughey and Stephen Skrynka have had their eyes to the ground in search of glass pavements. ()ften sky-lights for subterranean workshops. glass pavements — known in the glazier trade as borrowed lights — are semi- translucent squares of glass found in every cityscape. Overcoming the occasional problem of gaining access to shops and cellars. McCaughey and Skrynka are ready to set these pavements aglow.
Using silvery anchovies embedded in glass. bubbling kinetic devices. coloured gels and sound effects. countless glass squares will be illuminated by the artists. ‘Our work seeks to re-awaken the distant and the subsumed. What lurks below in the substrata of the cityscape'?‘ says Skrynka on bringing to life
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Video world: a still trom Stephen Hurral’s Feedback System #1
The List 22 Mar-4 Apr I996 87