THE ART OF BOXING
In the ring
Love it or hate it. boxing courts controversy. Now it is set to enter the art arena. Philip Dorward
v latches from the ring-side and finds out more.
Squeezed into the middle of(}ovanhill. Kelvin Amateur Boxing Club is not a place that you would immediately associate with an. However. not everything is as it seetns in this run down old factory building. The pale blue walls are turning brown and the roof leaks. Within the silver ropes there are dreams of gold and glory
Curiously. the colours that seem predominant are the black and w bite of the photographs and posters that adorn the arena and the training room. which is home to four punch bags. Normally it is extremely busy but tonight. in the aftermath of Easter, it is strangely quiet. The only sparring that's going on is between the club's main coach. 75—year-old Charlie Kerr. and 33 year-old artist l’anni Niemi lunkola. She is videoing boxers in training. while Kerr wheels off the stories. And it is in the name of art. .lunkola's work is to be shown at Glasgow's Fringe (iallery as part of Borer. an exhibition of photographs. talks and lilm at ('(‘A which takes a ring-side seat look at the world of boxing.
Somewhere in the middle minds meet. Many of the photographs on the walls are brilliant portrayals of men in their physical prime. .-\longside the obligatory hosters of Mohammed Ali and l-‘rank Bruno are shots and paintings of men w ho made Scotland's name in boxing: Benny Lynch who became the world flyweight champion in NBS. the first Scot to take a world title; Dick .‘ylc'laggart. who won Olympic gold in WW), and Donnie llood. who fought at Kelvin
Sparring partner: one of Fanni Nieml Junkoia’s photographs of a boxer’s life in Glasgow
club and grabbed a WBC title at the beginning of the 90s. It seems far removed from an but an it is.
‘Boxing is an art form.‘ interjects the philosophical Kerr. ‘To be able to sprint round a boxing ring for fifteen rounds is an an. Two hours correcting sortie lighter's cauliflower ear. that's an art. I can't do what you do. I can‘t write news or take pictures. but if you were to go three minutes with me in that ring I promise you wouldn't land a punch on me.‘
An uppercut strikes home. On a Sunday afternoon I'm much happier watching a plethora of sport on TV than looking at art in a gallery. Having sniggered my way around half of what I viewed as self-indulgence at the British Art Show in Edinburgh. l‘m possibly not the best art critic in the world. But I am exactly the person that Boxer wants to attract. claims .lunkola. ‘()ne of the reasons behind Boxer is to bring people into galleries who wouldn‘t normally go. The whole point is that these two things scetn to be poles apart but here they overlap.‘
Conversely for those who appreciate an the traditional cliches about violence may put you offa show about boxing. It shouldn't. Boxer has nothing to do with ethics. Instead it is an attempt to view the boxer as a cultural icon. addressing debates about
class. race. masculinity and eroticism. Along with accomplice Tim Rusk. Junkola is using video to show people who may not be great sports fans that there is something deeply interesting to be found in the visuals of boxing. ‘You need an image that can talk and that is why i am using video,‘ says Finnish-
'. , born and Glasgow-based Junkola. ‘Witb it you can ‘ show periods of time. rather than a photograph which
is just one image. liach three—minute round has a beginning a middle and an end and I like to show that there is something going on.‘
Junkola has a fascination with lighting. Recently in 2/ Days of Darkness at Transmission she showed a video of two women scrapping as passers-by watched on. Here she wants to reveal the psychological goings-on in boxing. ‘l want people to think ‘What if that was me lighting or punching that bag." When you‘re fighting. you‘re not only dealing with the opponent but you’re dealing with yourself; how fit. strong or weak are you‘.’ You're dealing with great thoughts.‘
Borer is a! the Fringe (fill/err. (i/usgmr l‘ri 26 rip!" Sat 25 May and ('(';l, (ilusgme/imrr Sat 27 Apr v-Silll 9.11m.
Boxing kids: one of Ming de Nasty’s photographs looking at life and times in and out of the boxing ring
r _ a
Flesh tones: a body flattened and distorted against a piece of perspex from a photograph by Jenny Saville taken in collaboration with Glen Luchtord
‘You know what Glasgow’s like. So much back biting, so many polarities,’ says artist Adrian Wiszniewski, quick to speak his mind when it comes to talking about the city’s art scene. ‘Most artists get on well, but there is tension between the different camps.’
ls Wiszniewski out to soothe or to tease this tension? lie and fellow artist Alison Watt have organised a group show at Glasgow Print Studio, which they have, with a declared dose of irony, entitled Bad Blood. Timely stuff, perhaps aimed to pour oil on troubled waters. Glasgow’s artists might not have taken their style barricades to the streets, but the city’s new Gallery of Modern Art and its avowed preference for ‘traditional art’ and hotch potch hanging policy, has revved up a stormy debate about what’s what on the contemporary art front.
Both Wiszniewski and Watt, however,
are known as figurative painters. Wiszniewski for his peopled landscapes, often hinting at a mildly troubled arcadia, and Watt for her coolly coloured statuesque and silent figures. So is Bad Blood going to be a show that rallies figurative painters? Wiszniewski says not: ‘We didn’t set out to make a particularly figurative show nor did we want a crummy exhibition.’
Bad Blood is in fact being billed as an exhibition by ten of the most exciting and influential artists to have come out of Glasgow in the last decade. It includes work by Ken Currie, Bruce McLean, Jenny Saville, Richard Walker, Darren Marshall and Jonathan Monk, as well as work by Wiszniewski and Watt. Wiszniewski, though, is more modest than the show’s publicity bumph. ‘We just each picked artists we either liked or admired.’ Watt stresses that rather
than being definitive, the show is idiosyncratic: ‘I think it will raise a lot of questions and show that painting is not hanging on by its fingertips. Different works by different artists can hang together, but the Gallery of Modern Art has not helped Glasgow - there, work is not shown with sensitivity,’ says Watt.
One artist, though, was surprised to find himself included in the line-up. Jonathan Monk, 2'] years old, has work in European collections and works in a variety of media. ‘There is a place for all artists in Glasgow - perhaps the show is trying to make peace,’ says Monk who is showing It Is Really Just A Beautiful Game a scene from a leicester Gity football match computerised and printed out onto canvas. ‘I guess art is just a game.’ (Susanna Beaumont)
Bad Blood is at Glasgow Print Studio Gallery Sat 27 Apr-Sat 1 Jun.
The List 19 Apr-2 May 1996 69