The Unexpected: Saccades I-Vl (detail 2001) by Ross Birrell
Glasgow artist ROSS BIRRELL is the first to fly the flag for Network North. Words: Susannah Thompson
he Network North residencies
might have been set up in the
spirit of international co- operation. but for Glasgow-based artist and writer Ross Birrell. a spell in Finland could have led to a full-scale military conflict. Well. almost.
‘I took up the offer of a one-month residency in Helsinki.‘ says BiITell. co- editor of Justified .S'inners: An Archaeology of.8'('()rtis'lz Counter Culture 1 960—2000 and co-curator of an accompanying exhibition at the Dean Gallery in Edinburgh. ‘But as soon as I got there I wanted to stay longer. The residency gave me the freedom to experiment with ideas and generate new work in response to the context I was working in. As well as providing me with both literal and creative space (I don‘t have a studio in Glasgow). 1 was able to do some travelling which helped to develop my ideas almost as much as my time in the studio — I‘d go back like a shot.‘
As well as the drawings that will be shown for (:‘reyseule/(‘M YK. he made a new work as part of his ongoing lint-0y series during the residency. But it was his long-time interest in citizenship and national identity that led him to risk an intemational diplomatic incident. ‘Before I left for the Arctic. I raised the Scottish flag on the island of Soumenlinna. Helsinki (HQ of the Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art) which was apparently a declaration of war.‘ he says. apparently unscathed.
‘This flag-raising project is something I continued recently in Korea at the 4th Gwangju Biennale.‘
Much of Birrell‘s own work is perfortnance-based. exemplified by his work for ()etoher. a month-long series of artworks and performances along Glasgow‘s St Vincent Street last year. For Greysea/e/(‘A/I YK. however. he will be exhibiting six wall drawings. His work was selected after curator Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt happened to see his drawings on the wall of the gallery he'd been given as a studio for the residency.
But is he happy about the colour- coded division of the exhibits? ‘The idea of grouping the work chromatically is an interesting proposition. though I suppose you can‘t formally separate artists in that way.‘ he says. ‘For example. although the recent work ofJim Lambie and Toby Paterson might be obvious candidates for (‘MYK. I am sure they have made work that could fit into the other category. My work will be wall drawings in graphite pencil — eye tracking drawings. They will be scientific illustrations taken from specific sources and they fit easily into the concept of greyscale.‘
Justified Sinnners, an Archaeology of Scottish Counter Culture (1960-2000) edited by Ross Birrell and Alec Finlay is published by Pocketbooks.
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