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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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