Through Discord and Harmony – Glasgow School of Art Fine Art and MFA Degree Shows – Part 1


Gazing at 'Materials and Duration (1)' by Heather Lander, photograph by  Jack Wrigley
Gazing at ‘Materials and Duration (1)’ by Heather Lander, photograph by Jack Wrigley

Methodically I began the GSA Degree Show journey. Working my way through the gleaming open spaces of the Steven Holl designed Reid Building, an interior shimmering in neutrality and sinuos equilibrium, taking in the impressive efforts of the students in the various design disciplines. Spotless presentation in a perfect exhibition environment, no place for too much messy artfulness – an appropriate haven for the marketing of the school, indeed an additional key asset to the Mackintosh building. Communication Design was particularly strong this year.

With larger scale works and quirky comical pieces testing the boundaries of the what the Communication Design department’s designers conceive of as art or design, and continuing to plug any gaps in between. Calum Macleod’s large collagraph print holds the space and combines a dynamic and outwardly simple composition with modulating colours and a repeated, almost biotic or cellular texture that draws the eye around the curve. I like the confidence in the paper’s unworked negative spaces. After this masterclass in design at the Reid I headed down through the Merchant City to see the Fine Art Degree Show at the Tontine East Building, unsure what to expect from the new space with the Mackintosh building being out of action due to the ongoing process of fire damage restoration.

At Glasgow Cross the narrow entrance to the Tontine was fronted by friendly looking red and black suited bouncers, an unlikely but curious start. Up the stairs of this traditional early 1900’s Grade B listed office building the show began on the third floor, past some padlocked space below, through some double doors and an old reception area. Next into a wider room nevertheless packed with walls and things, plastic, soil, fragments of artwork, monitors, skirmishes in creativity versus architecture – what exactly happened here?

Tontine East Building
Tontine East Building

Wondering around a corner and old kitchen, drawn into a darkened series of rooms and the noise of some overly loud video works, then into rooms where the graduating students had built more rooms, leaving curious gaps with various detritus around. Walking further, and looking ever hopefully for signs to guide me through more doors, some with fascinating tiny handles on one side and full height ones on the other, like being pulled into someone else’s fairytale or nightmare, the show continued. However I started to adjust to the situation, the Tontine fine art world, where the realm of the fabulous Mackintosh campus and its brilliance and harmony was far enough away and out of mind. The display began to organise and space out, more light filtering in through the large windows looking onto the lanes and old and new Glasgow around the historic junction of the cross. There was the sense I was moving somewhere, from one work to the next, albeit in circles.

One artist I liked early on was Georgia Mackie, whose two large video works were like numerous flickering strips of vertical film, each subtly but quickly changing colour and with a mysterious tonality. ‘Seasons 1 to 4’ (HD video, 14:20 min, 2015) is more compressed with verticals, each a moving image in itself, but too narrow to see any subject – the digital flowing abstraction transitions from warmer reds and oranges to cooler purples and blues. The scale of the projection here being about two metres across. The pieces are silent which works with the imagery and which is also a relief from the combination of the sound ricochets of other pieces nearby. In ‘Seasons 5’ (HD video, 4:36 min, 2015) the complexity is less, the strips being thicker and so allowing the changing areas of light to emerge and have a more impact against the blacks and dark blues. These combine to make a mature video installation.

Georgia Mackie’s work on vimeo

A performance artist-musician with drums connected to his limbs awoke from a deep slumber in his degree show pod and subsequently furtively stalked me for a while. I awkwardly stopped and let him pass by without a word, his drums clanging as he went by, adding to the intermingling sound waves of different works, or was it the building itself speaking? After the Reid Building the students’ works looked sometimes bizarre, sometimes deliberately very poor quality in execution, yet they were not invisible but were communicating, about all sorts of issues, ideas, preferences. There was a lot of noise going on, into the varied jumble of peoples’ heads, but it was exciting – maybe not a roller coaster ride, more like being pulled through a series of washing machines…

'The Purge', Chitra Sangtani, Lewis Prosser and Martha Simms, copyright the artists
‘The Purge’, Chitra Sangtani, Lewis Prosser and Martha Simms, copyright the artists

(part two of review continued in next post)


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