Glasgow International 2018 review – a uniquely collaborative scene
Source:The Guardian Author:Laura Cumming Date: 2018-04-25 Size:
The huge figure looms in the darkness of the cavernous Tramway ……

‘A gripping standoff between old and new technologies’: Nobodaddy by Mark Leckey at Tramway, Glasgow.Photograph: Keith Hunter

The huge figure looms in the darkness of the cavernous Tramway: Job, covered in open wounds and boils. Based on a German carving, Mark Leckey’s statue is larger than life and fully as profound with its sorrowful face and putrefying sores. A poor soul lost in suffering, almost, he sits alone in his melancholy contemplation, head in hand like Rodin’s Thinker.

But what he’s thinking is voiced in the air. The statue speaks, words emitting from its wounds and also from a screen in which the motionless Job is given some kind of life through a flux of shifting light and scenario. Time passes, place changes, the days speed and slow; and still the prophet endures. He talks of his plagues, ancient and modern (the camera enters the figure, an endoscopy of hollowed tracts), bewildered by their harshness; and yet there is still hope: he dreams of swimming, and even of flying.

The lament is powerfully moving, not least because the Turner prize-winning artist sets up a tension between the virtual and the real. The screen, with all its brilliant CGI effects, is restlessly compelling, and yet one is drawn loyally back to the poor simple statue. It is a gripping standoff between old and new technologies, in which the biblical agonies of Job, thousands of years ago, are made devastatingly present and timeless.

This might almost be a theme for the eighth Glasgow International. Certainly the biennial’s new young director, Richard Parry, late of the Hayward Gallery and the Grundy in Blackpool, has come up with some convincing connections between the work he’s selected for the director’s programme, to do with mankind and identity in the computer age. But this is a catch-all for pretty much any kind of art, since we’re all living, perforce, in this same era.

At Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art, for instance, he’s showing a colossal digitised photo-collage by John Russell, in which an impressively fierce elephant stares you down in close-up in a gallery that looks exactly like this one, except for the weird squiggles overlying the screen: cognitive dissonance. And here is an elaborate white laboratory-cum-studio, hung with extruded plastic sheeting and crawling with some kind of organic growth, which seems to project a futuristic sci-fi dystopia in which computers rule, yet loops back to the past. At its centre is a white steel box from which Sam Keogh, the artist, rises like Frankenstein’s monster during performances. Look closely and you see that it is in fact an old freezer.

In one corner, the American artist and sound designer E Jane fiddles about on screen with avatars of her dreadlocked self as T-shirts, bags and brands logos. In another, a couple of Glasgow artists slowly transform themselves into members of the opposite sex, with makeup, wigs and elaborate costumes, to enact a version of a 19th-century novel about adultery. One film is highly focused, the other lo-fi and cheerfully amateur. That might go closer to the nature of this peg-legged biennial.

Lubaina Himid’s Breaking in, Breaking Out, Breaking Up, Breaking Down installed at Kelvingrove. Photograph: Keith Hunter

Glasgow International is always this way to some extent: a balance of famous and unknown, young and comparatively old. The 2018 edition features not one but two Turner winners; Lubaina Himid has installed a bridge of dragons across the hallowed hall of Kelvingrove – fiery creatures with cartoon eyes and bright green bodies, a kind of carnivalesque reprise of one of the museum’s Victorian stone details. Linder, collagist extraordinaire, famous for her Buzzcocks album covers, is showing at the Women’s Library. Richard Wentworth, one of Britain’s most subtle and influential artists, has an installation of shining chains, looping like elegant punctuation through the old galvanising factory where they once made rusty chains bright again, now the arts warehouse SWG3 below the railway bridge to Dumbarton.

Alongside these venerable names are numerous artists straight out of college, showing in cafes, clubs and shop windows. Two have decorated the subway floor with abstract shapes in fizzing vinyl. Three have planted paintings on the old sofas in the British Heart Foundation where they remain entirely unnoticed by thrifty shoppers. Half a dozen worked on the adultery film. Rarely does a GI show involve fewer than three and often up to 10 people, a reflection of this uniquely collaborative and populous scene. Glaswegian rents remain relatively cheap: as little as £300 a month for a flat share, studio space still readily available. It sometimes seems as if there are as many artists at work here as in Renaissance Florence.

But making what? The work is inevitably variable. Out at Kelvin Hall, parts of it still just as derelict and wrecked as they were last biennial, Hardeep Pandhal’s parade of wilfully trashy cutout board figures, scrawled with graffiti, are distinctly sub-Himid and callow. Douglas Morland’s film about the Glaswegian miner Matthew Clydesdale, hanged for murder in 1818, then subjected to primitive attempts at electric-shock resuscitation, is violently direct. But the images of the Scottish photographer Hugo Scott, at SWG3, amount to an extraordinarily nuanced portrait of American obsession, from Afropunks to female Elvis impersonators.

The elephant in the room this year is Creative Scotland’s decision to shut down funding for Transmission, Glasgow’s oldest artist-run space. Though Transmission, plucky as ever, is somehow managing to bring a group of black female performance artists over from South Africa. The economics of GI are so complex that many shows are underpinned by institutions elsewhere. One unmissable event, Tai Shani’s startling Tramway show Dark Continent: Semiramis is funded by the Tetley in Leeds as well as Arts Council England.

Prototype for Future Economies. 2018 by Torsten Lauschmann at Glasgow School of Art. Photograph: McAteer Photograph

Shani fills the great Tramway stage with outlandish sculptures: an undulating pink cylinder, broken columns in blue jesmonite, shining black discs suspended from the ceiling, and spheres like giant marbles strewn across the neoclassical set. Only at a distance do they resolve into the features of a zany female face. And among these wild elements, actors play characters worked up from Christine de Pizan’s marvellous 1405 defence of women, The Book of the City of Ladies. The performance will be filmed, and revived at other venues later. See it if you possibly can. Writer, director, costume designer, sculptor and all-round visionary, Shani’s chamber of the mind is spectacular.

Two more heartfelt recommendations for the 2018 GI. The German-born, Glasgow-based artist Torsten Lauschmann has an enthralling multimedia installation at Glasgow School of Art that centres on the fall of man. Walk into the darkened gallery and you see a lifesize figure in a bi-coloured uniform trying to make its way up some steps as if to deliver the box in its hand. He falters and collapses like a wooden push-up toy, forlorn and strangely distressing; which is the theme, in a sense, of the four-wall film installation in the next room. Human figures teem through mazes, incessant yet ultimately vanishing. A candle flickers. A man tumbles down a precipitous staircase, over and again. All are quite plainly graphic figments, mobilised by computer, but they stir the emotions as if they were real. The power of Lauschmann’s contemporary illusions becomes a test of human solidarity.

Just down the steep hill at CCA, Glasgow artist Ross Birrell is showing two magnificent films in a gallery full of straw, a nod to the heroes of both: two horses. In one, an Argentinian criollo appears by night in a snowy Central Park, his beautiful strangeness perfectly isolated in these familiar surroundings. In the other, a dappled Arravani grey walks all the way from Athens to Kassel, a journey of 100 days filmed in double-screen closeup.

The result is captivating: the camera studying the horse’s ancient form and singular swaying gait, watching its reactions to stones, sunshine, other horses, possibly the presence of the lens, lingering on its undulating flanks and gleaming coat, on its paradoxical responsiveness and self-containment. Every frame inspires a new thought, a new question about this mysterious and unpredictable creature which has carried us through history. Birrell’s film is graceful, philosophical, mesmerising.

Ross Birrell’s Athens-Kassel Ride: The Transit
of Hermes, at CCA: ‘every frame inspires a new thought’. Photograph: Samuel Devereux

Glasgow International 2018 continues until 7 May

[Editor] 姜鑫

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