Glasgow International 2016

Various venues, Glasgow

In 1969, Douglas Huebler wrote: ‘The world is full of objects, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more.’ His statement emerged in a booming American society characterized by industrial production and material abundance. Five decades on, the seventh edition of Glasgow International takes place in an era of disappearing things: records and books displaced by glowing screens; coal, shipbuilding and, now, steel industries allowed to wither away. Members of online communities and service economies, we are increasingly conscious of having lost our grip on the material world.

This anxiety might be a cause for art’s recent turn towards the object,  a tendency explored in director Sarah McCrory’s curated programme, which  is loosely themed around the ‘legacy  of industry and the relationship artists have to making, production and craft’. Alexandra Bircken exploits Tramway’s history as a depot for Glasgow’s now-dismantled tram network – a potent symbol of the mismanagement of Britain’s industrial cities in the 1960s – by creating a series of gawkish steel trolleys with wheel gauges fitting to  the tracks that still run through the central space. Trapped uselessly in the gallery, they bring to mind the handcars that Buster Keaton and Wile E. Coyote pumped down railroads in pursuit  of their desires. Some of the tracks are clogged with Sheila Hicks’s fibrous sculptures: it is as if her multicoloured fabric tower, Mighty Mathilde and Her Consort (2016), has taken  root and sprouted from the concrete,  an atypically triumphant gesture in  this context. 

sheila_hicks_mighty_mathilde_and_her_consort_2016_installation_view._photograph_c_ruth_clark

Sheila Hicks, Mighty Mathilde and Her Consort, 2016, installation view. Photograph: © Ruth Clark

Sheila Hicks, Mighty Mathilde and Her Consort, 2016, installation view. Photograph: © Ruth Clark

Obsolescence and renewal are also the themes of Lawrence Lek’s digital simulation QE3 (2016), housed within one of the steel shelters constructed for the show by Martin Boyce. Its tongue-in-cheek proposal that the  QE2 liner, constructed in the Cyldebank shipyards, be repurposed as a new home for the fire-damaged Glasgow School of Art makes a neat point about the art world’s ambiguous relationship to the industries whose former spaces it so often colonizes and whose products it appropriates. Lek’s digital rendering shares with Amie Siegel’s spellbinding Provenance (2013) a fondness for the long tracking shots characteristic of promotional videos for luxury  apartments. Beautifully realized and cleverly conceived (the piece was itself sold at auction and the sale filmed and exhibited, to complete a neat circle), Siegel’s cinematic work exposes the magical processes by which utilitarian objects – in this case the furniture designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret for their grand modernist project in Chandigarh – are endowed with value in a speculative economy. Mika Rottenberg makes a similar point, less economically, in her uncomfortably surreal films about labour, dependency and excess, NoNoseKnows (2015) and Squeeze (2010). 

amie_siegel_provenance_2013_installation_view_at_the_metropolitan_museum_of_art_new_york._courtesy_the_artist_and_simon_preston_gallery_new_york

Amie Siegel, Provenance, 2013, installation view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Courtesy: the artist and Simon Preston Gallery, New York

Amie Siegel, Provenance, 2013, installation view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Courtesy: the artist and Simon Preston Gallery, New York

The near-derelict Kelvin Hall, another host venue for McCrory’s programme in the city’s West End, stands as a ruined emblem of industrial decline. Claire Barclay responds to its crumbling architecture with a room-sized installation inspired by the 1951 Exhibition of Industrial Power, part of the Festival of Britain. The elegiac tone and symbolic treatment of materials recalls Jannis Kounellis, while its languid sprawl echoes Anthony Caro. In its formal properties as much as its basis in archival research, Bright Bodies (2016) looks to the past to comment on the present. It’s a position that might once have been dismissed as politically conservative but which now, as the Left scrambles to preserve rights that only recently seemed inalienable, feels timely. Barclay’s imposing work is cleverly complemented by Helen Johnson’s enigmatic, highly textured paintings on unstretched canvas, suspended by wires from the ceiling downstairs. 

claire_barclay_bright_bodies_2016_exhibition_view._photograph_ruth_clark

Claire Barclay, 'Bright Bodies', 2016, exhibition view. Photograph: Ruth Clark

Claire Barclay, 'Bright Bodies', 2016, exhibition view. Photograph: © Ruth Clark

Tamara Henderson populates the ornate hall of the Mitchell Library (founded by a bequest from a wealthy manufacturer in 1877) with a motley troupe of nomads draped in astonishing hand-sewn costumes. Clustered around a dune buggy of the type you might drive around the Australian outback after a devastating ecological crisis, they conjure a pre- (or perhaps post-) industrial world of community and ritual. Aaron Angell’s charmingly bockety ceramic sculptures, nestled among the begonias in Glasgow’s Botanical Gardens, enact a more literal return to nature. They, too, evoke a craft-based society without recourse to mechanical reproduction, and the priority of the handmade over the mass-produced is a recurring theme. 

cosima_von_bonin_the_boninoswald_empires_nothing_5_2010_installation_view_at_the_gallery_of_modern_art._photograph_ruth_clark

Cosima von Bonin, The Bonin/Oswald Empire’s Nothing #5, 2010, installation view at the Gallery of Modern Art. Photograph: Ruth Clark

Cosima von Bonin, The Bonin/Oswald Empire’s Nothing #5, 2010, installation view at the Gallery of Modern Art. Photograph: © Ruth Clark

At the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), Tessa Lynch transforms the winding upstairs gallery space into a fragmentary dérive through the colours and patterns of Glasgow’s streets. Lynch identifies and abstracts the particular forms of masonry, facades or fencing and develops a bright, metrical visual grammar expressed in canvas stretched across sloping frames, digital photographs and small punched sheets of steel. The atmosphere changes dramatically, however, when you descend to GoMA’s central space to be confronted with a five-metre-long missile straddled by an absurd white bird, the centrepiece of Cosima von Bonin’s multimedia exhibition ‘Who’s Exploiting Who in the Deep Sea?’ By re-creating the scene in Dr Strangelove (1964) that precipitates the end of life on earth, the artist casts an apocalyptic pall over a crew of stuffed toy sea creatures, of the kind that normally comfort children, engaged in a variety of inscrutable acts. Our hankering after the reassurance of physical things, Von Bonin’s work suggests, is a symptom of our fears about the future. 

Lead image: Lawrence Lek, QE3, 2016, still from HD video simulation, commissioned for Glasgow International. Courtesy: the artist

Ben Eastham is co-founder and editor of The White Review, assistant editor of art-agenda, and associate editor of South as a State of Mind, the documenta 14 journal. He is the co-author, with Katya Tylevich, of My Life as a Work of Art (Laurence King, 2016). 

Issue 180

First published in Issue 180

Jun - Aug 2016

Most Read

From a tribute to Straub/Huillet to Valerie Massadian’s portrait of teenage motherhood, the turn to real situations and...
Japan’s growing number of art festivals tread a precarious path between state-sponsored leisure-culture and soft-power...
Fifty years after the term was coined, a show in Samos reflects on ‘the unlikely liaison between love and politics’
In the Rocky Mountains resort town, boutique facades hide the remnants of a surprising counterculture 
Pussy Riot members detained; Pope.L launches ‘Flint Water Project’; Ghetto Biennale participating artists announced
Arsenale and Giardini, Venice, Italy
SoundCloud has been invaluable to the new music community for both documentation and discovery – now the audio-...
The extraordinary life of the late, great, gallerist and collector Alexander Iolas
Various venues, New York, USA
At a time of instantaneous information and fetishized immersivity, artists are evoking scent as an alchemical, bodily...
With her current show at Gasworks, London, the Kuwaiti artist shares some influential images
20 years after Hong Kong’s handover to China, a new generation of artists dive into the city-state’s unknown futures...
‘Klassensprachen’ engaged artists, writers and publishers in soul-searching around the interlinking of class, language...
In lieu of institutional support, artists are working together to achieve a remarkable self-sufficiency
From being citizens to lovers, the most important things in life can’t be professionalized. Is it time for some...
From an inflatable anti-capitalist dragon to the shattered shadow of Robert Burns: highlights from this year’s...
The City of London’s annual sculpture park reveals the complex interplay between global corporations, urban space and ‘...
Romare Bearden, Pittsburgh Memory, 1964, mixed media collage and graphite on board, 22 x 30 cm. Courtesy: © Romare Bearden Foundation / DACS, London / VAGA, New York 2017
Successfully layering a broader socio-historical narrative onto a period of radical non-conformity, this is an...
Trump’s trashing of the Paris Climate Accord makes it clear: we can't be satisfied with art about the political, art...
With a strong surrealist strain, and including a welcome number of female artists, highlights from the 48th edition of...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2017

frieze magazine

May 2017

frieze magazine

June – August 2017