Glasgow International is a world-renowned festival of contemporary art which transforms sites and creative venues across Glasgow every 2 years.
For GI 2016 I was lucky enough to get a back stage pass through my role as Assistant Duty Manager for GI's Kelvin Hall Venue. If you have ever visited Glasgow or are local you will know of Kelvin Hall. The red stone, Victorian style exhibition centre is a prominent landmark of Glasgow's West End skyline along with Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. The ongoing construction is just one part of a constant reimagining of its ground which has evolved over time to meet the needs of Glasgow's people and visitors.
In its current phase of renovation the Hall's front facade and derelict entrance ways played host to commissioned works by local installation artist Claire Barclay and Australian painter Helen Johnson. Over the festival period they were a must see highlight in GI's 2016 Directors Programme.
Claire Barclay's Exhibition 'Bright Bodies' was a direct response to the history of the building and its functional relationship to the bodies of Glasgow over time. Claire drew inspiration from the Hall's archives to create her industrial and machine made objects. Formal elements played on shapes collected from the image and film documentation of the Hall's role as a morgue, barrrage balloon factory, gym/sport venue and host to events such as the local circus and exhibitions of industrial power. Despite the manufactured quality the work was very sensual and bodily at times, her choice of materials evolving images through texture and smell. Full body memories calling up images of Glasgow's dock yards, gyms and the contents of circus tents. The sent of coal tar both lulled and attacked the senses, a fitting partner to the rapid noise and stillness of the construction site hidden from view by stain-glass and a thinly panelled wall. Claire's flags hung proudly outside the Hall, activating the building as exhibition venue once more.
Down stairs in the Kevin Hall's Atrium, Helen Johnson's exhibition of paintings, Barron Fields, dealt with the idea of history itself. Using the space to hang her massive raw canvas works, the Australian artist questioned how history is cemented in culture, read over time and can be reimagined. Every culture is made up of sign posts, both visual and physical, indicators that monitor the boundaries of what is in/out, foreign/common, sacred/profane, natural/unnatural. Johnson's work offered a space where the signs of the past and those of contemporary life are in constant collision, inviting playful debate amongst the serious contemplation of Australia's past/contemporary cultural conflicts.
The layering of colour and textures, range of techniques, use of human size forms and pattern making, was a feast for the eyes as well as the mind. The paintings, free of their frames, morphed shape with body and room temperature, not static in a room of decay, but like history itself, shifting in a constant state of change from body to body.
Kevin Hall will be launching as a new sporting and entertainment venue this Autumn 2016 and early 2017. Glasgow International will be back in 2018 with a new program of contemporary art. In the mean time you can follow GI via their website and Instagram for news on exhibitions, performances and speaking events taking place throughout 2016/17. You can also purchase editions from GI 2016, work by both Claire Barclay and Helen Johnson are included in their fab range of prints and merch.
Love from Glasgow,