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by Jack Mottram, a freelance writer based in Glasgow · About · Contact · Feed

Glasgow international Off-Site Projects

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In it’s first year as a grown-up biennial, Glasgow in­ter­n­a­tion­al has lost none of the energy of its original in­carn­a­tion as the un­der­ground upstart off-shoot of the staid annual Art Fair. This is mostly thanks to the glut of off-site projects, shows that have escaped the confines of the city’s galleries and set up shop in unusual venues, from the hushed halls of the Mitchell Library to private homes and near-derelict abandoned buildings.

The fun begins in the West End, at Douglas Gordon’s townhouse on Woodlands Terrace, which plays host to a series of video works by Adel Ab­desse­med. At first glance, Ab­desse­med’s doc­u­men­ted actions can seem a little slight, but the best of them offer arresting images that linger in the memory. Also Sprach Allah sees the artist engaged in a peculiar ritual, hurled re­peatedly into the air from a blanket, gamely at­tem­pt­ing to write the titular phrase on a carpet nailed to the ceiling. In He­lik­op­tère, Ab­desse­med employs an even more extreme barrier to creation, trying to draw while suspended by his ankles from a heli­c­op­ter­ in flight.

Down the hill at the Mitchell, Calum Stirling’s use of video couldn’t be more different. His complex, en­gross­ing in­stal­l­a­tion Rostra Plaza consist of a huge canopy shel­ter­ing a screen which shows slowly shifting scenes in extreme close-up. The source of this sur­veil­lance footage is a set of five curious little dioramas mounted on rotating platforms, spied on by miniature cameras which turn their attention to par­t­ic­u­lar scenes, seemingly at random. The vignettes range from ar­range­ments of modernist ar­chi­tec­tur­al models to dinky maquettes of artworks, and the result is dis­t­inc­tly Bal­lar­d­i­an, with Stirling creating an urban landscape in miniature in order to observe its mysteries.

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Rostra Plaza (Detail)

Just off Sauchie­hall Street, the basement of the State Bar plays host to group show A Stranger Home. Rather than using the room to mount an exhibit, the eight young artists here, working under the guidance of curator Alhena Katsof, have carefully in­sinu­ated their work into the fabric of the space. Stina Wirfelt’s brass plaque demands that visitors watch the pub telly, and consider whatever programme they might see a work of art. Baldvin Ringsted has coated various objects - a chair, a bottle of whisky, some books - in glamorous aluminium. Grier Edmonson’s quietly altered pho­to­graphs line the walls, with subtle etching and painting on the glass of their frames. Best of all is Kevin Pollock’s lovingly hand-crafted, fully fun­c­tion­al urinal, carved from MDF and burnished to a high sheen. It’s a neat, witty tribute to Duchamp’s upended Fountain, this, a complete reversal of the readymade, and - thanks to its position in the gent’s loo - one of the best evoc­a­tions of the Gi’s loose ‘public/private’ theme to be found in the city.

Across town, there’s a cluster of shows between Trongate and the Salt­mar­ket.

On Osbourne Street, Wilhelm Sasnal has taken over a dusty, claus­tro­phobic shop basement to screen his specially com­mis­sioned short film, a decidedly bleak piece in which Polish band 19 Wiosen perform The Other Church, a hymn to the memory of murdered student Angelika Kluk. The group are joined by a naked woman who mouths the song’s lyrics, at times defiantly, but for the most part she is huddled in the corner of a dil­ap­id­ated room, very much like the one in which the film is screened. That might sound ex­ploit­at­ive, but this powerful piece of cinema is nothing of the sort, offering a moving tribute to Kluk, un­der­pin­ned with barely repressed anger at her fate.

Around the corner, the proposed in­stal­l­a­tion at the Bath House by Turner Prize-winner Simon Starling has run into some trouble. At the final stages, Starling’s attempt to fashion sculp­tur­al forms from the surface of silver gelatin pho­to­graph­ic prints, using hi-tech 3-D imaging tech­n­iques, was beset by technical di­f­fi­culties, but will make it’s delayed debut before the festival ends. In the meantime, the artist is showing Autoxylopyro­cyc­loboros, a slideshow doc­u­ment­ing his voyage across Loch Long in a wooden steamboat, its engine fuelled with wood cut from the boat’s hull as it sailed, an oddly elegiac reworking of slapstick cartoon violence that nods to the tension between the loch-side peace camp and the nuclear naval base at Faslane.

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A slide from Autoxylopyro­cyc­loboros

On the Salt­mar­ket, Dani Marti and Katri Walker have risen to the challenge of ef­fect­ively present­ing video work, cramming a disused shop with their films, with work projected on big screens, hidden away in cupboards and stuffed into box rooms. The result is a little over­whelm­ing, as pieces compete for attention, flick­er­ing away in per­i­pher­al vision, but allow your gaze to settle and you’re rewarded with thought­ful, in­nov­at­ive video portraits from both artists. Marti’s David casts an un­flinch­ing eye on a young homeless man, slipping in and out of con­s­cious­ness, and hanging on to his begging cup for dear life. Walker’s Señor Celestino on the Edge of Heaven is another highlight, offering a glimpse into the world of the 80-year-old Celestino and the open air church he has carved into the rocks near his home.

Kalup Linzy’s video work at Wash­ing­ton Garcia’s temporary space in a retail unit on the Trongate is less sa­t­is­fy­ing. The New York artist is a low budget auteur, writing, directing and starring in scrappy little films that pastiche the high melodrama of daytime soap operas and tel­en­ov­el­las, poking fun at the art world in the process, and, too, examining harder issues, from race to queer identity. Linzy is a gifted comic - his turn, in thrift shop drag, as a strug­gling, dimwitted artist is laugh-out-loud funny - but as these films unfold, they edge per­il­ously close to becoming that which they parody.

Add to all this activity events like The Secret Agent, Raydale Dower and Judd Brucke’s mixture of street per­for­m­ance and psy­cho­geo­graph­ic dérive, or the stramash of art, music and con­ver­sa­tion at The Local, a temporary artist-designed pub at the SWG3 Studios in Fin­n­i­e­ston, and Glasgow in­ter­n­a­tion­al begins to look less like a festival in the ordinary sense, and more like a new thread woven into the city’s cultural fabric. It’s a shame we have to wait two years until the next one.

The off-site shows of Glasgow in­ter­n­a­tion­al run until 27 April, 2008.

This review was first published in The Herald on April 18th, 2008.