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Every Portrait Tells a Story



The first Glasgow International Festival of Contemporary Art took place from the 21st April to May 2nd 2005 across 29 venues throughout the city. Curated by Francis McKee, the event was billed as the first to celebrate and promote the legendary Glaswegian art scene on home ground. It showed over 150 artists, mostly Scottish, but also featured international crowd-pleasing collections never before shown in the UK.
‘When the Sun Goes Down,’ (Glasgow Print Studios) was a celebrated highlight with autonomous (but brilliantly combined) Jake + Dinos Chapman and Douglas Gordon. The Chapman brothers cast their special sinister shadow over a series of children’s colouring books and Gordon’s simple films depicting one hand shaving the other were equally disturbing: with less obvious reasons why.
Heading into off into the rain, I sought out the smaller artist run spaces that make Glaswegian art renown. At 64 Osbourne St., Smith/Stewart had invested a derelict exhibition space with theatrical tension that would have made Hitchcock jump. In the Intermedia Gallery, I found artist Robb Mitchell sitting alone within a large sculpture designed to mix people within the exhibition space. In the next room an intriguing contraption of contact mikes, reel to reel recorders (and a sandwich wrapper) by artist Steve Dickie was obviously not working.
It wasn’t the only casualty of the festival. One of the few public, site-specific installations, a huge self-portrait head by artist Alex Frost, had been vandalised. While sympathetic towards the artist, I couldn’t help feeling it was both inevitable, and an apt representation of the ‘site-specific’ ‘Glasgow’ that this festival was so intent on celebrating. By enlisting the help of CCTV, reporting the story of this head’s nightly adventures would have made a much more interesting site-specific artwork.
On the whole, the smaller galleries were interesting and quiet, as usual. Frequently, artworks still shared floor space with crates of empty beer bottles left over from the opening. While it is possible that I had missed the most important celebration of Glasgow art ever by not making the opening, the casualness of the artist-run spaces gave the impression there was little happening in here that would not have been happening anyway. It is just that now something had finally noticed that it was happening, and decided to celebrate internationally on their behalf.