Glasgow's CCA: Consistently Challenging Artwork

We catch up on all the changes taking place at CCA in Glasgow while the centre’s programmer Jamie Kenyon gives us a taster of what to expect in 2012

Feature by Andrew Cattanach | 28 Nov 2011

Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts has been slowly transforming. It all started last year when collaborative artists Joanne Tatham & Tom O’Sullivan had their solo exhibition Direct Serious Action Is Therefore Necessary at the CCA. Their work, known for its critical inclinations, drew attention to the centre’s inherently awkward spaces – and CCA more than simply acknowledged the reproach. It took necessary action.

“The artists were keen to challenge and disrupt how parts of the building operated and explore areas they felt didn’t work very well architecturally,” says CCA programmer Jamie Kenyon. “You’ll probably remember they constructed a huge worm-like structure through both the foyer and café areas.”

The structure cleverly connected the disparate sections of the CCA – the foyer was drawn into dialogue with the café, which is in turn adjacent to the gallery spaces. And rather than the art simply being tucked away at the rear of the building – only reached by first navigating the huge front desk and the ever-busy café – it was as if you were beckoned in by toys belonging to an oversized toddler.

CCA started making little changes. The lighting and the window displays were improved, and then Welcome Home, a retail space showcasing design, craft and illustration, was introduced into the foyer next to the already established Aye-Aye Books.

More recently DO Architecture won a tender to restructure the foyer space to accommodate the changes, and drastically improve the intimidating information desk first encountered on a visit to CCA. Now, a far more welcoming archipelago of desks reach out to meet you on arrival.

“It’s only been just over a month, but it feels hard to actually remember what it was like before,” admits Kenyon. “Most visitors seem really excited about it, and you could definitely say there’s a change in energy in the building, somehow.”

There’s also been significant changes made to how they programme exhibitions at CCA. Instead of sticking to their time-tested schedule, they’ve introduced a block of short-run exhibitions, changing the way they consider duration and time on top of all the developments in how the centre functions spatially.

“We were interested in looking at ways we could work in a quicker, more responsive way,” says Kenyon. “It’s very easy to fall into a rhythm of presenting six shows per year, each usually six to eight weeks long. This often means we have a long list of artists who we think are making exciting work – but it’s difficult to react quickly enough to organise an exhibition for them all.”

The spell of shorter exhibitions begins this month with 2HB: What We Make with Words. Taking the Glasgow-based journal 2HB as the starting point, the exhibition looks at the crossover between visual art and the written word and how they interconnect.

2HB is a quarterly arts journal first developed by Kenyon’s predecessor Louise Shelley and the current CCA Director Francis McKee. Not an academic journal, it publishes a variety of writing styles and formats by a staggering cross-section of artists and writers from Glasgow and abroad, including Laura Aldridge, Sarah Lowndes, Mick Peter and Cara Tolmie.

“It focuses on publishing art writing – a much discussed and disputed term better described as writing within a visual art context,” explains Kenyon. “Most of the writers published are artists, curators or writers, so 2HB could be understood as an alternative exhibition space at CCA.”

To coincide with the production of Volume 12 of 2HB, and in collaboration with artist Sarah Tripp, the exhibition will show the work of ten of the artists who have participated in the publication over the years, including Kate Morrell, Charlotte Prodger and Ruth Buchanan.

“We were interested in turning the spotlight from the pieces of writing we’d published to the objects that the artists were also making,” he explains. “Sarah and I wanted to explore the idea that writing and making are very closely linked.

“There’s a theory that when cavemen started making more complex tools it was around the same time they also started to develop language skills. Speaking and making both use similar areas of the brain."

On the final day of the exhibition, 17 December, CCA will host a book fair in the daytime, with stalls by European publishers, including Berlin-based distributor Motto and London’s Mono Paper, as well as Glasgow’s own Transmission. The evening will see the launch of Volume 12 of 2HB alongside the latest issues of five other publications – Uncle Chop Chop, Victor & Hestor, Marbled Realms, Gnommero and Dancehall.

“I think a lot of publishing activities are also conversational activities,” Keyon explains. “So it seemed right for us to bring all these into one night, overlapping all the audiences in one room and adding the international people from the book fair too.”

Running concurrently with the 2HB exhibition, in one of the gallery's smaller galleries, is the first installment of an ongoing project entitled Vanguards, where four emerging curators are invited to explore ideas in a context different from the underground scene they normally work within. First up is Ben Fallon, who will be showing six international artists with a common interest in the effects of network culture.

“It seems pretty clear in the last ten years that this job [curator] is a growing and necessary one within visual arts,” says Kenyon, “something that ultimately has to be supported in a similar way as visual artists.”

Perhaps better understood as a way of further subverting CCA’s standardised exhibition format, the fresh input of curators at the beginning of their careers will enliven what can often be a stuffy context, hopefully setting a trend for the coming year that will see some daring and exciting new work at CCA.

Continuing their programme of short-run exhibitions in the new year, CCA will show work by emerging artists, such as the painter Alan Stanners, and this will take them neatly up to the much-anticipated Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art, which kicks off on 20 April and includes 50 venues across the city.

For the festival, CCA will be showing new video installations by Rob Kennedy, whose work explores the relationship between thought and language.

“He’s just been in Athens for the past two months on residency, which you can imagine has been a little interesting, to say the least,” says Kenyon. “He’s making some new videos to be shown alongside some of his older works and loans from other artists. But there’s also lots of influences slipping in from his time in Greece, so it could all change, much like their – and our – economy.”

And a lot like the CCA, which seems to be little content with the idea of settling down anytime soon. Mirroring the constant flux of the contemporary art world, the centre is unlikely to seek consistency in its output. And as long as it continues to accept its lot – it is a chimera, a hybrid, a restless nomad – it will continue to be Glasgow’s foremost gallery space.