Glasgow International's Community Projects

Taking the Glasgow part of its title seriously, Glasgow International 2016 involves several community-oriented and socially-engaged projects. We talk to some of the artists facilitating these events and exhibitions.

Feature by Adam Benmakhlouf | 04 Apr 2016

One of the biggest biennial art festivals in the UK is on its way: Glasgow International takes place between 8-25 April, and as usual, planning is key. We’ve done our best to furnish you with ample warning, offering highlights from the programme as details have been released – read our top picks here.

More specifically speaking, one of the most exciting strands of GI’s programme this year is the involvement of local communities within socially conscious exhibitions and art works. Mandy McIntosh has been representing this strand of artistic practice since the 90s. She often combines her fashion design training with her multidisciplinary practice and socially engaged projects.

For Glasgow International project Hap Up Easterhouse, she was invited to work with some of the many local groups that use the Platform space. With this almost complete freedom to shape and define her project, McIntosh spent some time engaging with the building, which even on a Wednesday early afternoon is thronging with people. “We were watching all the kids coming out from the college and thinking they’re really present in the building. There’s this energy that’s electric,” says McIntosh. “I said I wanted to work with them before knowing what they did in the college. I went to meet a group to sit and observe them and their practice.”

Untitled sculpture, Cornton Vale

All throughout the process, McIntosh describes the give-and-take reciprocity between her and the teenagers involved: “I was reacting to them and they were reacting to me.” All that was set in stone was that they worked together in the big Unit space at Platform, with plenty of materials provided by McIntosh.

It became clear that fashion featured large in their minds. “They’re really into North Face and Lacoste, and they're really sharp and know what they’re wearing,” she says. “I didn’t turn up wanting to make a fashion project. It was me reacting to them.” McIntosh had her library of craft techniques books and started sharing information on how to fashion 3D objects, silk painting, block printing and as much as she could teach about being able to build structures and work in an ad hoc manner.

“I was getting them to look at thinking about instantaneous things. Their taste in clothes is really different to what we‘ll see in the fashion show and exhibition, even though they felt really good in these clothes and they’ve become something other in these clothes. This isn’t what they would choose and it’s been really fun for them – and us – to play about with that.” Mandy McIntosh will host a fashion show of the clothes on the last weekend of GI as part of Outskirts Festival at Platform.

Autonomous Art from Scottish Prisons

In addition, another outward facing project will be showcased throughout GI in the CCA. Called Third Hand, this exhibition collects together 'Autonomous Art from Scottish Prisons' (as its subtitle goes). Also a well-known Glasgow-based artist, Henry Coombes tutored at HMP Shotts, and shares some personal reflections on his time working with the students for this exhibition.

One of the central bodies of work in the show will be “eight sculptural heads made by the woman at HMP Corton Vale,” Coombes says. “The students at the learning centre were given armatures and clay, to produce a head in a single day.” Again, it was important to give these community groups freedom to produce. Without a set plan,  “the dynamic body of work came out of the collective experience of the workshop.”

He tells of one student in particular – she had made a head with a pronounced Adam’s apple: “She changed the head into an apple with a stalk out of the crown and worm bourrowing into the back.” Here Coombes observed an important “trapping [of] meaning and emotion of personal significance.”

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More on Glasgow International 2016:

 Re-Enter the Dragon with esoteric polymath Stewart Home

 Turner nominees, roller rink choreography... our GI highlights

The poster image from the show comes from two large canvasses made in HMP Shotts, made “in response to Paolo Uccello’s Battle of St Romano and Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.” These paintings were selected under guidance from the tutor, and then traced in outline onto canvas stapled to the wall, after “an open discussion about the work's meaning, their feelings and reflections, historical context, and formal and technical elements.”

Made up from a host of pop culture references, the final paintings have had their original figures “transformed into characters from computer game Mortal Kombat, with life energy bars. Mary Berry rides a My Little Pony into battle versus a medieval cavalry of bird men – the raw unfiltered imagery from the global nervous system of Google.” In an important way, the tutor becomes “the gatekeeper of Google”, as there is “no internet access within the prison” and so “the tutor brings images in on request”.

As for the title, Third Hand, it’s lifted from a Philip Guston interview and “describes the idea that when the artist is in harmony with the paint, the self and the environment, it feels like there’s a third hand making the work.” The prisoners Coombes talked to “described this moment as an escapism where time flies by, often finding themselves painting into the early hours.” For Coombes, being part of GI was an important way “to lift the work onto the critical platform it deserves”. As for the relationship between the title and the CCA’s past life as Third Eye Centre, and the prison art show held under this name, it turns out to be a happy, but unintended synchronicity.

McIntosh and Coombes take artmaking out of its solitary associations and situate themselves within collective making projects. As Glasgow-based artist and founder of My Bookcase projects, Cristina Garriga tries to negotiate the private space of reading with the shared knowledge and experiences that come from physical books. Working with the community for Garriga has meant collaborating with the staff of the Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL).

My Bookcase: Speaking Volumes

There was an important and productive alignment of the objectives and ambitions of both GWL and My Bookcase. In this way, the My Bookcase GI project is not just an event in the library but intended to leave a marked legacy on the reading collection and recently opened building. Only open for a few months, the identity of the new reading room space and what it might be will be importantly shaped by Speaking Volumes, the My Bookcase project.

At the time of interview, Garriga had just come from a day of woodwork and making in a local workshop. With assistance, she’s making three large units based on the open covers of books. During the events planned throughout GI, they’ll open up fully. Also in the reading room are all of the books collected from recommendations by GI participants, artists and curators. It’s a neat way into the festival, via an equally social and private space for reading and engaging through books with the participating artists.

It's just the same across Hap Up Easterhouse and Third Hand. Working with diverse communities, and lending themselves to unpredictability, these experimental projects broaden in an essential way who makes up the GI crowd. But just as importantly, they change in an important and visible way the nature of the festival itself.

Hap Up Easterhouse, Plaftorm, 9 Apr,
Third Hand: Autonomous Art from Scottish Prisons, CCA, 12-23 April
Speaking Volumes, Glasgow Women's Library, 8-25 Apr,