Dalziel and Scullion - Once

Two of the best artists working in Scotland plus a fantastic composer should add up to a truly stunning exhibition

Feature by Jasper Hamill | 12 Nov 2006
If reports are too be believed, and the Kelvingrove is actually the most visited museum outside of London, it seems a little arrogant for the notes for Dalziel and Scullion's exhibition to claim that it alone will place the museum at the heart of Glasgow. Funded by donations and already a happy blockage in the furred cultural arteries of Glasgow, the Kelvingrove surely doesn't need an exhibition by two Dundee lecturers and a Glasgow based composer to endear people to it. Yet what it clearly does need is some engagement with the art scene of Scotland, so that beneath the hotch-potch display of woolly mammoths, spitfires and the odd Cezanne, the hordes of kiddies can have a look at what's actually happening at the moment, as opposed to a hundred million years ago.

They couldn't really have a better introduction to Scotland's incestuously collaborative art scene than an exhibition by Dalziel and Scullion soundtracked by Craig Armstrong. Matthew Dalziel and Louise Scullion are artists of international repute, forsaking critical navel-gazing for a stunning, incisive consideration of nature and humanity's interactions with it. They've never shied away from public exposure, recently using advertising billboards to show large pictures of the sites of windfarms, along the way critiquing the idea that constant, unyielding consumption is acceptable as long as an ecologically sustainable method for perpetuating it is found. Other projects have included erecting a series of odd metallic poles, which broadcast the mating call of the male capercaillie through buried speakers, and their most locally famous project, which has baffled many a commuter: a strange horn, reminiscent of a Telly Tubby structure, that lurks by the M8 between Glasgow and Edinburgh, cheekily sending random radio messages to passing cars. Theirs is art written large, work designed not to be hidden away in galleries or discussed in arcane language. It is meant to be demotic. Or, to put it a bit more clearly, it's bloody easy to understand. And it doesn't suffer from it either.

For a gallery so beloved of the people, artists so clearly dedicated to recognisable themes would seem like the best choice. No matter how ambitious your aspirations for cultural education, it's hard to imagine a horde of school kids managing to maintain interest at your average Sorcha Dallas exhibition. Instead, the curators must have thought: 'get some great artists in, whack a beautiful tune over it and boom, you've a show that the whole family can enjoy'. So what went wrong?

The essence of the show is this: find a suitably gritty, arty or commercial setting in Glasgow; find a subject that can strike the right kind of angry, tremulous and just-about-to-cry look; get the camera to do a slow, lingering 360 degree pan around the setting, dwelling on the actor's face, and you've got work that reflects the everyman experience of Glasgow. Add music - which is undeniably beautiful - made of ambient washes, disembodied screams and ghostly drones, and it should all add up to a suitably epic view of Glasgow. There's just a few problems. The music is somehow just too beautiful for the slightly corny camera shots. The ludicrous pathos and faux-passion of the models make the films look like big-budget, Christmas episodes of Eastenders. Then, after the point becomes clear, you start to recognise people. I spotted Darren from Bricolage serving coffee in the CCA and a surly bartender from Sleazy's cracking a rare smile. I began to look for myself, which perhaps is the point of the whole thing. I was not engaged.

It's a shame. Two of the best artists working in Scotland, plus a fantastic composer, should add up to a truly stunning exhibition. The soundtrack really is stunning, recalling the stratospheric ascents and plummets of Mogwai at their most abstract. Yet the imagery, supposedly all-embracing but ultimately Disney-esque in its simplicity, is simply too cheesy and too over-emoted to be really affecting. The attempt to paint the populist, communitarian Kelvingrove by using the citizens of Glasgow as pigment is a bold statement. Unfortunately, like many grand plans, this show just ends up looking silly.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow until February 25 2007.