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Submit Response is a weblog by Jack Mottram, a journalist who lives in Glasgow, Scotland. There are 1308 posts in the archives. You can subscribe to a feed. This post was made on and belongs in the art, art and culture category. The previous post was , and the next post is .

Beck’s Futures 2005

Here’s my review of the Beck’s Futures show, which is at the CCA in Glasgow until the 9th of July. It was also available for reading in Sunday’s Sunday Herald, but does not appear on their website for some reason (perhaps thankfully - in my byline photograph, I look like a gay tortoise crossed with John Major).

For those who can’t be arsed with 1,500 words about things in a gallery, here’s the short version: I want to watch Luke Fowler’s films over and over again, Donald Urquhart’s installation is absolutely fucking amazing, everyone else is pretty bloody good, except Christina Mackie, who, inexplicably, won the prize.

More often than not, prize exhibitions are hotchpotch affairs. They gather artists together by perceived quality, grouping them according to the whims of a committee; the antithesis of a well-curated show, which guides visitors along the highways and byways of artistic practice.

But this year’s Beck’s Futures show is no such thing. In a different world, one where no one feels the need to judge artists like show ponies or search endlessly for the new, it would be a fine group show. First and foremost, the nominees share a desire to question the modes of artistic practice, either simply, by slipping their work into the gaps between different media, or, more deliberately, signalling their ambivalence towards their role as makers of art. On top of this questioning discomfort with the very idea of being an artists, there are thin threads connecting the nominees, including a tendency toward the evocation of emotional states, examinations of the role of performance and collaboration in art, and a quietly confident inclination to borrow from and renew art of the past.

Lali Chetwynd gets the ball rolling by filling the CCA foyer with a whopping great cardboard head, some hairy skulls and a rickety shed. These are sculptural leftovers from a performance, a video of which loops on a pile of old televisions. The performance is funny. That giant head looks over a gaggle of women, naked and wearing wigs, who dance about a bit, and play catch with giant fruits and flowers. It is part mystery play, part groovy happening, like the punchline to a bad joke about old hippies gathering at Glastonbury tor for the solstice. This is Chetwynd’s stock in trade: making art of the naff. In the past, she has taken inspiration from Meatloaf, his doppelganger Jabba the Hut and snooker’s greatest failure, Jimmy White. The appropriation of these low culture totems, or the 60s wig-out seen here, is matched by a jackdaw approach to high art influences, so that the laughs obscure but never overwhelm a rather thorough examination of just what art is.

On the face of it, Luke Fowler might not seem to have much in common with Chatwynd’s exuberant, scattershot performances, but the two films presented here , The Way Out and What you see is Where you’re at present a shared non-standard view of the nature of art and its making. The Way Out is a loose portrait in film of Xentos Jones, the chameleon frontman of 80s underground obscurities The Homosexuals, told in anecdotes and reminiscences laid over archive footage and excerpts from Jones’ own film work. It is, though, also a self-portrait of sorts - like his subject, Fowler obfuscates himself, an anti-auteur using blank anonymity where Jones uses reinvention and endless pseudonyms to displace the notion of the creating artist. And Fowler, like Jones, is quite the polymath. Alongside his documentary film work, he runs Shaddaz, a platform for publishing collaborations between artists and musicians, and makes his own music with the group Rude Pravo, all efforts to be considered strands of his artistic practice, rather than sideshows to the main events screened here. What you see… is another portrait, this time of maverick Scottish psychoanalyst R.D. Laing and his patients. Once again, Fowler is interested in assembly, collaboration and alternate models of creation. Bringing together documentary footage, Fowler’s editing eye is drawn to the wall scrawls and dirty protests of the inmates at Kingsley Hall, Laing’s social experiment in communal living for the disturbed, and this, alongside the collection of extant material, is another pointer to the Glasgow-based artist’s freewheeling fascination with working methods.

Daria Martin makes films too, but where Fowler collates old fragments, Martin borrows an aesthetic from stock footage of the past, painstakingly recreating the look and feel of a needlessly melodramatic cinema advertisement, crafting special effects so unsubtle that they feel like uninvited guests at a party. This is good fun, but look closer and another aesthetic is at the heart of Martin’s films. In Closeup Gallery, a smarmy croupier and his glamourpuss companion deal cards across a revolving table, generating a sort of performance sculpture brimming with formal and tonal echoes of Modernism, an aptly stylised tribute to and re-examination of that movement. And so, reversing the trend here toward fractured practice, Martin expresses her disparate concerns by gathering them up together, using film as a sort of ur-medium, a means of coalescing painting, sculpture and performance.

Next comes Ryan Gander. His Loose Association Lecture (Version 2.1) drifts happily from Erno Goldfinger to Captain Birdseye, mixing in personal anecdotes along the way, a grab-bag of ideas that almost serves as a manifesto for the studied inconsistency of Gander’s practice as a whole. Like Fowler, Gander is uncertain about art and the artist, bringing Josef Hartwig’s hitherto unrealised design for a Bauhaus chess set into the world, and presenting a snapshot of his studio wall, which includes a sketch of a trestle and sheet of chipboard, since these are ‘the two objects most vernacular to an art school studio space.’

Surrounded by these vagaries, Donald Urquhart’s installation comes as something of a shock. It is thrillingly complete, a beacon of certainty in the midst of the unanswered questions that fill up the rest of the gallery. Urquhart has made a little world here, and it is a sad place. Gnomic slogans pepper the walls and upright glass plinths, talking of ‘Letters unwritten and unsent’, ‘The dust behind limousines’ and, simply, ‘Rage’, matched with bold drawings of half-dug graves, balustrades and prickly flower-stems. Tying everything together is Darnley, Urquhart’s sickly fragrance designed for the sort of 1930s gentleman who never married. One whiff of this heady scent is enough to transport the sniffer into Urquhart’s hinted fictions, a flash of feeling that conjours up cruel and giddy laughter at a dissolute literary salon, where the women dare to wear trousers , the men bear traces of panstick, and simply everyone is making wicked whispered asides, most probably in Palare. But for all this intense evocation, this uncanny realisation of a place and time that never was and never will be, Urquhart is up to the same tricks as his fellow nominees - his first illustrations decorated flyers for his London club The Beautiful Bend, while the installation has the feel of an abandoned stage set, a reminder that Urquhart’s is a playwright, poet, performer and cabaret host, yet another artist who casts off constraints.

But what of the prizewinner? Christina Mackie fits in but certainly does not stand out. Her installation consists of a wooden lean-to housing a projector and speakers that quietly babble electronic music. The projector casts images of the artist moving drawings of little flower petals about, and has a twin beside it mounted atop a pile of wood and perspex. It is easy to see what Mackie is up to here, with nods to Modernism and Constructivism that combine with an attempt to loosely couple ideas, to hint and suggest, and, too, to break down her practice into a multidisciplnary mix. There is a problem though - Mackie’s work falls flat, it fails completely to engage the viewer, and feels flimsy compared to the other work here, work considered by the Beck’s judges, inexplicably, to be inferior. This may be too harsh - Mackie is not bad, but placed alongside her fellow nominees, some of whom cover similar ground with greater insight, her collection of things suffers.

This failure might almost be seen as a key to the show’s surprising coherence—if the winner is the worst of the lot, then the Beck’s Futures Award is, as all competitions between artists must be, a nonsense. Let’s remove the prize-giving from the equation then, and in so doing reveal that this exhibition is indeed, after all, a fine group show.

Posted at 12pm on 31/05/05 by Jack Mottram to the art, art and culture category.
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