Tuesday 27 October 2015

Battles. Glasgow ABC. October 2015

Battles. Buke and Gase. Live review. Glasgow ABC. October 2015

Last time that I saw Battles play in Glasgow was in the Arches in about 2011. The intensity of their sound and the sheer volume in those tunnels under Central Station blew me away and left my ears ringing for days afterwards. It was absolutely packed as well, with a lively, sweaty crowd. 

Four years later and touring to promote their latest album "La Di Da Di", the Arches has now closed down and we find ourselves in the more open space of the ABC on Sauchiehall Street. Maybe the space is too big, maybe their latest album isn't generating so much buzz, or maybe it wasn't a great idea to play on the same night as Godspeed You! Black Emperor are playing along the other end of the M8. Whatever the reason, the hall seems to have a bit too much space in it, and the audience remain a bit subdued throughout. 

Battles (and their improbably high cymbal) ABC, Glasgow

Support act Buke & Gase play an excellent, jerky, unpredictable set and start to rouse the crowd. When Battles arrive on stage, Dave Konopka crouches on the floor for 5 or 10 minutes building up loops and rhythms before Ian Williams and John Stanier join him and give us "Dot Net" from the new album. The new album continues their experimental, post-rock/ math-rock/ jazz-rock sound. "Rock" is at the heart of it all though, with the forceful drumming of John Stanier front and centre on stage and in the sound. They batter through some great tunes, all angular and twitchy, but fail get the crowd engaged. Older songs like "Ice Cream" and "Atlas" get the biggest responses of the night, but when the band pause to briefly chat they acknowledge the flat feeling of the evening, asking "Did somebody die in the audience?". Their biggest cheer of the night, as they note themselves, is when they thank Glasgow for giving the world Mogwai.

I've seen them before and know that they are a great live act, but tonight they just seemed a bit flat. I think that was more down to them than to us. 

Friday 23 October 2015

A Geeks' Trip to London. Codebreakers, Boy Wizards and Cosmonauts

Last weekend I had reason to be in London and although we had some things to attend to whilst there, decided to take the opportunity to see some sights during our trip. As my teenage son was coming with me, a few other trips got added to our itinerary at his suggestion.

Here are the three highlights of our trip. It turned into a bit of a geeks' weekend.

Bletchley Park

Driving to London we made a detour to Milton Keynes. This was not to admire the bland curves of the MK Stadium, 30,000 seater home of the MK Dons and venue for three 2015 Rugby World Cup matches, but to visit Bletchley Park. 

MK Stadium, Milton Keynes
A German Enigma machine,
at Bletchley Park
Bletchley Park was home to the World War 2 codebreakers. Churchill described their work here as shortening the war by two years, and it was home to an eclectic group of people. Most well known amongst them was Alan Turing, the mathematician generally considered to be the father of computing. Persecuted during his lifetime for his homosexuality, his achievements are only now getting the recognition which they deserve. In the early 1990s a campaign was launched to save the codebreakers' huts at Bletchley Park from demolition by housing developers and now preserved, a museum has been built in the huts to explain the work of the codebreakers. The development of the exhibits is an ongoing process and now the grounds and the mansion house, which dates back to the 1870s, have been restored to their wartime appearance. The German Enigma machines were used to scramble messages into unintelligible ciphers. The settings were changed daily to allow trillions of possible combinations, making the cipher virtually unbreakable. 

Pride of place is given to a rebuilt Bombe machine, the machine which Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman devised to break the Enigma code used by the Germans during the war. Daily it was set running to try to work out the combination for the day, to allow messages to be understood whilst they were still operationally relevant.

A rebuilt Bombe machine at Bletchley Park being tested

In this room a bunch of men in tanktop sweaters with pliers sticking out of their pockets and cables slung around their neck proudly demonstrated the machine in action.

Sculpture in slate of Alan Turing

In other buildings on the site are found equally geekish exhibitions. One building houses the National Radio Centre, a museum on the history of radio communication. Here we found more excited middle aged men huddled around their equipment, as they tried to contact a home made satellite which was apparently passing overhead whilst we visited. Nearby is the National Museum of Computing which houses an amazing collection of ancient computers and mainframes. Among them is a working version of the world's first electronic computer, "Colossus", which they have rebuilt. It was developed at Bletchley Park in 1944 to decipher the more complex German Lorenz codes. It could do the calculations required to break the code in a matter of hours that were taking people weeks to break. With 2,500 thermiotic vacuum tube valves in each machine there were two of these working at Bletchley Park by June 1944, meaning the Allied army could be sure that Hitler had swallowed their deception plans prior to D-Day on 6 June 1944. 

Colossus at the National Museum of Computing
Bletchley Park was an unexpected treat, suitably amateurish and homespun at times, but conveying an excitement and buzz about the place too. Nice cafe in one of the huts and no need to pre-book tickets, just turn up and wander around

Warner Brothers Studio Tours, London. Harry Potter

As my teenage son got to choose where else we visited on our trip, we inevitably ended up at the Warner Brothers Studio Tour in Leavesden, just outside the M25. The Harry Potter films were produced here over a ten year period and now many of the sets, props and costumes are laid out as a visitor attraction. Some people have seen the films and found them mildly distracting, some people read the books cover to cover on the day of publication, re-read the whole series monthly and can identify each brand of confectionery which acts as a background prop in the film. One of these descriptions fits for me, one for my son.
The Hogwarts Express at Warner Brothers Studio

We arrived on a Friday afternoon when the London children were at school, but the place was absolutely heaving, with apparently equal numbers of French families, Japanese tourists and locals jostling for position. Entry times had to be pre-booked before visiting and there were very few slots left on the day we wanted to go. They recommend spending three hours on the visit, and that is probably about right as the place is absolutely huge. Film sets for other films still ongoing can be seen behind fences outside the exhibition space, in what is still an active film studio. 

Dolores Umbridge stuff at Warner Brothers Studio

You start off by being led as a group into the set of the Great Hall at Hogwarts, which was laid out for a Hallowe'en feast when we were there. After that you wander through a large hall of props and sets from the films. My son had been before and reliably informs me that they had changed a few things around since his last visit.

I found the attention to detail and the craft of the prop makers fascinating, from labels on bottles, to portraits decorating hallways (many of which feature wee Easter eggs of cast and crew members or incidental characters from the books, apparently).

An outdoor section which is home to the houses of Privet Drive also has a Ford Anglia and Hagrid's motorbike from the films, which you can pose upon. You can also hand over money to get photos of yourself flying a broom or sitting in a railway carriage in front of a green screen.

Impressive models used to create sets for the films

Detailed model of Hogwarts used for filming
We decided against a frothy pint of (alcohol free) Butterbeer in the cafe, as my son had tasted it before and warned me it is rotten, but we did get waylaid in the gift shop buying armfuls of junk, chocolate frogs and Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans. I'll be honest and say that my son enjoyed it more than me, but he did absolutely love it, so we were all happy.

Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age. Science Museum, London

I have tried to find an excuse to get to the current exhibition at the Science Museum in London ever since I heard that they were planning it. Running until March 2016 this exhibition tells the story of how the Soviet Union became the first nation to explore space. It starts with early Soviet art and science fiction from the 1920s, including some fascinating sketches of ideas for space suits, airlocks and spacewalks by Tsiolkovsky, the early pioneer of astronautic science.

A samovar shaped like Sputnik, which launched in 1957

There is plenty about Sputnik, the iconic first ever artificial Earth satellite, and its cultural impact (a 1957 edition of Paris Match said the "the dogma of the USA's technical superiority has been shattered"). The remarkable stories of the first dog in space Laika, of the first Cosmonaut, the ever-smiling Yuri Gagarin and the first man to walk in space, Alexei Leonov are great to hear. Leonov's story demonstrates the relatively Heath Robinson attitude of early space travel, as he had to let air out of his suit, which had over-inflated in the vacuum of space, to fit back into the narrow door of his Voskhod 2 module.

Vostok landing module
As impressive as seeing the actual Vostok and Soyuz landing modules are some of the Socialist Realism artworks and propaganda created around the Cosmonauts. One of the most iconic cosmonauts, and a hero of mine, the first woman in space Valentina Tereschkova is well represented here, with some of her actual space suits. Models of the Soviet moon landing modules and rovers are seen too, missions abandoned after the Apollo astronauts got there first.

An actual Orion M Suit from about 2000,
which has been on 12 extra-vehicular walks in space

Base module table from Mir space station, containing food and drink

From the modern era we have equipment from the Mir space station, which was in action from 1986, through my teenage years when I was right into all this stuff. Mir meaning peace, seemed to show a way to use space for peace and science, as opposed to Reagan's Star Wars fantasies of missile-destroying laser satellites. The exhibition on Mir captures the history of the end of the Soviet Union, as the cosmonauts launched as Soviets in 1991 and came down to earth as Russians in 1992. 

This was an exhibition that thrilled and excited me, as someone who grew up loving this stuff. As a youth I was in Moscow in 1985 and the space exhibitions which I saw then still stick in my mind. At that time it was clear that the local people were very proud of their accomplishments in space, and one man gave me a badge (of a Soviet postage stamp) with two cosmonauts on it, which I love. On that visit I was thrilled to see the "Monument to the Conquerers of Space" statue which was near to my hotel in the "Park of Economic Achievements" as it was known then. The "All Russia Exhibition Centre" as the park is now known just doesn't have the same ring to it. This titanium clad monument of a rocket and its contrail stands 110 metres high, with figures from the Soviet space age depicted on the plinth. Yuri Gagarin is there and out front is a statue of Tsiolkovsky whose early work is well represented in the Science Museum exhibition.

When I went to Moscow with my family 10 years ago the park was a bit shabby, although I understand it has been renovated since. My children were clambering over this glorious monument, staring up to the rocket and to Yuri Gagarin, as many Russian children must have done before them. 

Monument to the Conquerors of Space, Moscow

Two of my children clambering about on the
Monument to the Conquerors of Space, Moscow 10 years ago

Also in the park, between exhibitions on mammoths and the wheat harvest, was a Soyuz rocket, the carrier rocket that to this day still takes crews and supplies to the International Space Station.

Soyuz rocket in Moscow
So for me the Cosmonaut exhibition re-awakened all of my youthful enthusiasm for space exploration. My (now 16 year old) son also enjoyed it so it is not just for nostalgia that it is notable. The bravery and excitement of the early space pioneers shines through in the exhibition. Just as it is easy to get blasé about computers, the same is true about space exploration as we watch astronauts on Youtube playing in weightlessness today. Space exploration has always been a technology test-bed, and even if the eventual benefits are tangential, we all benefit from it. 

Postscript - London's Public Transport Doesn't Work

In recent years, each time I travel within London by public transport it all goes pear-shaped. Yet again we made the mistake of believing that we could make our way between two points 20 miles apart in the capital in under 2 and a half hours by public transport. What naive fools we were. Surely this must drive anyone living in London to despair. London seems to function more as a clump of overlapping, but not very well connected towns, rather than as a coherent whole. Each time it is a different problem: lines shut for repairs, replacement buses that get lost and attempt three point turns on side streets, signalling problems, "passenger incidents". Londoners, why aren't you all up in arms about this? Nowhere else in the world have I found getting from A to B so unnecessarily difficult.

Wednesday 7 October 2015

The Turner Prize and Other Exhibitions in Glasgow

Art Galleries in Glasgow and the Turner Prize Exhibition

With the annual jamboree of the Turner Prize visiting Glasgow at present a few national newspapers have done "What to see in Glasgow" sections, which have been a wee bit on the unimaginative side I have to say. So I wanted to have a quick run around some of the galleries in Glasgow that I like to visit in order to encourage other people to go and have a wee look at them from time to time. As attractions go these Glasgow galleries generally have the advantage of regularly changing their exhibits, so that if there is nothing that you fancy when you visit, there'll be another one along soon. Also they are usually absolutely free to visit.

Glasgow has established a reputation for being home to some of the best and most imaginative contemporary artists in Britain, often referred to as the "Glasgow miracle". The galleries in the city, and their visitors, have been an important part of that.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

Anybody wanting to find art in Glasgow should start at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum .

Main Hall at Kelvingrove Art Gallery
Alasdair Gray often talks about his childhood visits here starting him on his road to becoming an artist and like many people I can remember being brought here with my school class and being asked to pick an exhibit from the galleries and draw it for their regular competitions. The museum lies on Dumbarton Road in the west end of Glasgow. Opened in 1901 as The Palace of Fine Arts for the Glasgow International Exhibition of that year it has been an integral part of the city ever since It is where my great-uncle Andy who worked in the shipyards liked to take my mum for a day out and where I have spent many days with my own children. I really don't visit it as often as I used to since it re-opened after refurbishment in 2002, I knew the dusty old layout like the back of my hand and felt it lost a bit of character with the revamp. However it remains the most visited museum in the UK outside of London, a great advert for free entry to museums. 

As well as an impressive collection of French impressionists' paintings and Dutch and Flemish art there is a large collection of Scottish art on permanent display. This includes a small selection of works by the Scottish Colourists and a room of works by the Glasgow Boys, a loose alliance of about 20 artists from the 1880s. However many people come specifically to see one painting, Salvador Dali's Christ of St John's on the Cross. A controversial acquisition in 1952, at one time attacked in protest, it has proven to be a very astute purchase by then director, Tom Honeyman. I presume that any controversy over Dali's depiction of Christ has died down, as when I went to see it last week there was a nun sitting alongside me inspecting it.

Salvador Dali's Christ of St John on the Cross

Downstairs there is a temporary exhibition space, which charges an entry fee, currently for an exhibition on 19th century fashions.

Hunterian Art Gallery

Hunterian Art Gallery and Mackintosh House, Glasgow

Not far from Kelvingrove Art Gallery is found another fine collection of world class paintings. The University of Glasgow is home to the Hunterian, one of Scotland's oldest public museums, founded in 1908. The collection is currently displayed on two separate sites within the university, although part of it will soon be moving to a new space in nearby Kelvin Hall (opening summer 2016). It was founded with a bequest from 18th century anatomist Dr William Hunter and has many artifacts collected by him on display in the museum, which is housed in the main university building. Across University Avenue in a modern building beneath the high towers of the University Library is The Hunterian Art Gallery

Works by Joan Eardley in the Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow

Behind the large metal doors designed by Eduardo Paolozzi  are paintings from the likes of Rubens and Rembrandt. The Glasgow Boys and Joan Eardley are well represented and there is a fabulous selection of works from the Scottish Colourists. This includes one of my favourite pictures in the world, Les Eus by JD Fergusson, a huge and joy-filled canvas painted about the same time as Matisse's Dance

Les Eus by JD Ferguson

Other highlights here are the extensive collection of works by James Abbott McNeill Whistler and by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the latter of which are on display in a recreation of his (now demolished) nearby house. There are also rotating temporary exhibitions here (currently on animals in the art of George Stubbs and others). In the upper floor there is another temporary exhibition space which houses an ever changing selection of displays which sometimes incur an entry fee, although the current one on Scottish archaeology is free.

The Common Guild 

The Common Guild, Woodlands Terrace, Glasgow

A lesser known gallery space in nearby Park Circus is The Common Guild. Home to a visual arts organisation you can browse through the art books in their library whilst visiting their exhibitions. They use the ground floor and first floor of a handsome Victorian town house as gallery space, usually open from Wednesdays to Sundays. Until 13th December they have an exhibition by German artist Thomas Demand called "Daily Show". As so many people record all sorts of images day to day, on phone cameras he has used a mobile phone camera to record undramatic scenes from daily life and produced large prints of them, from missing roof tiles in an office to clothes pegs on a line. As a camera phone addict myself I enjoyed seeing his take on this sort of thing. I must try harder with my efforts.

Glasgow Print Studio

Trongate 103

The next galleries are all housed in one block in the city centre at Trongate103. At the corner of Trongate and King Street can be found a building where you can see, amongst other things, the fantastical junk sculptures of Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre  (makers of the big mechanical clock in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh), the gallery space of Project Ability, a visual arts workshop for people with learning difficulties and the Glasgow Print Studio. Here a diverse and constantly changing range of exhibitions make it a place worth coming back to again and again. Having just finished with an exhibition of comicbook art from the world of Mark Millar, they now have on upstairs an exhibition of  etchings and monotypes by Ken Currie (until 18th October). He became known as one of the "New Glasgow Boys" along with fellow 1980s Glasgow Art School trained Adrian Wisniewski, Steven Campbell and Peter Howson.

Dead Finches, Kelvingrove, Ken Currie
There is a lot of death and darkness on show in Ken Currrie's prints, and known for portrait painting his portraits stand out in the exhibition. Amongst images of dead birds from North Uist I did like this one above of "Dead Finches, Kelvingrove" showing that the days of my primary school trips to draw from the Kelvingrove displays live on in this 2015 etching.

Iranian born Jila Peacock's paintings downstairs depicting scenes from the medieval Persian poem The Conference of the Birds were a colourful contrast to what's going on upstairs. Loved them.

Transmission Gallery

Also housed here at Trongate103 is Transmission Gallery. This gallery is often cited as one of the reasons the Glasgow art scene has blossomed in recent decades. Set up in 1983 by Glasgow Art School graduates it aims to encourage, support and exhibit young artists. If you are walking down to get a mushroom burger and some music at Mono, you might be tempted in by some strange offering in the big windows here. At present it looks like they are clearing up between exhibitions or from a Transmission party.

Street Level Photoworks

Next door to Transmission gallery is found Street Level Photoworks, a gallery for local and international art photography. Their current exhibition Surface Tension (until 8th November) shows the work of four artists. I was attracted to the pictures by Karen L Vaughan of east coast fishing villages from Angus to Pittenweem, presented as fragmentary panoramas. 

The Modern Institute

The Modern Institute, Glasgow

Just around the corner from the Tron Theatre on Osborne Street is The Modern Institute which presents a very varied selection of exhibitions from artists which they represent. Currently their ground floor exhibition space is showing works by Merseyside born Michael Wilkinson called Sorry Had To Done. As well as there being plenty of visual fun here, there were pieces that left me stroking my beard in contemplation. I liked the fluorescent strip light bulbs bound together as "fasces" and the huge tower of Lego beside "Dream a Garden", a pile of concrete rubble from a recently demolished tower block in the east end of Glasgow arranged into a neat rectangle. A former tower block resident myself I've watched my childhood home of grey concrete be reduced to rubble recently. I liked the whole range of ideas the title triggered off. 

SORRY HAD TO DONE by Michael Wilkinson, Modern Institute, Glasgow
The Modern Institute have another space across the road from the Briggait on Aird's Lane.

The Centre For Contemporary Arts (CCA)

CCA on Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

The Centre For Contemporary Arts (CCA) on Sauchiehall Street occupies an old 'Greek' Thomson building and has exhibition space, a cinema, music venues, a vegetarian cafe, a bookshop and arty gift shop. It has been home to the Glasgow avant-garde since the 1970s when it was called the Third Eye Centre. In the late 70s my mum worked in the cafe whilst she was at college. During the school holidays their laid back approach to childcare meant that my brother and me spent a lot of time there when my mum was working: refilling the filter coffee machine, changing the big boxes in the milk fridge or just playing in the gallery spaces. It wasn't me that kicked over the lines of sawdust we didn't realise were an exhibition (that may have been my wee brother).

The Referendum Made Me Horny by In The Shadow of the Hand, at CCA, Glasgow

The current exhibition The Shock of Victory is a sad/ironic look at the world exactly a year after the Scottish independence referendum, including building an archive from the campaign. It is as unusual as you would expect from an exhibition here, but benefits from the viewer spending a bit of time reading the ideas behind the pieces. Symposia, talks and films run alongside the exhibition. Lovely place to have a beer, a coffee or a lunch.

Gallery of Modern Art Glasgow

When The Gallery of Modern Art Glasgow opened in the Royal Exchange Square in 1996 Douglas Gordon that year became the first Scottish artist to win the Turner Prize. Yet the modern Scottish artists of the time, who were successfully exhibiting their works around the world had any works on display in this gallery of modern art. No longer. With the Turner Prize exhibition visiting the city at present at the Tramway, the main hall of the gallery is at present given over to an exhibition of works made in the city since that time. Over twenty artists, including several former winners or nominees for the Turner Prize are on show, starting with the neon signs outside, by Ross Sinclair. I am glad to see such a comprehensive exhibition being put on, whilst some of the space in the museum is closed off for renovation. David Shrigley has some animations on show, paintings and sculptures by Martin Boyce, Toby Paterson Jim Lambie and others fill the hall.

Devils in the Making at GOMA, Glasgow
Upstairs there are exhibitions worth seeing including rarely seen works from the Glasgow Museums archive chosen by modern artists, including a lovely oil painting by Walter Sickert and a painting by Bridget Riley. On the top floor woman in art are highlighted in an engaging exhibition in collaboration with the Glasgow Women's Library.

Glasgow Sculpture Studios

Glasgow Sculpture Studios at The Whisky Bond building

On the banks of the Forth and Clyde Canal lies The Whisky Bond building, now home to numerous studio spaces and the Glasgow Sculpture Studios. Their gallery on the ground floor is open Wednesday to Saturday, making it a wee place to stop off at on your way to get some shopping at SeeWoo or on your walk along the canal to see Partick Thistle. Currently they have some work by Nicolas Deshayes, Darling, Gutter, expanded foam around the hot water pipes of the room, making these blobby shapes also functioning radiators as it were.

Darling, Gutter by Nicolas Deshayes


Enterence to the Tramway in Pollokshields, Glasgow

Okay, last but not least, I made it to the Tramway where the current Turner Prize exhibition is displayed. Originally a tram shed built in 1893 the building was made into the Glasgow Transport Musuem in the 1960s when Glasgow decided that trams were the transport of the past (Doh!). As my granny lived in Mosspark we came here regularly to see the vehicles that are now housed in the modern Riverside Museum designed by Zaha Hadid. Since 1988 this old industrial building has been an arts venue and now also home to Scottish Ballet

Turner Prize nominees 2015
The main hall at the Tramway has been broken up into large white cubes where the four nominees for this years prize show their stuff. There is a long and illustrious list of past winners and nominees on one wall of the exhibition, from Gilbert and George to Antony Gormley, Damien Hirst and Rachel Whiteread. Then Scottish based artists start to feature regularly like Martin Boyce who won in 2011 and David Shrigley and Ciara Phillips nominated in recent years. Ironically in the year the show is in Glasgow no locals are represented.

I arrived at the Tramway today a bit hungry and the food I got in the cafe was, to say the least, disappointing so I may have looked around the exhibition in a bit of a bad mood. However the exhibition didn't really lift my spirits much. Nicole Wermers spoke of people claiming public space for themselves by putting a coat on a chair, when I would have thought it is usually just that it would be otherwise too hot or a case of dumping it on the floor. To illustrate it with pelts of dead animals stripped of their coats just annoyed me. Then nothing winds me up more than people going on about the paranormal, so a roomful of it from Bonnie Camplin was never going to be for me. Janice Kerbel has some unaccompanied opera singers reciting her words, something I've seen Richard Youngs producing more effectively recently at  Counterflows festival in Glasgow without a nomination for an art prize. The final display is of a showroom/workshop of the Assemble collective about their work in working with a Liverpool housing re-development.

As a visual spectacle the Turner exhibition is a bit earnest and the logo emblazoned everywhere "Show Me Some Thing New" feels a bit at odds with the actual exhibits.

There are plenty of new, innovative, imaginative, thoughtful, fun, interesting exhibitions on in Glasgow just now. I haven't included some galleries which I didn't get to, or which didn't have an exhibition on the days this week I was wandering about such as the Collins Gallery, The Pipe Factory or David Dale Gallery. So go beyond the Turner exhibition to see if you can spot next year's nominees.