From Sammy Baloji to Carol Rhodes: previewing Glasgow International 2021
Attention turns to Glasgow and beyond
Drawing threads of connection through a programme as diverse as Glasgow International is at once artificial and unavoidable. There are over 150 artists involved in GI2020 (many more depending on how you define ‘artist’ or indeed ‘involved’) across almost three dozen venues as well as a rich and varied digital programme that includes talks and film screenings, performances, poetry and parties. GI has had to become a hybrid festival and this hybridity continues to shift in response to what is possible: this year’s programme includes projects that have been in the pipeline for years; others whose form has solidified only in the last few moments.
In addition to museums, galleries and artist-run spaces, there are works on show across billboards and inside office blocks, in theatres, concert halls, community centres, libraries, railway stations and more. The digital programme is undoubtedly impressive but after a year sat at my desk, I want to be overwhelmed in a new way, the old way: not by a billion bookmarked webpages that I’ll never quite get around to reading/watching properly, but by contemporary art as a coming-together of things, bodies, materials, ideas… in a whole multiplicity of places that are not the flat that I live in.
I’m especially excited to see work by Sammy Baloji, a very recent addition to the programme. Baloji’s photography (pictured above, Transformed OCA housing near Lemba Terminus (1) (2013)
Digital photograph. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Imane Farès, Paris) is being shown at Tramway alongside the architectural sculpture of Bodys Isek Kingelez and it promises to be a pairing that offers significant insights into the work of both artists. There is a geographic link, in that both are from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but also shared interests in, among other things, architecture and urban planning. Baloji, whose practice often builds upon research into colonial archives, is perhaps best known for photographic collages that trace the physical and psychological legacies of long histories of material extraction. The photographs on show at Tramway are concerned with overlapping systems of land use and ownership and with relationships between public and private, bright neoliberal dreams and crumbling colonial realities. I’m especially intrigued by the way each artist relates to time: Kingelez’s ‘extreme maquettes’ implicitly anticipate a future brimful of possibility while Baloji probes the multiple ways in which the past keeps jutting into the present.
Where Kingelez dreamed up visionary possibilities for future cityscapes, several other projects across GI turn our attention towards more mundane aspects of urban infrastructure. Carol Rhodes, in particular, spent an entire career finding and forming a flattened, dreamlike beauty in the depopulated non-places of modern capitalism: motorway junctions, industrial estates, anonymous edgeland developments. The exhibition at Kelvingrove is Rhodes’ first solo show in Scotland since her death in 2018 and the decision to focus on the artist’s drawings is undoubtedly intriguing.
Carol Rhodes, River, Roads (2013), Courtesy of the estate of Carol Rhodes
A comparable attention to the politics of infrastructure might also offer connecting threads between works by Alberta Whittle, Iman Tajik, Andrew Black and Aman Sandhu. Where Baloji probes the ongoing legacies of colonialism in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Whittle’s Canal Programme examines the colonial history of the Forth and Clyde canal and, more generally, the ways in which waterways have often functioned in the voluntary and involuntary movement of people. Working in collaboration with a number of Glasgow-based artists, writers and communities, Whittle has produced new film and audio works that visitors can experience as they go along the canal itself.
Like Whittle, Black and Sandhu’s films – both of which are being presented as part of GI’s digital programme – address the ongoing effects of colonial power relations ‘at home’. Shot from the inside of a car circling a traffic intersection in Swindon, Sandhu’s The Magic Roundabout tells stories of alternative labour within a local Punjabi family. Meanwhile, Black’s The Naked Man in April uses phone footage taken by the artist’s father on a walk traversing public and private land near a controversial radar base in Yorkshire.
Another walk across multiple territories and the borders that surround and separate them is at the heart of Iman Tajik’s Bordered Miles. Recalibrated due to Covid restrictions, Bordered Miles is a 26-mile group walk from the centre of Glasgow through precisely the kinds of edgelands depicted by Rhodes (not anonymous, it turns out, but named and real) and out into the countryside where, surrounded by fields and villages, lies the group’s destination: Dungavel House Immigration Removal Centre. Over the course of the walk, Tajik aims to emphasise the ways that bodily movement crosses or is constrained by multiple borders. The walk also makes visible some of the many kinds of concealed infrastructure that underpin the ‘hostile environment’ policy of the UK Home Office. In light of Glasgow’s recent resistance to the attempted deportation of two people from Kenmure Street, this is an important moment to ask questions about Scotland’s own attitudes (official and unofficial) to immigration, borders, land and bodies, and to pay attention to the vital fact that every apparent ‘non-place’ is also at the same time a real place, just around the corner or right in front of our eyes.
Words: Tom Jeffreys
Glasgow International 2021 runs: 11 – 27 June