Glasgow International

23 May 2018

Following the latest Arts Council Collection Curators’ Day at this year’s Glasgow International, Amy Tobin, Curator at Kettle’s Yard and Lecturer in History of Art, University of Cambridge, reports from Scotland’s largest festival for contemporary art.

The Director’s Programme for Glasgow International 2018, this year put together by Richard Parry, presented visions of diverse futuristic worlds both utopian and dystopian. In the group show ‘Cellular World: Cyborg-Human-Avatar-Horror’ these visions were clustered together cheek-by-jowl, presenting, in tableaux form, technological futures (Lynn Hershman Leeson) and technological ruins (Sam Keogh); Wittigian guerrilla warriors (Mai Thu Perret) and a combination of barbed wire and baby grows (Jesse Darling); digital avatars (E. Jane) and imagined master architects (Cécile B. Evans). The exhibition’s titular list speaks of recent reinvestments in Donna Haraway’s ‘Cyborg Manifesto’ (1993). The hyphens connect the disparate terms in chain, and perhaps this also provides a model for connecting the works grouped together in the exhibition; each offering a portal into a technological and multi-textured world.

Beyond GoMA, the Director’s Programme spread through different venues in the city, and this distance allowed some chain links to contort and break. Given space works by Tai Shani, Mark Leckey and Hardeep Pandhal temporarily created alternate worlds, while others like Lubania Himid’s The Wagon at Kelvingrove Art Gallery intervened in the space of the popular museum. The spectre of Tai Shani’s performance SEMIRAMIS, which was performed over the first four days of Glasgow International (GI), hung heavy over our group of latecomers, but there was still much to wonder at in the remaining installation-cum-stage set at Tramway. In this form the work comprises a number of sculptural objects arranged on a stepped stage, or hanging above it ready to be activated, or not by performers. Late visitors had an audio recording of the performances as a supplement, but Shani’s landscape of disembodied hands, floating columns, twisted pink tubes and panels of syrupy colour was enough to take in, expanded as it was from the sculptural forms made for her collaborative exhibition with Florence Peake at Wysing in Autumn 2017.


Besides a few gems in the GoMA exhibition – Jamie Crewe and Lynn Hershman Leeson for me – I was particularly struck by the Birmingham born, Glasgow based artist Hardeep Pandhal’s new installation Self-Loathing Flashmob at Kelvin Hall. This is the third time I’ve seen Pandhal’s work in three months, fourth if you count his contribution to Linder’s current exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary. His exhibition Liar Hydrant at Cubitt, curated by Helen Nisbet included a number of videos, as well as paintings, works on paper and an unforgettable see-saw bench, while his contribution to the New Museum Triennial included a wall painting, and a new commissioned video work Pool Party Pilot Episode (2018).

In Glasgow Pandhal’s work was displayed across two floors of the original 1928 part of the Kelvin Hall complex. The journey to reach the space from the newly-developed reception area felt peculiarly apposite for the experience of GI as a whole – those unfamiliar to Glasgow keeping watch for the branded banners. But the trail from new municipal architecture to old, crumbling, partially-redeveloped municipal architecture was also good preparation for Pandhal’s work.

The Arts Council Collection : Glasgow International
The Arts Council Collection : Glasgow International

The dishabille of the galleries themselves played off well against the garish colours and expanses of plain plywood. Both rooms echoed with a beat baseline accompanying flatly intoned poetic rap, which described and decried a population of sketchy characters in a contemporary chaotic world. If this music appears sneering and alienating in the first instance, give it a minute and you’re sucked in to Pandhal’s lyrical play. In the downstairs space each cut out figure has its own soundtrack accompaniment, with a refrain or character name marked on its plain reverse. Frequent viewers of Pandhal’s work will recognise the style of these figures from his videos: bodies resemble phalluses; headless body-builder torsos emerge from a sickly green laced-up boot. Two of the panels are not figures but vehicles; one a supped-up, blue open-top with its Sikh driver and his topless companion with arms raised, the other a shadowed white van, sprawled with union jack bunting and graffiti, including the pointed call-out ‘Curate Me’. The gathered figures bring Pandhal’s videos into three dimensional space. Just as the videos appeal to the imagery of the (Nintendo-esque) video game, here the vehicles seem to be engaged some kind of race, while the accompanying figures punctuate the frame, like the obstacles and jackpots that appear and disappear during game play.  

Pandhal’s video-game vision of contemporary life record hyper-macho rituals, tense race relations and a corrupt art world. His caricatured figures seem frighteningly close to reality, and there is a tone of weary frustration in the work that feels all too familiar. At Kelvin Hall, one of these videos is shown in a screen embedded in another cut-out figure with bulging arms, and a turban topped-off with an army helmet. The graffiti emblazoned on the figure’s torso read: ‘Art is Not Enough’. The exaggerations of Pandhal’s animation were offset in this space by a long plain wood wall dividing the space. Multiple screens punctuated this surface, along with periodic sections of tropical sunset wallpaper and seemingly bloodied bullet-holes. These screens played sections of documentary footage, primarily people talking about the student protests and occupations of 2010. The footage is all taken from Leeds University, and records the occupation as well as the varying accounts of those involved.

Different clips play simultaneously, and the same figures talk across different screens creating a sense of dissonance that troubled the truth value of the documentary format. In any case it was a reminder of a longer term struggle, at a moment when many university lecturers have just been on strike over pensions, with support of many student occupations. Pandhal’s presentation felt like both social commentary and social lamentation, and his presentation at Kelvin Hall certainly antagonised the utopian strangeness infusing other parts of the Director’s Programme.


Amy Tobin is Curator at Kettle’s Yard and Lecturer in the History of Art, University of Cambridge.


The Arts Council Collection is the UK's most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art.

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