Observing Women at Work: Franki Raffles

‘Kvaerner, Govan’, (1988) Franki Raffles, from the exhibition ‘Observing Women at Work: Franki Raffles’, (2017), Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art. Photo: Alan Dimmick

In 2017, I had the privilege to curate an exhibition of Franki Raffles’ (1955-94) work. This project is in partnership with Dr Alistair Scott (Franki Raffles Archive Project, Edinburgh Napier University) and is supported by St Andrews Special Collections.

Franki Raffles was a feminist social documentary photographer. A new publication accompanies the exhibition ‘Observing Women at Work’ in the Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (4 March – 27 April 2017). The exhibition presents a selection of black and white photographs and material by Franki Raffles namely ‘Women Workers in the USSR’ (1989)’, ‘To Let You Understand…’ (1988) and material from the first ‘Zero Tolerance’ campaign (1992), entitled  ‘Prevalence’Zero Tolerance was developed as a ground-breaking campaign to raise awareness of the issue of men’s violence against women and children. See documentation of the exhibition here.

Installation shot, ‘Observing Women At Work: Franki Raffles‘, Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2017). Photo: Alan Dimmick

Installation shot, ‘Observing Women at Work: Franki Raffles’, Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2017). Photo: Alan Dimmick.

My essay is on P33-40 of the new publication ‘OBSERVING WOMEN AT WORK: Franki Raffles’. The book is published by The Glasgow School of Art with support from Franki Raffles Archive Project, Edinburgh Napier University and contains an introduction by Sarah Munro (Director, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art) essays by Jenny Brownrigg (GSA Exhibitions Director, curator of this exhibition) and Dr Alistair Scott (Edinburgh Napier University, The Franki Raffles Archive). The photographs are held by University of St Andrews Library Special Collections Division.

From l to r: ‘Burntons Biscuits, Edinburgh’ / Cleaner EDC, Edinburgh/ ‘Cleaner EDC, Edinburgh’, from ‘To Let You Understand…’, Franki Raffles (1988), ‘Observing Women at Work: Franki Raffles’, Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2017) Photo: Alan Dimmick

[ESSAY EXTRACT: ‘A local authority canteen worker is quoted in Raffles’ 1988 publication, To Let You Understand…, as follows: “Well privatisation won’t affect me. I’m due to retire soon, but it’s the younger ones I feel sorry for.”

Looking back over the quotations gathered for this City of Edinburgh District Council Women’s Committee commission, they concentrate on high unemployment statistics for school leavers; impending privatisation (at the time the publication was written, this related to British Steel, water and electricity following the sell-off of utilities such as British Telecom and British Gas); low pay; childcare issues, particularly free nursery places; income support; inadequate NHS funding; equal opportunities; and employee protection rights. Fast-forward 29 years to 2017, following Thatcher, New Labour and into the economic uncertainty of BREXIT, Raffles’ work continues to be relevant to present-day working conditions and debates. The destination of many school leavers and graduates continues to be the Job Centre; sections of the NHS are being quietly privatised; the high cost of childcare still impacts greatly on income; and zero hour contracts create often precarious working conditions. Viewing Raffles’ work in black-and-white from our current decade is not in any way a nostalgic activity.

On entering the gallery to see Observing Women at Work, visitors encounter a similar view as the narrators do in Charlotte Gilman’s novel Herland (1915) – a society entirely comprising women. Through the repetition of gender, each of Raffles’ photographs reinforces her feminist agenda. The women are centre-stage. It is only on closer inspection that one can see men in the further recesses of the photographs – having a cigarette out of a lorry window or lingering at the end of a corridor with a co-worker. Even in a sole photograph of doctor and patient (Inside Back Cover, Women Workers, Russia), where the male has equal presence to the female, it is the woman who is wearing the white coat of the doctor, and the man who is the patient. Intriguingly, Raffles resists the device of the close-up, preferring the mid- or long-shot. She predominantly uses the establishing shot, which clearly shows the environment within which the worker operates, whether it is the regulated space of the open plan office, the natural dirt of the state farm or the systematic space of manufacture… EXTRACT ENDS]

Read full essay here.

The book can be purchased from GSA Shop for £7.

ISBN: 9780956764669 Dimensions: 21 x 14.8 cm Materials: paperback Designed by Maeve Redmond, 52 pages, edition 300.

Installation shot, ‘Observing Women at Work: Franki Raffles’, Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2017). Photo: Alan Dimmick

Franki Raffles, ‘Plasterers, Women Workers, Russia’ (1989), from the exhibition ‘Observing Women At Work: Franki Raffles’, Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2017). Photo: Alan Dimmick

Contemporary Curating in a Heritage Context

bookcover

My chapter ‘Contemporary Curating in a Heritage Context’ appears in new publication ‘Advancing Engagement’ in ‘A Handbook for Academic Museums’. It details my approach to curating the public exhibitions programme in the Mackintosh Museum, Mackintosh Building, The Glasgow School of Art, from 2009-2014. Brownrigg, J (2015), ‘Contemporary Curating in a Heritage Context’, Gold, MS & Jandl, SS (Eds.), ‘Advancing Engagement; A Handbook for Academic Museums Vol.3’, Museums Etc, Edinburgh and Boston, pp 211-241

Alasdair Gray Season: ‘Spheres of Influence II’

Reid Gallery, Reid Building, The Glasgow School of Art, 164 Renfrew Street, Glasgow G3 6RF

22 Nov 2014-25 Jan 2015

Aubrey Beardsley, Oliver Braid, Eric Gill, Alasdair Gray, Peter Howson, Dorothy Iannone, David Kindersley and Lida Lopes Cardozo, Stuart Murray, My Bookcase, Denis Tegetmeier, Hanna Tuulikki

This exhibition provides alternative readings of Alasdair Gray’s visual practice, through the prism of others’. Spheres of Influence II includes both historical and contemporary pieces from the realms of visual art, design and illustration. Gray’s work forms the central point around which the other works orbit. The broad themes drawn from Gray’s oeuvre include graphic style; symbolism; text and image; lettering and the alphabet; portraiture and identity; labour; religion; war; love and sexuality. The exhibition includes four new commissions by Oliver Braid, Stuart Murray, My Bookcase and Hanna Tuulikki. The new commissions and event programme are funded by Outset Scotland in association with YPO.

'Spheres of Influence II', Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2014). Photo: Alan Dimmick

‘Spheres of Influence II’, Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2014). Photo: Alan Dimmick

Alasdair Gray‘s (b. 1934) visual work is the central inspiration for ‘Spheres of Influence II’, which is part of The Alasdair Gray Season. This season is devised by Sorcha Dallas, to celebrate Gray at eighty years old. Gray studied in Mural Design at The Glasgow School of Art 1952-57. His fifteen works selected for ‘Spheres of Influence II‘ include working drawings for book covers, poster designs and screenprints made between 1954 and 2010. Gray’s retrospective ‘From the Personal to the Universal’ is at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, running until 22 Feb 2015. ‘Spheres of Influence I’ is at Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow (GoMA) until 25 May 2015, and draws on works from Glasgow Museums’ collection, to look at Gray’s practice, influences and work.

Installation view, 'Spheres of Influence II', Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2014). Photo: Alan Dimmick

Installation view, ‘Spheres of Influence II’, Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2014). Photo: Alan Dimmick

Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) believed that ‘The grotesque is the only alternative to the insipid commonplace‘. An artist of the Art Nouveau era, his black ink drawings, inspired by Japanese Shunga woodblock prints, emphasised the erotic and decadent. This exhibition shows two illustrations made for Edgar Allan Poe stories including ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ (1895). Alasdair Gray remembers,

When fifteen or sixteen I discovered Aubrey Beardsley and loved the way he made innocent fun of mild perversity. He drew naked bodies beautifully, but also enjoyed inventing fantastic costumes for them to dress and undress in‘. 1

A further series of Beardsley’s illustrations can be seen at GoMA.

Eric Gill (1882-1940) has been cited by Alasdair Gray as a visual influence. Gray’s work ‘Corruption‘ (2008) borrows a Gill image of an entwined couple, to rest in the belly of a skeletal woman (this image of the couple also appears in Greenhead Church mural in 1963 and in the oil painting ‘Eden and After’ (1966)). Gill was an artist, letter cutter, sculptor, designer, writer and wood engraver, ‘with a passionate urge to achieve an integration of life and art and work and worship, his own sense of mission -often thwarted- ‘to make a cell of good living in the chaos of our world’.” 2 Influenced by John Ruskin and William Morris, he founded a Roman Catholic craft guild, The Guild of St Joseph & St Dominic, and built workshops, homes and a chapel on Ditchling Common in East Sussex. His three main households were at Ditchling (1907 – 1924), Capel-y-ffin, Wales (1924-8) and Piggots (1928-40).

'Our Lady of Lourdes', (1920); 'Epiphany' (1917), Eric Gill (1882-1940). Photo: Alan Dimmick

‘Our Lady of Lourdes’, (1920); ‘Epiphany’ (1917),
Eric Gill (1882-1940). Photo: Alan Dimmick

Commissioned by Monotype, Gill created the type of Gill Sans and Perpetua. ‘Spheres of Influence ll‘ shows a series of Gill’s illustrations and bookworks. In the former, a number of his striking religious illustrations are shown, including ‘Our Lady of Lourdes‘ (1920), ‘Epiphany‘ (1917) and ‘The Madonna and Child: Madonna Knitting‘ (1916). Illustrations of his lettering for ‘Autumn Midnight‘ (1923) show figures animating each letter. Through St Dominic’s Press, his printing venture with Hilary Pepler, a series of ‘Welfare Handbooks‘ were printed covering all their favourite topics of the time, including Welfare Handbook No.10 on ‘Birth Control’, and the two Welfare Handbooks on display, No. 4 ‘Riches‘ (1919) and No.7 ‘Dress: Being an essay in masculine vanity and an exposure of the Un-Christian apparel favoured by females’ (1921).

Display case, 'Spheres of Influence II', GSA (2014). Photo: Alan Dimmick

Display case, ‘Spheres of Influence II’, GSA (2014). Photo: Alan Dimmick

Eric Gill was a controversial figure in his life and choices. Fiona MacCarthy’s 1987 biography ‘Eric Gill’ charts the contradictions between his life and practice.

Peter Howson (b. 1958) studied Painting at GSA 1975-7, then 1979-81. In between these periods, he signed up for the army spending nine months in the Fuseliers in Midlothian. In an interview with the actor Steven Berkoff he says of this time,

I was about 18, 19, I think. I was in the Infantry and then because they thought I would go onto different things they put me in the Scottish Divisional Squad. All sorts of mad things in that, but I couldn’t handle it. I was too young, so that’s why I left... I spent about a year doing other jobs before I went back to Art School. When I returned I still continued being unhappy until one day a new tutor came called Sandy Moffat... He was going through all my drawings and the drawings were mostly crap; until the last few at the bottom, the ones that I had hidden away. They were the Army drawings. And they were all these things about regimental baths, all the stuff that happens in the Army. He went crazy for these drawings – so that was the start of me getting, I suppose, more confident.’ 3

Spheres of Influence II’ shows these early drawings, alongside two portraits from ‘Saracen Heads‘ series that Howson made of people he encountered around his studio of that time in the Gallowgate, Glasgow. Howson’s army images echo the gaunt lines of Gray’s ‘Preliminary Sketch for the Horrors of War (for Scotland USSR Friendship Society)‘ (1954), an artwork Gray made whilst still at GSA. This piece is the design for a mural which Gray describes as denoting his ‘dread of how nuclear war would distort humanity.’ 4

Peter Howson’s portraits ‘Jimmy‘ and ‘Rupert‘ from Saracen Heads (1987) link with Stuart Murray’s six drawings from his blog ‘The Folk Ye Bump Intae‘, http://thefolkyebumpintae.wordpress.com/ where the artist remembers the people he encounters in East End of Glasgow pubs and streets, and draws them from memory, along with their conversations.

'Jimmy' and 'Rupert' from Saracen Heads (1987), Peter Howson. Courtesy of Flowers Gallery. Photo: Alan Dimmick

‘Jimmy’ and ‘Rupert’ from Saracen Heads (1987), Peter Howson. Courtesy of Flowers Gallery. Photo: Alan Dimmick

Dorothy Iannone (b.1933) is an American self- taught artist, now living in Berlin, who is a year older than Alasdair Gray. As Gray’s works have more often contextualised with his own peer group, or with a younger generation of artists, ‘Spheres of Influence II’ offers the opportunity to see his work alongside an international artist who is also drawn to using a graphic style of confident line and flat colour, to record the autobiographical in text and image. Whilst Gray’s work speaks from a masculine perspective, Iannone offers the female viewpoint, of a woman in search of ecstatic love. Iannone’s work, such as ‘The Next Great Moment is Ours‘, (1976), is in the style of a hand drawn comic strip and records “a journey of ever-increasing sexual, political and spiritual awareness and a life perpetually in search of union – with the beloved, the viewer, listeners and the world.” 5

'Unknown', (1967) Dorothy Iannone. On loan from Living Art Museum. Photo: Alan Dimmick

‘Unknown’, (1967)
Dorothy Iannone. On loan from Living Art Museum. Photo: Alan Dimmick

David Kindersley (1915-1995) and Lida Lopes Cardozo, formed the Cardozo Kindersley Workshop in Cambridge in 1976. Designers of the main gates at the British Library in London, the Workshop also undertook the letter cutting of the gold signage of The Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow on the front facade of the building. Kindersley had been an apprentice of Eric Gill’s at Piggots in the 1934, drawn to the workshop as a model of integrated art and life, following reading Gill’s book of essays ‘Art-Nonsense and other essays‘ (1929) which derided the mystery and elitism of the artworld. The small slate work by Kindersley and Cardozo in ‘Spheres of Influence II’, ‘The Promises of Lovers‘, cut in 1988, bears the inscription ‘The promises of lovers are as light as the leaves which the winds carry away’.

'The Promises of Lovers', cut in 1988, David Kindersley and Lida Lopes Cardozo  Slate, h. 311mm, w. 311 mm, d. 19mm On loan from Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council. Photo: Alan Dimmick

‘The Promises of Lovers’, cut in 1988,
David Kindersley and Lida Lopes Cardozo
Slate, h. 311mm, w. 311 mm, d. 19mm
On loan from Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council. Photo: Alan Dimmick

Denis Tegetmeier (1895-1987) was an illustrator, engraver, carver, letterer, designer and painter. He, (like Kindersley), was an apprentice of Eric Gill, marrying Gill’s daughter Petra in 1930. Tegetmeier was also a political cartoonist, gathering cuttings of all the news of the day, then going onto use them as the source for his illustrations for Catholic Herald and GK Weekly. The six etchings on show are illustrations from a collaborative bookwork with Eric Gill called ‘Unholy Trinity’ (1938). This book opening sentence is, ‘In the beginning was power; that is to say, the police and the military‘. Tegetmeier fought in WW1, spending three years fighting in France in the Royal Field Artillery. Following this experience, he believed his path to be religious and stayed for a period with monks. When they tried to persuade him to become a priest, which would not have allowed him a solitary existence to draw, he went on to attend the Central School of Arts and Crafts. His tutors put him forward to assist Eric Gill in the lettering for the War Memorial Gill had been commissioned to make in Oxford.

'Europe and the Bull', (1932); 'An obese reclining man carrying whip', (1932), Denis Tegetmeier (1895-1987). On loan from Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft. Photo: Alan Dimmick

‘Europe and the Bull’, (1932); ‘An obese reclining man carrying whip’, (1932), Denis Tegetmeier (1895-1987). On loan from Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft. Photo: Alan Dimmick

Oliver Braid (b.1984) studied MFA at GSA from 2008-10. One group of three drawings are a series from his event ‘Communal Dolphin Snouting’ at Transmission Gallery, Glasgow (2013). The second group are commissioned for ‘Spheres of Influence ll‘. Braid always works on A3 sketchbook paper for his intricate pen drawings, which in their level of detail are reminiscent of Gray’s ‘Faust in His Study‘(1958) or illustrations for ‘Lanark‘ (1982). Braid conceals symbols and messages within his drawings, endeavouring, ‘to get away from our pre-occupation as the audience with the meaning of an artwork being the full stop and us working it backwards to understand it.’ He is keen that, ‘the artwork moves forward, relying on the idea of belief or leap of faith.’ 6

'Phew drawings on decisions: Radio Octopus', (2014); 'Phew drawings on decisions: The One', (2014); 'Phew drawings on decisions: Donkeyroo Caught', (2014); Oliver Braid. Photo: Alan Dimmick

‘Phew drawings on decisions: Radio Octopus’, (2014); ‘Phew drawings on decisions: The One’, (2014); ‘Phew drawings on decisions: Donkeyroo Caught’, (2014); Oliver Braid. Photo: Alan Dimmick

Stuart Murray (b.1978) has made a new book, ‘Gateway to Work’, which brings together sixty new drawings made from his experience in the early 2000s attending  ‘Gateway to Work ‘ training through the ‘New Deal’, a workfare programme instigated in the late 1990s by Blair’s Labour Government to reduce unemployment. In Gray’s City Recorder series, showing at Kelvingrove, Gray notes that ‘The man wearing a blue jacket with a folder under his arm, ‘ in ‘Graham Square Cotton Mill and Entrance to the Meat Market’ (1977) ‘was a modern inspector employed by the Jobs Creation Scheme, who had come to find if I was usefully employed’. 7

'Gateway to work', publication (edition 300), Stuart Murray (2014)

‘Gateway to work’, publication (edition 300), Stuart Murray (2014)

Stuart Murray studied Printmaking at GSA from 1997-2001. ‘Gateway to Work’ is shown alongside Eric Gill’s book ‘Servile Labour and Contemplation’, published posthumously by The Aylesford Press (1987). Gill believed in ‘the idea of the sacredness of workmanship: the perception that ‘happy intense absorption’ in any work, brought as near to perfection as possible, is a state of being with God’. 8

My Bookcase’ (b. 1986) From a dialogue between artist and writer Alasdair Gray and Cristina Garriga, founder of My Bookcase, a book resource has been created in occasion of Alasdair Gray Season: Spheres of Influence II. The book collection on display has been specially picked by the artist from his personal bookshelves. It acts as a reading resource for the visitor, as well as an alternate reading of the artist through his personal library. www.mybookcase.org is a non-profit organization dedicated to the dissemination, understanding and appreciation of books. My Bookcase won a Deutsche Bank Award for Creative Enterprise in 2014. Cristina Garriga graduated from GSA’s MLitt in 2014.

'Alasdair Gray & My Bookcase' (2014), My Bookcase. Photo: alan Dimmick

‘Alasdair Gray & My Bookcase’ (2014), My Bookcase. Photo: alan Dimmick

Hanna Tuulikki (b.1982) is an artist and composer. She studied 2003-2006 GSA Sculpture and Environmental Art. For this exhibition Tuulikki has brought together illustrations for two ‘Alphabets’, where the letters are formed by naked figures. These two pictorial alphabets were made for the artwork of albums by Tuulikki’s band Two Wings. Alphabet 1’ was devised as the artwork for the album ‘Love’s Spring’ (Tin Angel Records, 2012), and inspired by medieval figurative alphabets. ’Alphabet 2’ was devised as the artwork for the album ‘A Wake’ (Tin Angel Records, 2014). Again, devised from naked figures, on this occasion carrying tools, celebrating the ordinary everyday objects with which we make and remake the world. The objects carry practical and symbolic meanings. For each Alphabet, a possible ‘meaning’ is expressed in a phrase realised from the letterforms: ‘A Rose in the Dawn’ and ‘A Wake to the Dream’.

'Ascension', (2011); 'Fall', 2011 Hanna Tuulikki. Photo: Alan Dimmick

‘Ascension’, (2011); ‘Fall’, 2011
Hanna Tuulikki. Photo: Alan Dimmick

Linking to Alasdair Gray’s ‘The Fall of Kelvin Walker’(1990) and Eric Gill’s ‘Ascension‘ (1918), the exhibition also shows Tuulikki’s two original pen and ink illustrations ‘Fall‘ (2011) and ‘Ascension‘ (2011). Tuulikki says of the works:

These drawings reflect on the familiar themes of fall and ascension, setting aside the traditional Christian axis, which places the earth in the centre (Hell-Earth-Heaven), for one that places the sun in the centre (Earth-Sun-Sky).  In Ascension genderless naked bodies transcend their human form. Emerging from the dark earth they clamber on top of one another and learn to co-operate, creating a human ladder, in order to reach to their common goal ­– the sun, source of light and life. The same genderless naked bodies, this time pictured with wings, dive out of from the constellations of the night sky and reach towards the sun, in Fall.”

The commissions and event programme are funded by Outset Scotland in association with YPO. Works on loan are from Sorcha Dallas, Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, Glasgow Museums, The Living Art Museum (Iceland), Flowers Gallery, the collection of Sandy Moffat and the artists.

The exhibition is curated by Jenny Brownrigg.

Footnotes

1 P.15, ‘A Life In Pictures’, Alasdair Gray, Canongate (2010)

2 P22, ‘Eric Gill’, Fiona MacCarthy (1989), Faber and Faber Limited

3 ‘Profile: Peter Howson: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times,’ in conversation with Steven Berkoff http://discreet-uk.com/state-of-art/ISSUE%20THREE/howson.html

4 P.60, ‘A Life In Pictures’, Alasdair Gray, Canongate (2010)

5 Camden Arts Centre interpretation, ‘Innocence and Aware’, Dorothy Iannone, solo show 2013

6 Conversation with artist on studio visit

7 p.179, ‘A Life In Pictures’, Alasdair Gray, Canongate (2010)

8 P257, ‘Eric Gill’, Fiona MacCarthy (1989), Faber and Faber Limited

Introduction, ‘Cabbages in an Orchard: Graham Fagen’ publication

A new publication, designed by Owned and Operated accompanies Graham Fagen’s exhibition ‘Cabbages in an Orchard’, Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art. Download my introduction here. The publication is full colour, and contains commissioned essays by Graham Fagen and Johnny Rodger. The exhibition and publication are part of GENERATION, a programme across venues in Scotland led by National Galleries and Glasgow Life, looking at 25 years of contemporary art in Scotland. The publication is £10 and can be ordered from GSA Shop.

I invited Graham Fagen to look at Charles Rennie Mackintosh works held in The Glasgow School of Art Archives & Collections, in order to find the common ground between his work and Mackintosh’s. The resulting new body of work, plus three early original Mackintosh watercolours, from The Magazine, a DIY publication Mackintosh worked on with his student peers, runs in the Reid Gallery until 29 August 2014.

Cover_front

‘This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It’: Michael Stumpf, The Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow International 2014

Alphabet Chat Letter ‘O’ [1]

“Here is a secret about the letter O”, says Big Bird. “Whoops!” The camera frame turns him, and the ‘O’ he is holding, upside down. “It looks the same upside down, but I don’t.” [2]

'Ring', Michael Stumpf (2014). Cast acrylic resin. Mackintosh Building, Director's Balcony, GSA. Photo: Janet Wilson.

‘Ring’, Michael Stumpf (2014). Cast acrylic resin. Mackintosh Building, Director’s Balcony, GSA. Photo: Janet Wilson.

'Ring', cast acrylic resin, 2014. Michael Stumpf. Mackintosh building Director's Balcony.

‘Ring’, cast acrylic resin, 2014. Michael Stumpf. Mackintosh building Director’s Balcony.

‘O’ can be seeing something in the round. Where is the object positioned in relation to you? Can you move round it? Can you see inside it? What information do you need to understand what it is you are looking at?

Included in the ‘O’ of this essay are references to Michael Stumpf’s past work, descriptions of his present work for Glasgow International at The Glasgow School of Art (GSA), some Sesame Street philosophy  and other thoughts for you to include or exclude, as you encounter ‘This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It’.

'Ring', Michael Stumpf (2014). 'This song Belongs to Those who Sing It', The Glasgow school of Art. Photo: Janet Wilson

‘Ring’, Michael Stumpf (2014). ‘This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It’, The Glasgow School of Art. Photo: Janet Wilson

We first travel back to Michael’s exhibition ‘In My Eyeat the Pipe Factory, Glasgow in January 2014 [3]. A projection screen was placed in the middle of the gallery. In this action by the artist, the viewer was able to encounter the screen as a three-dimensional object as it could be walked around. The film playing on the screen presented a sequence of objects which slowly revolve: a small brown vase spins against a black backdrop; the camera circles an abandoned men’s black tap shoe. We are shown the surface of these two objects with the sheen of the glaze and the soft black leather and metal toe tap. We are then reminded that these objects have an interior as both begin to quietly emit smoke. The act of filming explores the object in a different way.

I am reminded of ‘In My Eye’, as we make choose the image for the GSA poster and invite for ‘This Song Belongs to Those Who Sing It’. Rather than repeat the same digital image across both, Michael decides to use the two flat surfaces to show front and back view of the same sculpture ‘The Sound of Silver‘ (2010).

'Sound of Silver', Michael Stumpf (2010). Recyled fabric, acrylic resin, denim, tap-shoes, powder coated steel. Front view.

‘Sound of Silver’, Michael Stumpf (2010). Recyled fabric, acrylic resin, denim, tap-shoes, powder coated steel. Front view.

'Sound of Silver', Michael Stumpf (2010). Recyled fabric, acrylic resin, denim, tap-shoes, powder coated steel. Back view.

‘Sound of Silver’, Michael Stumpf (2010). Recyled fabric, acrylic resin, denim, tap-shoes, powder coated steel. Back view.

Michael likes us to see things from different angles and to be aware of looking, “to see things in the round”. This can often be reflected in his choice of title. For the Pipe Factory exhibition it is ‘In My Eye’. In the Mackintosh Museum there are two pewter word sculptures separated by the void at the heart of the space, itself an inverted architectural ‘O’One says’Looking at me’. The second says ‘Looking at you‘.

Above the nose I’m sure you’ll agree / there are two things that help you see/ they help when Elmo looks at you / and you use yours to see Elmo too” [4]

'Looking at You', Michael Stumpf, detail 'This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It', GSA Photo: Janet Wilson

‘Looking at You’, Michael Stumpf, detail ‘This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It’ (2014) GSA Photo: Janet Wilson

GSA_StumpfLYouwidelores

What are we looking at in the Mackintosh Museum? Does it look back? The silver foil creates a smooth new skin on the longest wall. It offers up a new depth in the room. To the left, the reflection of the yellow-washed side wall folds back through the silver into infinite space. The painted right hand-side wall is reminiscent of a dawn or sunset, with the Mackintosh Museum’s resident headless Nike ‘facing’ towards this landscape composition. Both colour walls create a glow upon the burnished copper of the two Museum display cabinets which have been revealed for this exhibition and treated like sculptural objects. The polished glass on the case to the left of the director’s doorway becomes a mirror. The dark denim panel inside it provides a clear back drop and depth. Looking at me. There are no glass panels on the display case on the right. It is the same but different.

'Looking at me', Michael Stumpf (2014), detail. 'This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It', GSA Photo: Janet Wilson.

‘Looking at me’, Michael Stumpf (2014), detail. ‘This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It’, GSA Photo: Janet Wilson.

'Perplexed', Michael Stumpf (2014), 'This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It', GSA. Photo: Janet Wilson. Paper, calico, aerosol paint, denim, acrylic-resin, steel, tube clamps.

‘Perplexed’, Michael Stumpf (2014), ‘This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It’, GSA. Photo: Janet Wilson. Paper, calico, aerosol paint, denim, acrylic-resin, steel, tube clamps.

The three suspended works from the beams hang low to the floor, allowing us to circle them. Each of the works in the Museum has a different relationship to our body, as we look and relate to it. Is it recognisable?  What size are we in comparison to it? Does it change relating to where we are positioned? A gigantic denim triangle draws the eye up to take in the volume of this space.

'This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It', Michael Stumpf, Mackintosh Museum, GSA. Photo: Janet Wilson

‘This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It’, Michael Stumpf, Mackintosh Museum, GSA. Photo: Janet Wilson

'Endless long bowed phrases', Michael Stumpf (2014). Denim, plywood, steel, tube clamp. 'This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It', GSA. Photo: Janet Wilson.

‘Endless long bowed phrases’, Michael Stumpf (2014). Denim, plywood, steel, tube clamp. ‘This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It’, GSA. Photo: Janet Wilson.

“When I imagine a triangle, even though such a figure may exist nowhere in the world except in my thought – indeed it may never have existed, there is none the less a certain nature or form, or particular essence of this figure that is immutable and eternal which I did not invent, and which in no way depends on my mind”. [5]

Both the Mackintosh building and Michael take a non-linear approach to time. There is a strange circular timeframe in the Mackintosh building where past, present and future co-exist all at once. Michael talks about trying to move differently within an artistic practice – “not to get sucked into following the one line”. He both revisits past works and ideas whilst moving forward in his practice, viewing materials and methods as an alphabet which can be drawn from. Small forms can potentially be big. A chain which appears graphically on the front of a past work called ‘Sweats‘ (2012), becomes a three dimensional work for this project.

'SWEATS Lovesong; Song (ring, chain, rope, nail, rock)' (2012), Michael Stumpf. Ongoing series of screenprinted sweatshirts.

‘SWEATS Lovesong; Song (ring, chain, rope, nail, rock)’ (2012), Michael Stumpf. Ongoing series of screenprinted sweatshirts.

'Ring', cast acrylic resin, 2014. Michael Stumpf. Mackintosh building Director's Balcony.

‘Ring’, cast acrylic resin, 2014. Michael Stumpf. Mackintosh building Director’s Balcony.

'Link (flame red/red)', 'Link (red)', 'Link (violet, red)', cast acrylic resin (2014), Michael Stumpf, GSA

‘Link (flame red/red)’, ‘Link (red)’, ‘Link (violet, red)’, cast acrylic resin (2014), Michael Stumpf, GSA

The links from the chain move from exterior to interior – as a single ‘O’ outside on the Mackintosh Building’s Director’s Balcony and as a communal gathering inside the Mackintosh Museum on its floor. Denim, the ‘everyman’ material and stone often appear in different forms throughout Michael’s work. Stone occurs as an ordered section of wall in 2005, on which two polo shirts rest [6] then in 2012/13 as the archaeological strata from which different objects protrude [7]. Here in the Mackintosh Museum in 2014, we see the ‘mother’ stone, sandstone which has been chiselled, and also a pink cast from the stone which is suspended from the beam. [8] Michael also includes a small vase he made in the 1980s which his mother has sent over for the exhibition.

'Song (Ring, Twig, Rock), sandstone, cast bronze, glass, steel, tube clamp (2014), Michael Stumpf. 'This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It', GSA. Photo: Janet Wilson.

‘Song (Ring, Twig, Rock), sandstone, cast bronze, glass, steel, tube clamp (2014), Michael Stumpf. ‘This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It’, GSA. Photo: Janet Wilson.

'Called Upon', Michael Stumpf (2014). Paper, denim, acrylic resin, aluminium, glazed ceramic steel, tube clamps, wood. 'This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It', GSA. Photo: Janet Wilson.

‘Called Upon’, Michael Stumpf (2014). Paper, denim, acrylic resin, aluminium, glazed ceramic steel, tube clamps, wood. ‘This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It’, GSA. Photo: Janet Wilson.

“O-O-O-O-O-O-O-Oooo…/Grow and Go / Roll over the road” [9]

For ‘The Balconies Commission’ here at The Glasgow School of Art, Michael was invited to work with the new pairing of the Mackintosh Building and the Reid Building. The resulting text sculpture NOW SING sits on the Reid Building balcony and can be viewed as a street scene with its corresponding neighbour, the ‘O’ on the Mackintosh Balcony.

'NOW SING', Michael Stumpf (2014), Reid Building Balcony, GSA Photo: Sarah Lowndes

‘NOW SING’, Michael Stumpf (2014), Reid Building Balcony, GSA Photo: Sarah Lowndes

Architect Steven Holl, designer of GSA’s Reid building, wrote ‘The Alphabetical City’ in 1980.  It examines how city buildings in USA conformed to different letter types depending on the shape of the site. There are ‘T’, ‘I’, ‘U’, ‘O’, ‘H’, ‘E’, ‘B’, ‘L’ and ‘X’ types of housing. ‘O’ Type Housing has an enclosed communal space at its centre.

If we view the ‘O’ architecturally as having the space inside, the outer walls and the space beyond it, Michael’s work for this exhibition is situated at three points- inside the Mackintosh Museum, on the exterior of the Mackintosh Building, then over the road on the Reid Building balcony.This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It should be considered as an exhibition across an expanded field.

The words ‘NOW SING’ have been handmade by the artist – a truly monumental endeavour. The orange of NOW and the pink of SING echo the beginning and end of one day [10]. To say NOW is strange, because as soon as it is said, it is in the past. The viewer will walk past NOW SING on the way in, and see NOW SING, later on the way out. NOW SING could be directly asking something of us or be a declaration of intent for the new building.

'NOW SING' detail (2014), Michael Stumpf. Cast acrylic resin, steel, wood.Installed on Reid Building balcony, GSA, 'This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It', GSA. Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

‘NOW SING’ detail (2014), Michael Stumpf. Cast acrylic resin, steel, wood.Installed on Reid Building balcony, GSA, ‘This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It’, GSA. Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

“O’s on the wall / O’s on the King and Queen’s costume / This is the Kingdom of ‘O’/ See all the O’s” [11]

Looking across to the Director’s Balcony on the Mackintosh Building, the ‘O’ placed on the railing is an open mouth on the façade [12]. After all, ‘façade’ is derived from the French for ‘face’.  The ‘O’ also mimics the circular shapes of Mackintosh on the building’s iron work or even the glass globes on the Mackintosh weathervane. Look up. It is also like the ‘O’ of the ‘driven voids’ which are three architectural features to be found in the Reid Building.

“One of these things is not like the other / One of these things doesn’t belong / Can you tell which thing is not like the other?/ By the time I finish this song?” [13]

Early on, Michael visited our Exhibitions office and showed us a Vimeo excerpt of Gregory Hines and his brother Maurice presenting ‘Near and Far’ for Sesame Street. Maurice says, “Now this is near“. Gregory then tap dances in a circle around him, and continues to tap across to the back of the set. He then says “Now this is far“. They swap positions, in order to emphasise that in these pairings, they only make sense if one is in relation and oppositional to the other.  Each time they trace a circle round each other before one moves off.

'NOW SING', Michael Stumpf (2014). View from Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow Photo: James Dean

‘NOW SING’, Michael Stumpf (2014). View from Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow Photo: James Dean

Dr Sarah Lowndes has said of Michael’s work, “It is the essential thing-ness of his objects that is the most striking aspect of his practice”. I like the word ‘thing-ness’, which could be seen as serious and playful at the same time. On one hand, in grammatical terms, ‘thing-ness’ is a derivational suffix of ‘thing’. A derivational suffix takes a word as a source or origin and then adds to it. Sing – Singer – Song. Michael chooses a material from his alphabet then adds to it. On the other hand, ‘thing-ness’ sounds like a Big Bird word.   ‘This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It’ is a communal offering for the architecture, its passers-by, The Glasgow School of Art community and its visitors.

Jenny Brownrigg, Exhibitions Director, The Glasgow School of Art. April 2014.

Text for: ‘This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It’, Michael Stumpf 4 April – 4 May 2014.

Footnotes

[1] Sesame Street – ‘Alphabet Chat Letter O’.

[2] Sesame Street -‘Big Bird and the Letter O’.

[3] ‘In My Eye’, Michael Stumpf 30/1 – 1/2/14, Pipe Factory, Glasgow.

[4] Sesame Street Lyrics – ‘Elmo Sings “Right in the Middle of the Face”’.

[5] René Descartes, ‘Discourse on the Method’, 1637.

[6] Collective Gallery, as part of New Work Programme, 2005.

[7] ‘This rhyme is 4 dimensional’, Michael Stumpf (2004-2012), shown in ‘Last Chance’, SWG3 Gallery, Glasgow. 8/12/12-19/1/13.

[8] Michael was classically trained as a stone mason before art school, so stone was a trade material for him before a creative material.

[9] Sesame Street Lyrics – ‘The O Song’.

[10] Text sculptures which declare, as an object, their own purpose or state have been a recurrent theme in Michael’s work. ‘Massive Angry Sculpture’ at Glucksmann Gallery in 2011 and ‘Fade to Black’, made at Scottish Sculpture Workshop in 2009 and shown in Leith Hall Gardens in Kennethmont, Aberdeenshire, are two examples of this strand in his practice.

[11] Sesame Street – ‘The Kingdom of ‘O’.

[12] Observation by Talitha Kotzé, The Glasgow School of Art Exhibitions co-ordinator.

[13] Sesame Street Lyrics – ‘One of These Things’.

'This Song Belongs to Those Who Sing It', Michael Stumpf (2014). Leaflet, cover.

‘This Song Belongs to Those Who Sing It’, Michael Stumpf (2014). Leaflet, cover.

‘The Fold, A Creative Convention after Colm Cille’, ‘Colm Cille’s Spiral’, 30 Nov – 1 Dec 2013, Derry~ Londonderry

Derrysignpost

 

‘Colm Cille’s Spiral’ is a project taking place across the UK and EIRE, examining the legacy of 6th Century Saint Colm Cille, from a contemporary creative perspective.  I have been the curatorial lead for the Scottish ‘knot’ called ‘Convocation’, working with CCA (Glasgow), University of Glasgow and ATLAS Arts. ‘Colm Cille’s Spiral’ is a Difference Exchange and Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies, King’s College London project that is part of Derry~Londonderry City of Culture 2013.

Here is my blog post for ‘The Fold’, a ‘creative convention’ which brought all 6 projects together in Derry as part of : http://www.colmcillespiral.net/the-fold-a-creative-convention-after-colm-cille-colm-cilles-spiral-30-nov-1-dec-2013-derry-londonderry/ and took place at Verbal Arts Centre, Derry.

Excerpt:

[Colm Cille, the founding father of Derry, is attributed in a poem as describing the city as follows:

“The reason I love Derry /Is its quietness, its purity/ For full of angels white it is/ From one end to the other”.

We arrive in the city for our concluding event, ‘The Fold’, at a time when it could be described as busier than Colm Cille envisaged it in his mind’s eye, with impressive queues for the Turner Prize, nightly gatherings in squares to see the Lumiere Festival projections and generally a city and audience confidently in full swing for all the cultural offerings ofDerry~Londonderry City of Culture 2013. ….]

For further information on the wider project please see http://www.colmcillespiral.net/   and http://creativefutureshq.com/projects/colm-cilles-convocation/ for my blog posts on ‘Convocation’.

Peregrinatio: Thomas Joshua Cooper

Thomas Joshua Cooper

Over an eleven day period, GSA’s Head of Fine Art Photography Thomas Joshua Cooper travelled to Skye, Raasay, Cumbria and Northern Ireland, covering a total of 3135 miles.

He worked on two photographic bodies of work. For the first, he travelled to photograph the birthplaces of Saint Patrick, St Brendan and St Columba. His description of Lough Gartan, St Columba’s birthplace, echoes the mention of trees in Sorley MacLean’s poem ‘Hallaig’. MacLean imagines the cleared village’s absent women as, “ … a wood of birch trees / Standing tall, with their heads bowed.” Cooper speaks of, “Three silver birches, leaning towards the Lough, a trinity picture”.

For his second series, he went to the very edges of land, visiting the cardinal points of Northern Ireland including Benbane Head, County Antrim, the north-west point and then onto the east-most point at Burr Point on the Ards Peninsula.  In particular, with the latter location, he focused on the view from Ireland across the water to Scotland, aiming to echo St Columba’s last view from Ireland, before his exile to Scotland.

A quote from a book brought in during our residency by local Raasay resident Jenifer Burnet, describes who St Columba was in terms of the cardinal points.

‘In the West he [St Columba] was called upon as a bard, a guardian of the magical powers inherent in the literary traditions of the Celtic languages; in the North, he was a prince, a member of a prestigious lineage with a responsibility for the defence of his people; in the East he was a father, an abbot who was a just and tender provider of the many monks under his care and in the South he was a priest who dealt directly with the forces of the Otherworld.’ 1

In an interview after he had returned firstly from Raasay, Cooper explained his relation to the land and how it impacts on his photographic process. In particular, the group’s question on Peregrinatio had a real resonance for Cooper in describing his creative practice, which involves going out to the edges of the world. He described peregrinatio as, “The compulsion to send yourself out on potentially an unending, undestined voyage”. He went on to say, “As soon as I heard it [peregrinatio], it’s one of those words. It creates through syllabic movement a motion, and I have been set in that motion always, since as a boy. I find my way but I never know where the way is”.

Cooper also described the title of our project ‘Convocation’ as having meaning for him in terms of how he works with the land, as he only takes one negative at each site. “Can there be a convocation with the site? In enough silence, things will speak. If there is enough respect and the site is willing to participate, then that for me is a conversation.”

1 P. 252, ‘Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World’, John O’Donahue

Acknowledgement

Thomas Joshua Cooper would like to express his deep thanks to Kate Mooney, Laura Indigo Cooper (who travelled with him to Northern Ireland) and David Bellingham, “for their insights, practical help and kindnesses in helping me take this project to conclusion. “

Photos of Thomas Joshua Cooper at work (2013): Laura Indigo Cooper

Thomas Joshua Cooper

Thomas Joshua Cooper

Thomas Joshua Cooper at work