Tramway Art

For some reason I always think that The Tramway is further out into the suburbs than it actually is, when really it’s literally beside the first stop out of Glasgow Central on that line. It’s probably something to do with my having a complete mental block on which station is which on the East/West/Pollockshields/Pollockshaws vector and in fact, the ticket machine made a spirited attempt to sell me the wrong ticket, repeatedly selecting Pollockshaws East instead of Pollockshields East! Nothing like getting off at the wrong station – or realising too late that the train stops at the wrong option – and having to walk back, to confuse your sense of distance. Regardless of the reasons why, I always feel the need to be seeing several things to make the trip worthwhile and so it was on this trip.

Bring Me To Heal

This is a really compelling piece of art – from Anglo-Scottish/Ghanaian artist Amartey Golding – two companion piece films, one with storytellers/crafters around a fire, the other a visual reclamation of space and objects from a notoriously colonial museum, the V&A in London. The first film features the shared task of braiding the costume together, and also of sharing a fable between the three men around the fire. Both the fable – The Horse and the Goose – and the costume were constructed specifically for the film, but they have clearly been crafted with particularly care and skill, because they come together in such a way that they feel both organic and ancient, as though the artist has called up something old and forgotten.

The accompanying still images are deeply compelling in their own right, though I think they gained a great deal from being viewed after their moving counterparts. They were displayed in a really clever way, I’m not sure how they did the lighting, but it was done in such a way that the pictures seemed to glow from within – I initially thought they were on light-boxes but I don’t think that’s how it was done – despite being in a room that was otherwise in almost complete darkness. Speaking of meanings being transformed by context, the hair suit that the artist’s brother wears in the film, is also on display in the exhibit and on it’s own, without the context of the film, I found it quite creepy in a folk horror sort of way – I was reminded of seeing the Burryman costume as a child – and it was all I could do to not beat a hasty retreat without watching the film. I’m glad I didn’t though, as contextualised by the film, it’s a beautiful piece of art and craftsmanship.

Calling for Rain

Based on a Cambodian mythological poem Reamar – the Cambodian equivalent of the Ramayana – the film tells an environmental parable for children. It uses various animal spirits – embodied by dancers wearing woven vine animal heads – to represent the different actors in what becomes a parable of climate change. (Looking at the heads out of context they also have potential to be considered foreboding, but having seen them initially on the heads of the dancers they seem charming instead.) Artist Khvay Samnang makes highly site specific art, in sites of potential or ongoing environmental degradation/polluting so the landscape in which the piece is performed is as much a part of the work of art as the dancers themselves. So as much as I generally prefer to see dance works performed live, I can see that it would have lost something in translation if it had, even before we take into account the practicalities of this pandemic world.

As messy as it undoubtedly was, I approved of the decision to have rain baths on either side of the exhibit space, there’s something about the water actually falling from the ceiling of the space that really added to the atmosphere and immersiveness of the piece. The piece is essentially an extended rain dance, and what is a rain dance if it doesn’t call forth actual rain. I also enjoyed the choice – that I suspect Tramway made as it was present in both exhibits – to include a nest of cushions on the floor so that young visitors – or for that matter those of us who like to sit on the floor in the middle of installations – could fully embrace the experience and get comfortable with the art.

(From a purely technical point of view, I do love it when audiovisual art works are beautifully made. I understand intellectually why the kind of artist that specialises in ‘confessional’ art likes to do the shooting themselves regardless of technical aptitude or experience – that quest for authenticity. I guess my grounding being in film, a necessarily team effort, I don’t see collaboration or even just hiring a specialist to do what you can’t, dilutes or compromises the ‘artistic integrity’ of an work. But I digress, these artists were clearly unencumbered by such issues and their works were stronger for it. Perhaps that has something to do with their wider artistic working practices being more suited to collaboration.)

Bring Me To Heal ran at the Tramway, Glasgow from 4th December until the 6th of March, Calling for Rain is running at the Tramway, Glasgow until the 27th of March.

3 part collage - two shots of the masks from 'calling for rain' and one of garden installation the top of a man's head with a top knot emerging from water

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