One of the best things about many Scottish urban spaces, is the way the surrounding landscape forces its way into the urban skyline at unexpected moments. There are few more breath-taking moments for me in autumn, than rounding a corner, as the light is fading and being surprised by some gap in the skyline revealing the play of light shade on a distant hill. Even in the centre of a city as densely populated and built up as Glasgow, you can still walk down Buchanan Street on a clear day and look up at the right moment to find you can see all the way to the Cathkin Braes. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the Highlands, where the lines between urban and rural are so blurred that it is easy to lose track of where they lie. Indeed, a fair amount of the art I’ve seen since living up here – at least from locally based artists – has explored that mutability to a greater or lesser extent and effect.
Art is everywhere here. When I first moved up to Inverness, despite favourable first impressions, I did wonder how much art – let alone interesting art – I was likely to find on anything like a regular basis. Most of the really interesting art I’d seen in over a decade of living in and around Stirling had been stuff that I’d stumbled on, mostly by accident. And almost all the art that I’d gone actively looking for in that time had been in Glasgow or Edinburgh, cities I already knew to a certain extent. Indeed, at first I only really saw art in the galleries upstairs in the local museum and the local arts centre, but as time passed, I’ve learned to sniff out the clues. It turns out that once you know what to look for, art can be found all over the place here, bursting out all over.
The on-going grind of the recession has left Inverness, like almost every other town in Scotland, with its share of mournful looking empty retail units. However, over at the Victorian Market, they seem to have come up with an idea that feels like it ought to have been an obvious idea. They’re using one of the empty units as an exhibition space. It’s currently displaying art from UHI students, which I hope continues, given that while the college itself is rather a charming piece of architecture, it’s apparently rather lacking in spaces in which to make and display art. We can only hope that this results in rather more innovative and experimental takes on producing and displaying art from the resident art students. In the interim, I’ve certainly been enjoying finding odd bits of art and craft-based sculpture in unexpected corners of the market and in unlikely shop windows.
Social media has been a great boon in my search for new art. I’ve spent a fair amount of time, working on identifying a collection of good local sources that promote art locally and nationally. But its definitely one of those situations where the more you find out, the more you find there is to find. Or often in my case, the more I find I’ve just missed.
Something that I often narrowly miss, are the exhibitions at Upstairs. Between 2pm and 4pm on week day afternoons, an architecture firm on Academy Street opens their doors to art lovers. Small exhibitions by local artists are the order of the day and there’s something delightfully transgressive about the whole experience. Although the gallery has managed the rare trick of being open at precisely the time-frame when I’m least likely to be free to enjoy some art, on those occasions that I’ve managed to make it along to see the art, I’ve both greatly enjoyed the art – the current exhibition of constructed photography by Michael Gallacher is well worth a visit – and the feeling that I’ve snuck in somewhere I’m not supposed to be.
The building itself is a bit of a hidden gem, with a lovely tiled entranceway, and nicely understated glasswork on the stairwell windows. And the advantage of the gallery space being in an Architecture firm, if you’re me anyway, is that even if the art turns out to not be your taste, they’ve got some fascinating little architectural models of their own on display that you can enjoy while you’re there.
This month, even the more conventional location of Inverness Museum and Art Gallery’s upstairs art gallery had rather an eccentric exhibition. A Curious Turn is a visiting exhibition from The Craft Council, on the history and resurgence of automata as both a craft and art form. It’s very rare that I see art exhibitions that feel like they’ve been carefully crafted into a work of art themselves. The exhibition is full of delightful details from the hand-cranked exhibition sign, to the little mule that draws himself, to the odd assortment of cogs, cranks and accoutrements that let younger visitors build their very own automata. (When I visited someone had put together the kind of macabre assemblage that only small children and art students are capable of creating.) My own favourite part of the exhibition was that almost all the automata on display were operable, if their handles were too small and fiddly for general use, they’d been wired up so that you could make them run in their glass cases with a push of a button.