The White Aesthetic Necessitated by the ‘Glasgow Miracle’ Two Invisible Case Studies Parts I & II
Credits: This publication has been produced by Mother Tongue in line with the exhibition 24 Spaces: A Cacophony held at Malmö Konsthall [4th May – 18th August 2013], on invitation from Transmission Gallery [Glasgow], Generator Projects [Dundee] and Embassy Gallery [Edinburgh]. *** The first version of this project was commissioned by Prawn’s Pee [Rebecca Wilcox & Oliver Pitt], as part of the exhibition What We Have Done,What We Are About To Do, held at the Centre for Contemporary Arts Glasgow, 18th August – 15th September 2012. *** Please Note:We would like to acknowledge our position as the authors of this project, as two white females. educated and living outwith Glasgow, and writing on the reception of two Black artists within the context of the Glasgow Miracle narrative. *** Mother Tongue would like to thank the artists, Centre for Contemporary Arts Glasgow, The Mitchell Library [Glasgow], Carrie Skinner at the ‘The Glasgow Miracle: Materials for Alternative Histories’ archive project [Glasgow School of Art], Adam Lockhart and Prawn’s Pee [Rebecca Wilcox and Oliver Pitt]. Our thanks to Tony Siaw-Badu for the design of this revised edition [www.iwednesday.co.uk]. *** Both Mother Tongue and the CCA Glasgow have been proactively attempting to communicate with Oladélé Ajiboyé Bamgboyé and the estate of Maud Sulter in connection with this project. We would very much welcome their contact at the following address: email@example.com
Part I: CCA Glasgow
‘The title of the show [Guilt by Association] underlines the attitude of the groups working process; a recognition that meaning accrues through time and place(ment). One work informs another, and another… This was a formal strategy in the exhibition Self Conscious State that we did at the Third Eye Centre in Glasgow in 1990, since the design of that space allowed the works to map onto one another visually, and then conceptually… we have worked hard towards knitting ideas together. I think the overall impression will be of a series of related issues, sufficient in themselves, but benefiting through being in a relationship with other work.’ 1 ‘Bamgboyé wanted to make images that incorporated Black people in them. This was not being dealt with in any way aesthetically in Glasgow. He knew he had to leave if he was going to be able to make the images he wanted to make.’ 2
The ‘Scotia Nostra’3 that came to ‘miraculous’ prominence in the early to mid 90’s – including but not limited to Douglas Gordon, Christine Borland, Simon Starling, Martin Boyce, Ross Sinclair, Craig Richardson, Jacqueline Donnachie, Roderick Buchanan and Claire Barclay – found themselves grouped by their locality, as ‘Glasgow’ artists. Glasgow was a catch-all for those based in the city, whether they were Glaswegian, Scottish or from elsewhere; useful in that as a geographical catchment area it allowed those labelled with the term to simultaneously avoid and transcend the nuances/intricacies/pitfalls of ‘Scottish’ art. Of course Glasgow had, and has, its own self-image, which carried with it ideas of what should be inherent within art produced by ‘Glasgow’ artists, and this self-image was in the limelight at the time, it’s prominence courtesy of the city’s status as the European Capital of Culture in 1990. To use the term ‘miracle’ - as has often been noted since its initiation - is inaccurate; this imprecision stemming from the fact that Scottish art of the 1990’s has been mythologised, not by art history or criticism, but by major exhibitions in Scotland and Europe, in addition to publications that single out the role of artists’ initiatives. Such exhibitions as histories are highly selective4 (a point to which we will return later in this essay). Unquestionable however, was the ascent made by Glasgow artists in the 1990’s, built upon a steady flow of activity since the 1970’s (at least) and a set of common denominators, in tandem with an unknown entity: a mixture of timing, chance and group dynamic.5 This unknown entity was also partially tied up with developments taking place outwith Glasgow and outside art; against the backdrop of the Eurocentric world view disintegrating, as the old cultural and political
hierarchies within Europe loosened, local identities became more important as secure anchors in the disorientating global (dis)order.6 These significant shifts emerged in the West’s visual arts via a formal site-specificity and a renewed interest in representational politics [which] might now be cited as early evidence of an emerging ‘localism’ forming the route to a newly constructed internationalism.7
The common denominators most frequently put forward - some of which are quite tangible, quite practical, others more slippery – include the city’s post-industrial nature (and the empty/derelict spaces this left in its path), the educational infrastructure, and the lack of commercial galleries and private buyers. The argument that the interlink between art and ideas in Scotland [has a] definite precedent, a context dating back to the Enlightenment8 is also persuasive in certain cases. However, in the context of our re-presentation of archival materials and works from Maud Sulter and Oladélé Ajiboyé Bamgboyé (at which we will later arrive), it is the slippery commonalities that are consequential, betraying something discernibly ‘Scottish’ at play. ‘Poetic conceptualism’9 is one term that has been applied in a blanket manner to the work of Glasgow artists. It is not by sheer coincidence that the other arts community on whom this label has been recently placed is Iceland; a locality even smaller in scale, more northerly, ethnically white (in its imagined self and in reality) and also with a romanticised history. A second similitude of the Scotia Nostra has been identified as the presence of signature styles and a minimalist aesthetic, the qualities of which Neil Mulholland suggests were as connected to Scottish thrift and understatement10 as they were to personal taste and the limited finance available with which to produce
their work. A third example (our last here, although many more have been put forth) is that the work was impregnated with dry humour, a key component of the Scottish imaginary.11 Scottish nationality does not throw its net as widely as other nationalities may [at least claim to] do, somehow prohibited by a cyclic hyper-enunciation of Scottish identity, in the singular. Reading between the lines then of such ‘Scottish’ characteristics in the work and aesthetic of the ‘Glasgow Miracle’ artists implies something both indigenousness and ethnically white. To have laboured through the developments of the ‘Glasgow Miracle’ may seem like treading water, but it is important to have laid out the context in order to emphasise and ground the point of this essay, which is as follows. To state the obvious, all of the artists associated with the Glasgow Miracle are white. Looking at the much-referenced Windfall ’91 photograph, there is not a single non-white participant. Furthermore, in our research-to-date into the ‘Glasgow Miracle,’ the whiteness of those involved has never once been noted. Instead, there appears to be an assumption underlying the textual accounts of the Glasgow arts community that there is no need to note the lack of diversity as the aesthetic of the work is absolutely white, and therefore demands – of course – that the artists producing it are white themselves. When a development such as the ‘Glasgow Miracle’ takes places and the city becomes known for producing not only artists in a high volume, but with a marked aesthetic, what room does this allow for those whose work does not fit within these parameters? Is it possible for outsiders to circumnavigate the whitewash, given the very standard entry points? As John Calcutt comments in the exhibition catalogue
for Here + Now, held at Dundee Contemporary Arts in 2001: Of the sixty-three artists included in this exhibition, around fifty attended Glasgow School of Art (GSA) at one time or another… (It might be interesting to count how many artists in this exhibition have served on [the Transmission] committee: around fifteen, I would guess).12 We are by no means suggesting that the fault lies entirely with a single gang of artists,13 rather that there exists a default pattern, a recurring cycle of events, expectations and oversights, in which curators, galleries, boards, funding bodies, etc are all implicated.14 As equally crucial as the specific educational route and early career paths were the international networks constructed in the 1990’s; ‘globalisation as a means of survival, of finding support when it cannot be solicited at home, accounts for much of the success of these artists from Glasgow.15 It appears then contradictory, that while utilising these international connections, that these were not reciprocated at home, in the sense that difference was not accommodated.16 Our re-presentation of archival material and works from Maud Sulter and Oladélé Ajiboyé Bamgboyé in the exhibition What We Have Done,What We Are About To Do is made, therefore, with the intention of highlighting two artists whose work, markedly different in aesthetic and subject-matter, was not accommodated in all respects and who both vocalised frustrations on this point. From today’s perspective, Sulter and Bamgboyé appear to have been written out of the grand narrative of the ‘Glasgow Miracle,’ becoming invisible somehow, their presence fading.
To stress our point, page 425 of Sarah Lowndes’ Social Sculpture (the first page of its index) under ‘B’ does not include Bamgboyé. Flicking forward to page 436, there is also no sign of Sulter under ‘S.’ Furthermore, in the 2001 Transmission publication Bamgboyé is given photo credits [as previous Transmission resident photographer17], and listed in the index as having participated in Oladele Bamboyé, Debbie Coombes , Oladele Bamgboyé, Stephen Birrell, Stephen Dunlop, Stan Shepherd  Land of Opportunity  and Contact 552-4813 . In the year-by-year chronology of the gallery’s programme, Bamgboyé’s name is listed as having participated in ‘Land of Opportunity’ (p. 26) and the ‘Contact 552-4813’ poster also features his name (p. 43). It is significant to note that Bamgboyé is listed as a “Nigerian artist,” a label which he vocalised his adversity towards. To the best of our knowledge, Maud Sulter did not exhibit at Transmission. Of course, it is impossible in the process of historicisation [mythologising is however a more precise adjective in this instance] to include everyone. Yet the success and recognition of these two artists outwith Glasgow is evidence enough that external factors within Glasgow created the adversity they both felt [and reacted against] towards the reception of their work. The title of the exhibition currently on show at the Centre for Contemporary Art Glasgow – What We Have Done, What We Are About To Do – suggests a juncture, a moment of evaluation and of somehow having our heads turned both to the past and present. We have arrived at a similar situation in this essay, having critically traced the developments of the visual arts in Glasgow (and the subsequent waves of celebration that continue to arrive) from the 1990’s onwards, and having made one specific
critique of the manner in which these developments reverberate. Despite the existence of an apparent lack of tolerance or space for critique present [in Glasgow art, the] supposedly perpetual â€˜frailtyâ€™ of Scottish art [often held] as a reason not to rock the boat,18 the whiteness wholly intertwined with the aesthetic-of-choice is so dangerous that it must be confronted. In conclusion, it would be comforting to offer an easy solution to the problem, but this unfortunately does not exist.
Douglas Gordon, Interview with Thomas Lawson in Guilt by Association, Dublin : Irish Museum of Modern Art, 1998, unpaginated [our emphasis].
Odita, O. D.; Movement and Real Time in the Work of Oladélé Ajiboyé Bamgboyé, www. plexus.org/connect/texts/essays/texts/5.html, Accessed: 01.07.2012
The term ‘Scotia Nostra’ was used by Douglas Gordon in his 1996 Turner Prize acceptance speech. Its origins, as outlined to us in personal email correspondence with David Harding, as thus: I first heard the term ‘Scotia Nostra’ in the 70’s from a very close friend, Peter Stitt. He and I had become friends at Edinburgh College of Art in the 50’s. Peter was an outrageously humorous person who had a way with words, and he used the term to describe the way that painters from Edinburgh College of Art were always able to get jobs in English art schools... Sam Ainsley and I, in an almost unspoken policy (it was so innate to the way were ourselves), developed a ‘family’ feeling among us and our students. I introduced the term ‘Scotia Nostra’ to them in conversations but not, certainly not. about them. I always told the story above as a bit of a humour. Literally I suppose it means ‘our Scotland’ but it is the closeness to, and play on, the sound of Cosa Nostra that gives it its humour - as you are probably aware. [13.06.2013]
Mulholland, N.; Learning from Glasvegas: Scottish Art after ‘the 90,’ Journal of the Scottish Society for Art History, Vol. 7, 2002, p. 61
And by group dynamic we mean specifically a sense of community, face to face communication and day to day familiarity [as providing] a peculiar form of competition that can leads towards interesting art [Gillick, L.; in White [ed], N.; New Art in Scotland, Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, 1994, p. 8
Brandtzaeg, K. J.; Glasgow: A Presentation of the Art Scene in the 90’s, www.forart.no/ brandtzaeg, Accessed 01.07.2012
Richardson, C.; Scottish Art since 1960: Historical Reflections and Contemporary Overviews, Ashgate, 2011, p. 156
Finlay, J. in White [ed], N.; New Art in Scotland, Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, 1994, p. 20
Lind, M. in Here + Now: Scottish Art, 1990-2001, Dundee : Dundee Contemporary Arts, , p. 29
Mulholland, N.; Self-Concious Stateless Nation, Third Text, 22:2, 2008, p. 289
Mulholland, N.; Self-Concious Stateless Nation, Third Text, 22:2, 2008, p. 289
Calcutt, J. in Here + Now: Scottish Art, 1990-2001, Dundee : Dundee Contemporary Arts, , p. 13
Mulholland, N.; Glasgow: Onwards and Upwards, Art Monthly, no. 216, May ’98, p. 26-7
Mulholland, N.; Self-Concious Stateless Nation, Third Text, 22:2, 2008, p. 292
The agency and agendas of these interconnected parties were simultaneously entangled with 1) the symptoms of the brandscaping exercise, as Glasgow attempted to find the cultural means to re-establish its status as a world city-state in Scottish international and cultural affairs [Mulholland, N.; Self-Concious Stateless Nation, Third Text, 22:2, 2008, p. 288] , and 2) an attempt by galleries and curators to be as diglossic as the practice of the Glasgow artists, openly divulging the Glaswegian context [whilst echoing] neoconceptual art globally [Mulholland, N.; Self-Concious Stateless Nation, Third Text, 22:2, 2008, p. 290].
Oladélé Bamgboyé himself cited the parochial nature of the Glasgow visual art community as the primary factor in his decision to leave Glasgow, ‘defecting’ to Berlin, and later London [Bamgboyé, O. A.; www.thing.net/eyebeam/msg00489.html, Accessed: 01.07.2012]
Bamgboyé, O. A.; Curriculum Vitae, Third Eye Centre/CCA Glasgow archive, Box TE/97
Mulholland, N.; Awkward Relations, Tate Papers, 2004, www.tate.org.uk/file/neilmulholland-awkward-relations, Accessed: 01.07.2012
Part II: Malmรถ Konsthall
Ross Sinclair Ross Sinclair is an artist, musician, and writer, and currently a Research Fellow at Glasgow School of Art. Since the late 80’s he has exhibited internationally and written extensively for a number of books and publications. His work explores the paradigm of art practice in context, in relation to audience, and holds a broad interest in the debates surrounding ‘Relational’ and socially-engaged art practice. Sinclair’s work is held in many collections including The British Council, The Pier Arts Centre [Orkney], Sammlung Hauser & Wirth [St Gallen], Hamburg Kunsthalle, Collection Lambert [Avignon], and private collections in Switzerland, Germany, UK, France, USA and Hong Kong. Sinclair has won various international prizes, most notably a Creative Scotland Award , the Baloise Statements Prize at the Basel Art fair , Arendt Oetker Atelier Stipendium, Galerie fur Zeitgenossische Kunst, Leipzig  and was the recipient of a Hamlyn Award [1998-2000]. Sinclair lives and works in Glasgow, Scotland.
Ross Sinclair: I reread your essay and while I don’t want to diminish the fact that racism exists everywhere and Scotland is certainly not exempt, nor is its art scene, I don’t think that in the end your essay makes a very convincing argument. You try to reach back into the 80’s without even managing to speak to the subjects of your argument. This lack of representation raises many issues for me. The melodramatic title and the first two quotes you use imply a clashing of realities perhaps to wrench the viewer out of their complacent slumber – no bad thing - but your selective quoting (from a footnote no less) undermines your argument from the start, especially given that this is the only time you get near to an evocation of the artists own voice (from an essay in his own catalogue) I think the whole of the particular section of the essay you quote from on Oladélé Ajiboyé
Bamgboyé in fact gives a more rounded picture – “In 1981 after 6 years in Scotland, his parents eventually moved back to Nigeria, but Bamgboyé, 18 years old and still in school, decided to stay in Scotland to finish his studies. He eventually earned his degree in Engineering in 1985 at the University of Strathclyde, in Glasgow. In 1992 Bamgboyé was awarded a summer studio residency at Banff in Canada. At the same time he was also awarded another prize, the Richard Hough Prize for Photography, the highest honor of its kind for photography in Scotland. With this coming success, Bamgboyé felt the urgent need to make a change in his life. He wanted to leave Scotland. As a succeeding artist in Glasgow, he eventually confronted the glass ceiling of racism in that art world. He did not want to be in a place where he would prosper as the token, exotic, black artist next to other Glasgow contemporaries and peers such as Douglas Gordon and Christine Borland. He wanted to simply be understood as an artist, first and foremost. So he went to Nigeria at this time, and upon his return, Bamgboyé used his Richard Hough prize money to move to Berlin. After a year in Germany, visa problems that typically affect Nigerians worldwide forced him to leave Berlin. He then moved to London, and finding it accommodating to his sensibilities, now makes it his home.”1 While some of the issues you discuss are certainly reflected in the points the essay illuminates, I think the longer quote proposes a subtly, but substantially different picture from the one you subsequently paint. Mother Tongue: As discussed briefly in our prior correspondence, since we are unable to have direct contact with Maud Sulter and Oladélé Bamgboyé, we have been trying to gather memories and recollections
of their time and work in Glasgow from individuals who knew them. You have mentioned that you knew Oladélé Bamgboyé; could you describe how and when you met him, in what capacity did you know him, did you see the exhibitions he had at the Third Eye Centre, Transmission, etc? RS: I’m sorry I just don’t feel comfortable with that question. If you’ve tried to contact Oladélé without success and you think he perhaps doesn’t want to talk then it seems totally disingenuous to be asking people to somehow speak for him, or at least about him. Again you seem to be compounding whatever issues you, I’m sure genuinely, feel should be discussed. Without access to the artist’s voice do you yourselves in fact become part of the problem? Obviously Oladélé is perfectly capable of speaking for himself and if he doesn’t want to do so then it seems unethical to ask people to re-invent him for the benefit of your argument. I think generally that for your whole exercise to have any real meaning you simply have to speak to the artists involved or in the case of Maud Sulter, someone close. That has to be the starting point, surely? MT: While it has been said that internationalism is strong in the Scottish arts community, it could be argued that this is a one-way relationship: that there is a willingness to export ‘Glasgow’ art and artists abroad, but less effort made to accommodate internationalism on home territory [for example, Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art tends to be much more local in its scope that its name suggests]. Given your personal proximity to Glasgow, may we ask you to comment on this?
RS: Generally speaking I just don’t see it. In your essay you critique that Windfall photo as an example of the mono-culture. While I wasn’t on the trip where the photo was taken I did write an essay in the catalogue. The project was infact the 3rd version of Windfall which had begun in London after the big storm in the late 80’s – hence the title – the second was, as I recall, in Bremen. For Glasgow the artists came from right across Europe selected by a couple of the artists who had been in the previous incarnations and in fact, it was a very broad international show, admittedly without the ethnic diversity you perhaps rightly criticise but certainly with a wide international and fairly balanced gender bias. The artists came and stayed for weeks in some cases and this in itself generated other relationships which have remained and grown. Whatever else, you couldn’t accuse it of being parochial. And fast forward 20 years and you will agree that many of Glasgow’s successful artists are now not Glaswegian or even remotely Scottish in an ‘official’ sense. Look at this years Scotland in Venice – no’ Scottish’ artists – but instead 3 artists culturally committed to the city having chosen to be here – this is fantastic, and I think this extends across the city at least in terms of a geographically diverse identity (if not ethnically as you point out). MT: It has been noted that it is one of the dangers of any group that forms itself into a supportive network that by that very act it excludes others.2 The role of socialising and of sticking together – for example, studying together at Glasgow School of Art, or the role of Transmission as a meeting place – has been described as a ‘natural,’ ‘normal’ thing. But it seems to us that this isn’t necessarily the case – that it downplays the situation whereby it actually requires conscious and concerted
efforts to cohesively maintain the sense of there being a group, and subconsciously that this would make the groups’ borders impermeable to others outwith it? RS: Ha ha, again I’m sorry I don’t see it – it’s simply not how it was, in my experience. Yes, Transmission has always been a bit cliquey in terms of being invited on to the committee, and sure, there are always shows you wished you had been invited to participate in – in fact yes, thinking back there was certainly over the years all the usual bitching about shows you weren’t in or folk you didn’t meet etc, especially as time wore on. But in very general terms of a broader group, the thing which really constituted ‘The Miracle’, if anything (remarked on by many who visited) was the opposite of what you imply – it was that in contrast to other cities, the artists in Glasgow were only too keen to suggest that anyone who came to town met other artists, went to see different artists and circulated as much as possible, and this broadened things out, not narrowed them down. It was a generous situation. Of course there were cliques and exclusions and inclusions but I think it’s also hard for folk who see Glasgow now to understand how little cultural infrastructure there was for young artists 20/25 years ago; you really had to just make it up yourself as you went along – there was no hope of really showing anywhere unless you did it yourself. MT: A preoccupation with local identity politics3 has been attributed to artists such as Douglas Gordon, Roderick Buchanan, Jacqueline Donachie and yourself. While we would argue that both Maud Sulter and Oladélé Bamgboyé’s work was also preoccupied with the same local identity politics, that they approached such issues from alternative perspectives,4 and subsequently that
there seems to have been few outlets within Glasgow for their work? RS: Again, I feel you are putting word into those artists mouths, speaking for them or at least pulling quotes so I won’t respond for them however I wouldn’t have characterised my experience of their work as being institutionally unsupported. As I mentioned before I felt that Maud Sulter was very much seen as a photographer which in those days seemed to have more of a distinct identity and I think she was a little older and I simply didn’t know her. I don’t think ever met her though I feel like I recall seeing her work, possibly when I was a student in quite a few big shows and magazines, and again, in contrast to the general thrust of your argument I had the sense at that point that she was in fact quite successful. And as outlined in the fuller quote I mention from which you draw your opening salvo, Oladélé was also quite successful relatively speaking in the Scotland of the late 80’s early 90’s as far as ‘success’ went for anyone at that time. MT: Can you describe how you position your practice - if you do at all – in relation to the Glasgow Miracle narrative? RS: Ha ha, that’s a crazy question - on the other side of the street, hopefully. Personally speaking I think my own practice ceased to look like what visitors though art from Glasgow was supposed to look like about 10 or 15 years ago – though then again, I can’t think of anyone who would admit to their work looking like what they thought Glasgow art should look like – maybe that’s been the ongoing strength?
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------1. Oladélé Ajiboyé Bamgboyé. Telephone Interview. December 17, 1997. Bamgboyé wanted to make images that incorporated Black people in them. This was not being done nor was it being dealt with in any way aesthetically in Glasgow. He knew he had to leave if he was going to be able to make the images he wanted to make. in: Odita, O. D.; Movement and Real Time in the Work of Oladélé Ajiboyé Bamgboyé, www.plexus.org/connect/texts/essays/texts/5.htm David Harding, The Scotia Nostra: Socialisation among Glasgow Artists, Talk given at ZKM Gallery in Karlsruhe, Germany in March 2001 and published in the catalogue CIRCLES by ZKM, April 2001. Available : www.davidharding.net/?page_id=11 2.
Mulholland, N.; Learning from Glasvegas: Scottish Art after the ‘90’, Journal of the Scottish Society for Art History, Vol. 7, 2002, p 63 3.
For example, Maud Sulter’s poem Circa 1930 described the similarities between Scotland and Ghana, whereas Bamgboyé’s work Spells for Beginners focused on the end of an intimate [interracial] relationship between the artist and his Scottish partner, and the perception of their relationship in the immediate public sphere. 4.
Neil Mulholland Professor Neil Mulholland is an art historian, writer, curator and artist. He is currently Head of Postgraduate Programmes and Visual Culture / Reader in Contemporary Art Theory at Edinburgh College of Art. Mulholland is a regular correspondent for international art publications including Art Review, frieze, Flash Art, MAP and Texte zur Kunst. His publications include The Cultural Devolution: Art in Britain in the Late Twentieth Century (Ashgate, 2003), and thN Lng folk 2go: Travels in Neomedievalisms (Punctum Books, 2013), co-authored with Norman Hogg. His research focuses on contemporary art practice and theory with particular emphasis on creative ecologies, art writing, neomedievalisms and ambient cultures. Neil works collectively under avatars that have interpretive flexibility, namely Confraternity of Neoflagellants, Shift/Work and Tayto et Tayto. Much of his critical writing continues to be concerned primarily with establishing a more nuanced, polymathic model of the relationships between art history and theory, writing,
curating and practice. Mulholland currently lives and works in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Mother Tongue: We would like to start by asking if you have any personal recollections of Maud Sulter and Oladélé Bamgboyé and their practice whilst in Glasgow? Neil Mulholland: No. Although I grew up there, I left in the late 90’s and was only really involved with contemporary art in the city around 1995-98. Any connection I had with Glasgow afterwards was through visiting. When you don’t live somewhere, you have a very different relationship with it. There was definitely a circuit of places that people attended - Transmission was still a hub at that point [‘95-98], the Modern Institute was yet to open - but apart from that, it was still fairly limited. In the late 90’s my engagement was filtered through what Transmission was programming, and events around King Street and the Glasgow School of Art. Because I never studied at the Glasgow art school, I wasn’t heavily involved with any particular group, or indentured in any way. MT: We have broached the subject with a number of people about the role of Glasgow School of Art in forming social groups which have a tendency to follow a clear line of practice, for example studying at the Art School and going on to become a Transmission Committee member. Whilst people outside of the circle cite this as a clear trajectory, there seems to be a strong element of denial from the other side. The importance of attending the GSA and having alliances within these
social groups would appear to inform the committee members’ demographics. This is important to address for a number of reasons; one of them being another form of linear inheritance by association, and the difficulty for new graduates from outside of Glasgow breaking through and becoming involved. NM: I think that groups formed in the Art School, emerging from the various departments, [students] would form friendships and move on beyond the art school. Other artists, who would move to Glasgow from Dundee predominantly - would make their work and eventually make their way through. From the three years I taught at the Art School, there were definitely groups I could identify that went on to become committee members at Transmission and have an influence over whose work would be ‘picked up’. So it definitely exists. MT: To move towards the ‘Glasgow Miracle’: there have been sentiments expressed that a project such as ours may be perceived to be spoiling the party/rocking the boat – a phrase borrowed from one of your early articles on the Scottish Art Community which we referenced within the original essay.1 There appears to be a reluctance to look at this situation in a critical way, the celebratory nature of the ‘Miracle’ with the advent of ‘Miracle Tours’ and the commercialisation of it as an authentic Glasgow product. NM: I spoke to Francis Mckee2 about the Glasgow School of Art archive project and its deliberately contentious title. It’s tricky that any sense of irony in the title is essentially lost when the project begins to unfold. I don’t think it’s confined to Glasgow, but
whenever there is a positive spin on a city, the majority of people are determined to milk it for whatever they can get, because cities are competing for resources. The ‘Glasgow Miracle’ is a useful tool for a number of institutions and individuals in Glasgow. It’s useful for artists who are based there, who travel and use the Glasgow label as a letter of introduction to their practice, you know, ‘guilt by association’. I think there are sectors of the cultural industry in Glasgow who don’t know it’s a myth and then there are figures that understand that fully, but are nevertheless able to use it as leverage, whether to condone or contest it. It’s useful because it’s in the media and therefore resuscitated and kept alive. MT: That is something we have discussed from the beginning of the project; by highlighting the ‘Miracle’albeit critically - do you perpetuate; legitimate; reinscribe it? NM: It’s like any mythology. Simon Ford wrote well on the Young British Artists [YBA] of the early 1990’s. He took it apart and revealed where it came from and how it had become naturalised. You could do the same job on the ‘Glasgow Miracle’ quite easily, and it needs to done. People need to be reminded it’s a fiction and not a particularly useful one. A lot of these fictions that are connected to identity are obviously imaginaries, but the ‘Glasgow Miracle’ is different. The core of it is to me - insulting. It implies there was nothing before its arrival and that there was this sudden apparition. Glasgow had become something and joined the modern world. That’s a very patronising assumption; one that is lazy and ill-informed in understanding or appreciation of what preceded that particular moment.
One of the ways to contest it is to ignore its presence and imagine it never being there in the first place. Another is to come up with something ‘other’ to it. What you’re doing is ‘othering’ – another ‘other’. There was a backlash against [the ‘Glasgow Miracle’] in the later 90’s on all sorts of levels: through programming and the kind of work people were making. There was definitely a sense of frustration with that whole narrative. For example, around 1997, Transmission’s programme was quite explicitly against the type of practices that had been dominant up until that point. They held an exhibition called Theme Show, a solo show by Alex Frost. The title was clearly ironic, directed towards what CCA were doing at the time - a run of theme shows. One of Transmission’s members’ shows was presented in the form of an arts centre and was titled Tronway, [in reference to] the large neighboring arts institution Tramway. I think they had run out of patience with thematic exhibitions. There was a predominance of essayist exhibitions and that’s what they were working against. MT: This project has been unique in the sense that we have had no contact with either of the artists. Maud Sulter passed away in 2008 and her estate is currently closed. Oladélé Bamgboyé ceased to practice as an artist circa 2006 and we have been unable to make contact with him. Bamgboyé himself cited the parochial nature of the Glasgow visual art community as the primary factor in his decision to leave Glasgow, ‘defecting’ to Berlin and later London.3 NM: There are lots of artists that choose to move away from Glasgow, for both personal and practice reasons.
The ‘Glasgow Miracle’ is about a different type of traffic; it’s about immigration, through people turning up to study on the MFA. The ‘Glasgow Miracle’ certainly doesn’t focus on the Scottish Diaspora. [Take] Martin Creed: he went to London to study. He’s the kind of Scottish artist who in the past would have been claimed for Scotland. He’s the equivalent of [John] Bellany or Bruce McLean, but because there are so many artists based here now and because the traffic is in the other direction, we no longer need to claim that Diaspora. So anybody that leaves Glasgow ‘vanishes’, and is no longer part of the equation. The artists who are seen to have established the ‘Miracle’ - the ones who are canonised - came through Glasgow School of Art at a point when most of its students were still predominantly coming from Scotland’s west coast. That demographic has transformed beyond recognition. If you look at the demographic of students attending Glasgow School of Art now, they are wealthier than Oxbridge students. The identity politics that were predominant up to the mid-90’s have vanished from the scene; they no longer play such a central role. MT: Do you think it’s a classic example of selfperpetuation in the sense that there is a kind of aesthetic coming from the work of Glasgow-based artists? Students are attracted to come to the Glasgow School of Art because of the Miracle spin and therefore it continues. And then, every year, someone from Glasgow is nominated for the Turner Prize each year, do you think there is a fear of people moving away from, or ‘losing,’ that?
NM: The Turner Prize is really easy to de-mythologise: you just need to look at who selects it; it’s a really limited number of people. Out of the people who nominate, there will be someone from Scotland. You can almost predict the nominated artist based on the selector. That’s why there is someone from Scotland in it every time: there’s no mystery to it. MT: And for a Scottish nominator to vote for a Scottish/ Scottish-based artist is almost to be expected. There is an understanding that it’s a political act and one that has continuing reverberation for the artist and his/her cities’ cultural profile; it would be considered disloyal to nominate someone from outwith your region? NM: They draw from a very narrow range of artists and often I think it’s because their experience is still relatively narrow, it’s still invested in things they were into in the early 90’s. There’s less of a sense of moving on and becoming something else. I think that it’s really transparent and obvious why it happens. It’s just not a barometer of what’s going on in the UK. Unless your esteem is genuinely from a group of peers, it’s not ‘peer esteem’. [And so] the Turner Prize does not reflect what’s going on in Nottingham, Bristol, Newcastle or any other big English city. It’s London and Glasgow. As long as they have Glasgow as a foil to London they can feel exonerated. The narrative of ‘Miracles’ excludes those other stories. I suppose that’s the other issue with awards or any kind of spectacle like the Turner Prize: it implies a trajectory of success and visibility. The things that are supposedly autonomous or sovereign within art in Scotland usually [vanish] as soon as a bigger prize is offered up. Something at a
British level rather than Scottish is a larger carrot, and therefore a more attractive proposition. I don’t think it’s anything other than expediency. The Scots colonise themselves as British subjects and have stuck with that for quite a long time: minor partners in Empire, getting some scraps to keep us happy. It’s a colonial maneuver. MT: Would you agree that there is something in the Scottish national character that suggests aligning yourself with anywhere other than Scotland - providing you are Scottish – is an act of betrayal or ‘manning above your station’? NM: The Scotia Nostra stuck together. There was a responsibility to support each other, and I don’t see why there should not be. It was a tactical way of making work and maintaining a practice. The ‘Miracle’ is another thing. It’s a eulogisation. To eulogise this chapter as a success story is the thing that’s problematic. Such a tendency for reappraisal is prevalent in the history of art in Scotland. The Glasgow Boys4 for example, then the Glasgow Girls5 as a reemergence of the narrative. You also have the Spook School6 in which the narrative focused on the men, growing to encompass the women. Now most art historians will argue it was the women who were most important catalysts of the Spook School. That is another re-articulation of a foundational myth of success. When you look at how this has been constructed over the last 100 years, you see how patchy it is. I think a lot of it is shouting loud enough to be heard, then continuing to shout when you don’t really need to any longer. MT: Can we ask you to give us general feedback on
the essay, particularly your thoughts on the ‘white aesthetic’? NM: It’s ‘white bread’. It makes me think of things I find depressing about Scotland’s monocultural tendencies. Maybe it’s not so much like that now, but it certainly used to be. The cultural points of reference and the aspirations are all very dull. It’s just not very inspiring stuff. I never really thought so much of it as being ‘white’ – I thought more about it as gendered, predominately masculine, and that it was a very particular kind of masculinity. It’s a form of masculinity I don’t like, that’s fairly prominent in Scotland. For me, the masculinity of the work is stronger than its overt ‘whiteness’. Now the arts scene here consists predominately of women; the demographic has changed greatly with mostly females going through art school. I would argue it’s more relevant to think about the masculinity [of the ‘Glasgow Miracle’], it’s almost as if the ‘whiteness’ of it is a given. In relation to the original exhibition [What We Have Done, What We Are About To Do] and its use of the Glasgow School of Art and Mitchell Library Archives in the context of the ‘Glasgow Miracle,’ I see it as a bit of an albatross. If you don’t move on from the archive and the weight of its history (for example, Transmission [committee members] feel that they have a cross to bear) then you’re not going to develop any kind of practice, you’re going to be constantly looking behind your back to see what you’re inheriting. That’s the thing about the ‘Miracle’: it’s a really unhealthy nostalgia based culture. I know Scotland isn’t unique in being nostalgic, but nostalgia plays a central role in our culture. We can see this in working-class Glasgow
particularly, and it tends to materialise where there is anxiety about where the place is headed. Where it once had a strong sense of identity, in terms of industry, it no longer has. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------1. Mulholland, N.; Awkward Relations, Tate Papers, 2004, www.tate.org.uk/ file/neil-mulholland-awkward-relations, Accessed : 01.07.2012 2. Francis McKee is an Irish academic and curator living and working in Glasgow. He is research fellow at Glasgow School of Art and has been Director of the Centre for Contemporary Art Glasgow since 2006. 3. Bamgboyé O.A.; www.thing.net/eyebeam/msg00489.html, Accessed: 01.07.2012 4. A collective of influential male artists, which came to be known as the Glasgow Boys in the 1890’s. Their colorful painterly depictions attempted to capture the many facets of the Scottish character. 5. A collective of female artists and designers based in Glasgow in the 1950’s who carried on the tradition of ceramic artistry using floral painting techniques, 6. The most prominent definers of the Glasgow School loose collective (Spook School) was architect Charles Rennie MacKintosh; his wife the painter and glass artist Margaret MacDonald; Francis MacDonald and Herbert Mcair. They cited their influences as Celtic revival; the Celtic arts and crafts movement, as well as Japonisme. Collectively they made a significant impact on the definition of Art Nouveau.
Emma Balkind Emma Balkind is an AHRC PhD Candidate at Glasgow School of Art. Estovers, a public-facing research project, will engage with other artists to consider what are the basic similarities between different evocations of the Commons. Asking ‘If the concept of the Commons / the Common / of Commonality is entirely mutable or slippery then what is this ghost of an idea of Commonality that is retained in its reiteration?’ Balkind is also currently producing a project on female authorship and radical subjectivity in partnership with Laura Edbrook and MAP magazine. Her writing has been commissioned for publication most recently by Galerija Galženica, Zagreb and YYZ Artists’ Outlet, Toronto. She currently lives in Glasgow, Scotland, her home town.
Mother Tongue: The essay produced to accompany the original exhibition – using two invisible case studies to refer to Maud Sulter and Oladélé Bamgboyé – argued that the Glasgow ‘Miracle’ is a major contributory factor to there being a white aesthetic in the Glasgow art scene, which prohibited these artists full access to the artistic community. Emma Balkind: And that these artists have been written out of history that they deserve to be part of because they were active in Glasgow at that time. MT: Yes. It would perhaps be fair to say that there is a generational divide happening in the responses that we receive. Us three, in all being of the same age, do not have any memory of Maud Sulter and Oladélé Bamgboyé practicing in Glasgow, and when we ask people among our peer-group, are met with blank faces. However, if those of previous generation do have a memory of these artists’ presence, maybe it’s more difficult to recognise their lack of visibility now. EB: Or at least people would feel obliged to account for this lack, or compensate for it now. I think the essay is written from a pretty objective viewpoint. At the end of the essay, you write: it’s ironic that we are two white women in a show full of white participants, educated outwith Glasgow.1 I don’t think it’s ironic; I think it’s a good vantage point from which to view this situation, because you don’t possess the emotional resonance of having been in the city at the time and are simply looking at it from the angle of questioning the documentation left over from that particular period of practice. Are these artists considered to be part of a lineage of artists that came from a place at a particular snapshot in time?
MT: Well the difficulty has been dealing with the power structures at play; Maud Sulter passed away in 2008 and her estate is currently being archived. Oladélé Bamgboyé ceased to practice as an artist around 2006, and various attempts to make contact with him have been unsuccessful. It’s difficult to know whether you should keep searching for someone who possibly doesn’t want to be found; at what point does it become intrusive? From a curatorial perspective however, it’s extremely problematic to have the works present with no voice from the artists themselves. We always come back to a quote by John Baldessari where he states I am uneasy about being used as an ingredient for an exhibition recipe, i.e., to illustrate a curator’s thesis.2 Whether we have done that here or not is debatable – we hope it’s not the case - but our feeling is that these works are important for Glasgow’s art history and there needs to be an acknowledgement that narratives other than that of the ‘Miracle’ exist. EB: There were a lot of works in the exhibition What We Have Done, What We Are About To Do which were quite “fun”; for example, all of the bands at the back of main exhibition hall. I think people have a problem with looking back in a way that is not fond. Generally speaking, I don’t think people like to be reminded of things they feel uncomfortable with, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have to be forced to encounter these things. MT: Despite the nature of the subject-matter – which we had anticipated would be provocative - we were surprised at the lack of feedback we received concerning the original exhibition. Of course this is partially our failure for not soliciting it directly. Naïvely,
we had assumed that by publicly presenting an explicit critique, there would be strong arguments sent back in retaliation. However, this is a perhaps a wider problem surrounding criticality in Scotland… EB: This is something I have heard being raised recently. There was an event, which focused on the lack of critical engagement, citing Variant3 as the only critical voice in the country and that being quite limited, naturally, by certain issues that they talk about. It was never their intention to be the sole critical voice in Glasgow; they were meant to be part of a wider ranging collection of critical voices. It just happens to be that other people have been mute. I’m from Glasgow, and have lived outside of the city and returned a number of times. I find that when I’m not in Glasgow I behave differently from when I am. I find it very difficult to express myself in Glasgow and my feelings about things, because it is within the Scottish character to see criticism as an affront: as an actual affront and not as a conversation. I think it’s rooted in a number of things, in working class Scotland. Furthermore, attending Art School has the tendency to be perceived as a fantasy, an unstable venture for the future, and maybe this manifests in people feeling that they do not have the right to speak, or have a weakened political voice. MT: The problem is also possibly rooted in the relatively small community of practitioners: your voice doesn’t have the same anonymity it would have in larger centres such as London for example? EB: Perhaps there’s some sort of tension between success and failure, and the (in)visibility of the artists.
MT: Within the Glasgow ‘Miracle’ there is an assumed whiteness. It doesn’t have to be stated because it is assumed. That is part of a wider problem within the Scottish cultural imaginary, or imagined community. Changes since the late 80’s or early 90’s – the spread outwards of the art world(s) from the centres to the peripheries, has affected the stamping and branding that such peripheries have now employed. It’s difficult to locate exactly when the white aesthetic originated, became problematic. And this draws upon upon wider socio-economic factors such as immigration. There is little reflection of the changing social make-up of Scotland in its art world – it has remained stagnant. We’re looking backwards with these two case studies and arguing for their contemporary relevance. What’s underpinning this argument is the urgency to address the ‘Miracle’ narrative before it becomes concrete, and to attempt to halt the limitation of who is making work in Glasgow, for what reasons and why they are attracted to the city in the first place. Glasgow School of Art already has a strong identity and it plays a central role in the formation of the ‘Miracle.’ -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------1. The exact statement reads: We would like to acknowledge our position as the authors of this project, as two white females, educated outwith Glasgow, and writing on the reception of two Black artists with the Glasgow ‘Miracle’ narrative. Furthermore, it is somewhat ironic, yet also very apt, that this contribution is made public in an exhibition consisting solely of white participants. From The Next Documenta Should Be Curated By An Artist, curated by Jens Hoffmann, Available: http://www.e-flux.com/projects/next_doc/john_ baldessari.html 2.
Variant is a free arts and culture magazine, also dealing with broader social, political & cultural issues. Founded in Glasgow in 1984, publication has been temporarily suspended since July 2012. The full archive can be found at: www.variant.org.uk/ 3
Graham Fagen Graham Fagen is an artist, writer and Senior Lecturer at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Dundee. For two decades his work has been dedicated to examining the ways in which cultures are produced and shaped in relation to each other, and how they are negotiated by people and objects; what he refers to as ‘cultural forms and formers.’ For his criticallyacclaimed Clean Hands Pure Heart , Fagen collaborated with musician Ghetto Priest to record a dub reggae rendition of celebrated Scottish lyricist Robert Burns’s famous songs Auld Lang Syne and The Slave’s Lament. His exhibitions including the Busan Biennale, South Korea and the Art and Industry Bienial, New Zealand, as well as being part of Zenomap, Scotland and Venice at the 50th Venice Biennale. In Britain he has exhibited in The Other Flower Show at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Tate Britain and the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, and in 1999 was invited by the Imperial War Museum, London to work as the Official War Artist for Kosovo. Fagen currently lives and works in Glasgow., Scotland. *Where a question and answer begin with ‘>’ and ‘<’ respectively, this has been used to indicate that the question or answer had not been completed before a response was made. *Underline is used to convey emphasis in the intonation and stress of speech from the original recording.
Mother Tongue: We would like to begin the conversation by asking you some questions briefly, before moving into a broader discussion, to allow time and space for you to openly respond to our essay, The White Aesthetic Necessitated by the Glasgow Miracle: Two Invisible Case Studies, produced for the exhibition WhatWe Have Done, What We Are About To Do. So firstly, we would like to ask if you knew of Maud Sulter and Oladélé Bamgboyé when they were active in Glasgow?
Graham Fagen: I remember Oladélé being around, but I don’t remember Maud. I think I saw Maud’s exhibition here at the CCA, and I saw bits and pieces of what Oladélé was doing. But I think he was older than me, that I might have still been in art school when he was beginning to be actively involved in different organisations and groups. And then I was in Birmingham, and I think I saw some of his work at the Ikon Gallery1 - I possibly went to the opening of that and Oladélé might have been there also - but I can’t remember to be sure. And that was the last I ever heard of him. But I didn’t know Maud at all. MT: It was really interesting for us at the beginning of the project, when we were asking around within Scotland as to whether people knew of Maud Sulter or Oladélé Bamgboyé, to hear people’s recollections of them, but at the same time, to note how many people didn’t recognise the names at all. Those we asked within Scotland frequently didn’t know of their work, whereas those outwith Scotland did. GF: So people outside of Scotland know more than those within Scotland. MT: Yes. The writer we referenced in our essay, Odili Donald Odita, cited how important Bamgboyé’s work was for issues of representation and identity.2 Someone whose name, despite having exhibited at Documenta and all over America, is met with a lot of blank faces in Glasgow; that seems to us a shame, that his time in Glasgow seems somehow forgotten. GF: Well for me, he was one of those people within a group that I suppose I looked up to and aspired to. As I
said, I think I was still at art school when he was around and about in Glasgow. But he was, from my perception of it, quite a key member or key component in places like – for example, I know he hung about with Malcolm [Dickson, now Director of Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow], maybe at Transmission. I wasn’t sure exactly what he was a strong part of, but certainly when I was going to openings at art school, he was always there. I don’t know if I ever even spoke to him, but I knew who he was. MT: Were you ever involved with the Transmission gallery committee? GF: No I was never on the Transmission committee. I did an exhibition at Transmission, in 1996, a sound installation in collaboration with Dennis Hopper and Sydney Devine. But I graduated from Glasgow in 1988, and then I was around and about for a year, before moving down south. I was down south from 1989 until 1995, so I was in Canterbury, London and Birmingham at the time. MT: And why did you come back? GF: I guess lots of reasons, the main reasons probably being personal. To do with relationships; that’s why I came back. MT: Did you ever teach at Glasgow School of Art, as we know you also teach at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Dundee? GF: I did teach at Glasgow School of Art. I was invited to do work on the Sculpture programme; Sculpture and
Environmental Art combined at some point, but I think it was the Sculpture department before it merged with Environmental Art. And I’ve been a visiting lecturer on the Masters course at Glasgow for quite a long time, since the mid-90’s, which I still do. MT: So moving towards the ‘Glasgow Miracle’ as a subject, we wondered how you position your practice if you do at all – in relation to the ‘Glasgow Miracle’, and the artists associated with it: such as those named in our essay: Douglas Gordon, Christine Borland, Simon Starling, Martin Boyce, Ross Sinclair, Craig Richardson, Jacqueline Donachie, Roderick Buchanan, Claire Barclay? GF: I have absolutely no relationship to the Glasgow Miracle at all. MT: Could you expand on that a little? GF: It’s a collective term that I don’t associate myself with > MT: < As individuals? GF: It’s interesting, I think one of the things that I enjoyed about my Glasgow-ness was the fact that I wasn’t in Glasgow after graduating from the art school in Glasgow. I remember that there were lots of group shows happening at that time, and they were known as “Glasgow group shows” and there was a kind of Glasgow bunch of artists; I guess my connections were all through things in London. The first group exhibition I had in London was at Lisson Gallery in 1993: it was an exhibition called Wonderful Life, and lots of friends
from Glasgow were also included in that.3 I guess lots of these people come under the mythology of the ‘Glasgow Miracle’ and I know that there are people within the group who are very happy to be connected and associated with that. But for me personally it wasn’t something that I particularly wanted to be part of; I enjoyed the fact that curators or people that I was meeting knew me for myself and for my work, rather than the fact that I was from Glasgow and studied at the Glasgow School of Art. MT: While we very much appreciate what you are saying, perhaps the ‘Glasgow’ label is almost unavoidable… that you become categorised in some respects? GF: You think it’s unavoidable that I’m associated with the ‘Glasgow Miracle’? MT: Not with the ‘Glasgow Miracle’, but with Glasgow. If you read any biography of yourself, it would always say that you are born in Glasgow, and live and work in Glasgow. We wonder how that affects the way in which other people read your work, although we know that you can’t know that > GF: < I’ve no idea how it affects the way other people read or understand what I do. In our discussion here today, I was asked to respond specifically to the concept or context of the ‘Glasgow Miracle’ and as far as I’m concerned, it’s not mine: it’s something else or somebody else’s. MT: If we may ask a final question before moving on to a general discussion of the essay’s content? Since the term was coined in the 90’s, that there has been an
evolution or change in the ‘Glasgow Miracle’, in the way in which artists, historians, journalists, Glasgow City Council, funding bodies, etc., talk about it. In particular, the change that people speak most critically of is the manner in which funding bodies and the city council have capitalised on the miracle, and we wondered if you could comment on this, how you have seen it change? GF: There are a few things in there; firstly, maybe you need to accept that there is a miracle in order to buy in to the question that you’ve asked. I don’t accept that there’s been a miracle and I don’t really buy into the myth. How other institutions use and capitalise on that myth is I suppose a matter of their choosing. And I think I’ve made my position to that myth really clear. For me, there are some really interesting questions within your essay but they feel like two questions.You’re maybe trying to do quite a lot with this subject area, and the two questions feel like they’re banging into each other at times. The two questions are quite easy to separate: the first is a question of the aesthetics of art that was maybe made here - here being Glasgow - or perhaps it would be more productive to say, art that was made, with connections to here. And the other question is this concept or myth – under the used title - of the ‘Glasgow Miracle’. For me they feel like two separate questions. One of the things that was apparent in reading the essay is that there is lots to deal with, and that these two questions were banging together. If they were dealt with as two separate questions then there could be more possibilities to expand or to question the two areas. Maybe I’m saying expand because I’m really excited about what’s been set up with looking specifically at Oladélé and Maud’s work; looking at
the subject-area within their work, and placing that or contextualising that within the kind of subject areas that other artists were dealing with that time in Glasgow; and maybe beyond that time, maybe right up to now. Who knows, it might be easy to argue that the questions I have asked through my work were helped or facilitated in some way by the fact that Oladélé was living and working here here when I was still an art student; I don’t know. But I can see some possible reasons as to why that that could be argued. Or, being able to view Maud’s work, again when I was an art student: that was really key and important to me in the way that my work developed. … But the whole ‘Glasgow Miracle’ thing, personally, feels like something else. It feels like a side-show or almost an irrelevance to what I’ve just outlined above in relation to Oladélé and Maud’s work, and my questions about my own work and the way that I see my own work. For me, the ‘Glasgow Miracle’ is about marketing, selling, and cultural branding, and its use in this sense has probably been stretched and developed and taken away from the original context in which it was uttered in the first place. And you can imagine very easily the journalist looking for the hook-line from the Hans Ulrich Obrist interview: connected to what may or may not have been happening here. And it’s only one person’s perspective of what was happening here at that time. So for me it’s two different questions: one I’m not really that interested in – of course it’s got lots of resonance that might shape or might influence policy, but even there I’m not sure how strong or how important a factor it is. The other one, that’s much stronger and much more important, is that you’ve picked out Maud
Sulter and Oladélé Bamgboyé, and I’m really keen to know the reason that you’ve picked them out. For me, it’s not that they weren’t white; it’s much more complex and much more subtle than that. They were both really interesting and important artists, because of what they were interested in with their work. MT: Yes, well one of the things that we have been trying to remedy in this second instalment is the discussion of the artists, their work and as individuals. Bamgboyé was perhaps slightly more vocal as to the reasons he left Glasgow, and would directly cite his reasons for leaving Glasgow as x, y and z. For example, that he felt he was always exoticised and referred to as a Nigerian artist, despite having grown up in Glasgow, being educated in Glasgow, having British citizenship: perhaps a feeling of being pigeon-holed. In the works he was making, one example being a series of photographs, looking at issues of desire: Bamgboyé was dating a white Scottish artist at the time, and we believe she is shown within one of the photographs that we exhibited from the archive.4 A lot this work is very much playing off the real attitudes that they were facing as an interracial couple on a daily basis. It reflects the everyday realities of Glasgow at that time, as much as the ‘Scottish’ qualities attributed to the ‘Glasgow Miracle’ artists, such as the Scottish thrift, quoted in our essay, and described by Neil Mulholland > GF: < We’re banging questions together again though? MT: Well, winding towards the point. Which is, we feel that Bamgboyé’s work was very relevant and responded to his immediate surroundings in Glasgow, in the same way that your work does. But this response to the locale
wasn’t in the same vein as other Glasgow artists, and there was very little public outlet for that work. It seems like the art community wasn’t ready for Bamgboyé’s work in a way, and having seen some of the reactions to his photographs last year, perhaps Glasgow still isn’t ready for them now. People’s responses to the photographs were quite surprising > GF: < That’s why I’m separating these questions, because I agree with what you’re saying about Oladélé’s work and it’s really intriguing to hear the reaction to them, even now. And he had made them kind of beyond Mapplethorpe. For me, that is what’s really exciting and interesting, and worth spending time and effort in writing about, writing about that. His work has been shown in lots of publics - from Documenta to numerous exhibitions in the United States - so there is an audience for his work. The art community, more broadly than just the Glasgow art community, has supported his work and supported his practice. You don’t get to show at Documenta without that kind of institutional support from the art world. MT: But surely we can’t separate the questions if he stopped making work in Glasgow for the reasons he gave for leaving Glasgow, such as his marginalisation> GF: <Well what you can do is contextualise his reasons for moving on from Glasgow, you can contextualise them within the city. But I think it’s really important that we consider his work: what his work may and may not be about, where it’s situated and where it went beyond Glasgow. You can talk about the reasons for leaving here and where he went beyond here with it.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------1. The title of this exhibition was Self-Evident, held between August 12 and September 16th, 1995, in collaboration with Autograph - The Association of Black Photographers. The work of Seydou Keita, Mama Casset, Ingrid Pollard and Maxine Walker was featured alongside Bamgboyé. Odita states in his 1998 essay Movement and Real Time in the Work of Oladélé Ajiboyé Bamgboye that the artist is at the forefront of current discourses on identity, nationality, and explorations of the self. Essay available: http:// www.plexus.org/connect/texts/essays/texts/5.html 2.
Other ‘Glasgow’ artists selected for the exhibition Wonderful Life include Douglas Gordon, Roderick Buchanan, and Christine Borland. 3.
Christian Rattemeyer writes, regarding Bamgboyé work’s Spells for Beginners [1994/2000]: [the work] focuses on Bamgboyé and the Scottish artist Anne Rome Elliot, with whom he had a long-term, intimate relationship… Slowly, as the characters’ stories begin to unfold, it becomes clear how personal relationships are always inscribed within a larger contested cultural arena, such as when Elliot confesses that Bamgboyé was always her “showpiece.” In predominantly white Scotland, her relationship with a black man could not be perceived as anything other than racially charged, already filled with stereotypes and myths. Available: http://www.culturebase.net/artist.php?1447 4.
Maud Sulter [1960-2008] Born in Glasgow of Scots and Ghanaian descent, Maud Sulter was a writer, playwright, cultural historian and artist, working with installation, photography and video. She attained a Masters degree in Photographic Theory, and came to prominence through her programming of Check It at the Drill Hall, London and her inclusion in the exhibition The Thin Black Line, curated by Lubaina Himid at the ICA, 1986. Her work was subsequently included in exhibitions held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1987; the Johannesburg Biennial (1996); and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in 2003. Between 1992 and 1994, she was the Principal Lecturer in Fine Art at the Manchester Metropolitan University, and later directed and founded the gallery Rich Women of Zurich, London, which promoted cultural diversity and mid-career artists. Sulter was awarded the British Telecom New Contemporaries Award 1990 and the Momart Fellowship at the Tate Gallery Liverpool in 1990, alongside acknowledgements of her writing including the Vera Bell Prize for Poetry (awarded for As A Blackwoman). Sulterâ€™s work is held in the collections of the V&A London, Arts Council Collection, the British Council, the Scottish Arts Council and the Scottish Parliament Collection, amongst others.
Oladélé Ajiboyé Bamgboyé [b. 1963] Born in Odo-Eku, Nigeria, Oladélé Bamgboyé’s family emigrated to Glasgow in 1975, where he completed a degree in Chemical Engineering in 1985. In the late 1980’s, Bamgboyé began to produce photographs, establishing his practice through documentation photography for a number of galleries and institutions in Glasgow, including Transmission Gallery and Variant Magazine. A founding member of Street Level Gallery, early exhibitions of his work at the Third Eye Centre and Transmission led to Bamgboyé being awarded a summer studio residency at the Banff Centre Canada and the Richard Hough Prize for Photography in 1992. Bamgboyé re-located to Berlin, then London, undertaking an M.A in Media Fine Art Theory and Practice at Slade College of Fine Art. International exhibitions of Bamgboyé’s work include the Johannesburg Biennial, Cross/ing: Time-SpaceMovement ; Documenta X ; The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945 – 1994, P.S. 1, New York and Museum Villa Stuck, Munich ; Animations, PS1 New York and Kunst Werke, Berlin . At the time of writing, the curators have been notified that Oladélé Bamgboyé has ceased to remain working as an artist.
Mother Tongue Mother Tongue is a research-led curatorial project formed by Tiffany Boyle and Jessica Carden in response to individual periods of investigation in northern Scandinavia and West Africa. The project participated on the 2011/12 CuratorLab programme at Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design [Stockholm]. Both Tiffany and Jessica are currently doctoral candidates at Birkbeck, University of London and TrAIN: Transnational Research Centre for Art, Identity and Nation [UAL] respectively. The project is currently based in Edinburgh and London, UK. www.mothertongue.se
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