Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Glasgow Fieldtrip

My little jaunt last week up to Glasgow was fantastic. This was partly because both Glasgow International and Art Screen were in full swing, the ease of staying in this chilled out room in a tenement in the West End and a lot to do the superbly comprehensive to-do lists that Ally and Michael shared with me before I left. Those lists! One of my absolute favourite things about this here blogger/Twittersphere is the joy of sharing tips about the best things to do, see and eat in a new city. Over the years these tips have taken me to lots of brilliant places I probably wouldn't have encountered otherwise and saved me from lugging the weight of a Lonely Planet. 

And so to return the favour, this is my own little Glasgow guide (I already know that Harriet is planning her own trip- so H, consider this another print-out to fold up and pop into your bag.)

Day one

After arriving I headed straight from Glasgow Central up to Renfrew St. The Glasgow School of Art seemed an appropriate place to begin, chow down some lunch and formulate a plan. I hadn't realised that I would arrive just in time for the opening ceremony of the new Reid building. Perfect. I stood on my tiptoes in a crowd and tried to catch a glimpse of the Rube Goldberg-style causal chain that had been set up so that weights dropped from ceilings and clouds of metallic confetti floated over mezzanines onto grinning students below, showing the space of the building off to maximum effect. 

Then off to the GSoA cafe where I sat surrounded by blunt, relaxed bobs and rollnecks and ate halloumi kebabs and daal with my little wheely suitcase at my feet, pretending to be a visiting professor. Lunch was okay. Watching students assemble the tinsel-fringed stage was better, and I scribbled in my notebook that I should buy some and thought how art school always seems like so much fun. You have a license to wear slightly baggy-bottomed cord trousers which shouldn't work but do and you spend time 'getting to know' materials.

Left: Glasgow School of Art cafe. Right: Glasgow International at McLellan galleries. 

I then wandered down to the McLellan Galleries on Sauciehall Street for my first Glasgow International exhibition. Avery Singer's cubist-style works, produced using Sketch Up were excellent, but Jordan Wolfson's exhibition downstairs stayed with me the most. This may be because I am a sucker for a space that asks you to remove your shoes at the door and then invites you into a joyously carpeted space in which to watch art films. (The same went for the Salla Tykka films at Baltic in Gateshead.) Essentially it is like carpet-time at school. Except Wolfson's films involved a blaring soundtrack of Mazzy Star's 'Fade Into You' (you try sitting in an empty room with no shoes on and not emotionally singing along) and a strangely friendly on-screen condom filled with cartoon hearts. In the next room was a tongue-in-cheek film in which Jordan whispers, walking around a Roman cathedral discussing art and whether there's any point in creating it. I recommend watching some of his works here.

Next stop. Waterstone's, where I bought some three books after feeling disillusioned with the one I'd brought with me to Glasgow. (Things I Don't Want to KnowThe Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am, and The Walk in case you'd like to know.) 

Onto GoMA for Aleksandra Domanovic and Sue Tompkins. Domanovic's hanging sheets were very impressive though Sue Tompkins doesn't float my boat. The interactive room upstairs was very sweet, with a few DIY gems. (See the collaged mirror below with the small 'I'M NOT THAT FAT!' memo)

Next I headed to the subway, where the carriages are comedically small and bubbleish compared to London's Tube. Sort of like a 1970s imagining of the future, with little signs that tell you to 'Mind Your Head', rather than 'Mind The Gap' as you get on. I don't think I've ever taken such fast and efficient public transport. They whizz you around in no time at all, free of tight crowds of armpits. Instead it feels like a perfectly platonic waiting room on tracks. Onto Tchai Ovna in the West End, an institution of a tea house amongst students but the sort of place that I don't think requires much describing. For me it was very special because by the time I found it at the end of the unassuming Otaga Lane I hadn't quite known what to expect. I felt completely relaxed and content, ensconced in an armchair with a hot pot of russian caravan and the first chapter of Things I Don't Want to Know in which Deborah Levy writes romantically about a solo trip to Majorca with a typewriter and a room of her own and memories of rubbing clementines along the soles of her feet. I didn't want to move. 

An old university friend took me to Hillhead Bookclub for dinner where I ate a super chewy squid salad and we swallowed down lots of cocktails and merrily commented on how much better this year was than the last; we are both salaried and able to, you know, buy cocktails. The arrival of the the bill went some way to undoing this smugness.

Left: The McLellan Galleries. Right: High art who? The fun room at GoMA.

Left: The McLellan Galleries. Right: GoMA.

Left: Probably the best pot of tea I've ever had at Tchai Ovna. Right: Otago Lane.

Day two

Homemade muesli for breakfast, sitting in the bay window of the tenement flat with a pretty good view of the windows on the other side of the road. No broken-legged Jimmy Stewart with a telescope lens though.

Next onto Mono. The cafe was pretty empty and not terribly appealing; their menu is attractive though so I suspect it's better later in the day. Instead I browsed in the fantastic adjoining Good Press which has a remarkably large collection of zines, magazines, posters and hand-drawn niceties. I had a good chat with Matthew the owner about Manchester, low rents and the demand for zine libraries, and bought a poster which earnestly pronounces 'These Things Take Time'. I was aware of how wanky this sentiment was and therefore, quite justified in buying it. 

More browsing in the pop-up Aye Aye Books at the Glasgow International hub at All That Is Solid coffee shop just over the road. 

Did somebody say "I like my gallery spaces to come with cosy carpeting??" The Modern Institute must have heard with their small but perfectly formed rose-pinked carpetted exhibition further down on Osborne Street. 

A stop at Tramway is an essential part of the Glasgow International programme for Michael Smith's brilliant 'Videos and Miscellaneous Stuff from Storage' (I spent a good long while staring at the cabinet containing row after row of his personal card collection. Shiny credit cards, gallery memberships, drivers licenses, faculty cards from universities across the States. His social security is right there for all of these strangers to see! We could just have it. Maybe that's what he wants.) Bedwyr Williams's abandoned coach in the middle of a constructed forest in next doors 'Echt' exhibition was rather brilliant for sheer novelty factor, and his accompanying film which explores 'worst-case scenarios' was hilarious and struck me as akin to an apocalypse orchestrated by Goldie Lookin Chain. Note: Tramway gallery is 5 minutes by train from Glasgow Central. Get off at Pollockshields East and not the similarly named Pollockshaws East, as I did. Doh.. 

Fish and sentiments in the subway tunnel outside Cowcaddens station.

The Modern Institute
Bedwyr Williams's 'Echt' at Tramway, and the view of the gardens outside. 

Left: 'These Things Take Time' poster. Right: 'This Isn't Tesco, Is It?' a one of the photographs from my carefully observed snapchat series 'This Isn't Tesco, Is It?' a reference to my favourite line in Jonathan Glazer's Glasgow-based Under The Skin.

'Holiday mode' wouldn't be complete without an afternoon beer and a side of artichoke hearts (said Virginia Woolf once.) Which is exactly what I did at the CCA's Saramango Cafe back up on Sauciehall Street. More ploughing through the Deborah Levy short story before heading to the West End to source something for dinner. If there's an element of American culture that I crave for the UK it's the ability to acceptably dine solo. And I'm not talking about lunch, or a quick steak bake in the window counter at Greggs. I mean a proper meal at dinner time which can be enjoyed alone, free of misunderstanding glances of pity from that couple who are spending more time silently feeling sorry you than actually talking to each other. Whereas America has diners for solo Nighthawks, the UK doesn't really have an equivalent. Little Italy on Byres Road came fairly close and I dined on a wonderfully spicy mushroom, olive and jalapeño pizza washed down with a blood orange san pellegrino. The next day I happened to read Nell Frizzel's article on solo-dining and nodded along in agreement. I remember being baffled by the girls at secondary school that would never go to the toilets by themselves. (The more I think about it the more I question how that was even a thing?) But now I sort of feel the same about solo-eating. I understand why some people wouldn't be comfortable doing it but aside from approaching it as a 'joy' (sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't) I think it just comes down to the fact that we're all adults, and we're all alone and can't we just go for a meal once in a while without somebody else and have it not be a big deal? Afterwards I needed to cool my mouth from all of the jalapeños so I went a few doors down for an ice-cream at Cafe Nardini. I sat in the window with my two scoops of pistachio and vanilla and watched the world go by and felt like Carrie fucking Bradshaw.

Day three

A morning stroll around the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. Not quite up there with Brooklyn or Kew, or even Bristol but I can never resist warming up in the hothouses. 

Most of the Art Screen events I wanted to catch were clustered on Friday and so first stop was the Art of the Art Documentary talk at CCA which contained more 'cool TV people' than was reasonably tasteful. (My favourite moment was when the man next to me called Kirsty Wark 'Lesley' during the Q+A; an excellent unintentional ice-breaker.) It might be worth dedicating another post to some of the soundbites snatched from this event but highlights included Jeremy Deller's strawberry ice-cream-pink socks and Andrew Graham Dixon saying that "X-Factor has had an interesting, positive and less-elitist influence on the way art documentaries are made today."

A trip just up the road to the Tenement House and then onto the Le Swimming exhibition at Renfrew Street's Underground Car Park. I'm afraid I wouldn't recommend the stop here- my current thinking about swimming pools obviously swayed me but it wasn't any good and I wish I'd taken the time to hop across town to see Anthea Hamilton and Nicholas Byrne at Govanhill Baths instead, or Alistair Frost's pop-up nail bar, both of which I regretfully missed. 

The 'This Isn't Tesco, Is It' series continues at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. 
Right: Brilliant pamphlet at the Tenement House recommending odd jobs to find around the house as a means of helping those struggling in recession. Topical...

Left: Not Tesco. Right: A pin that I didn't buy but absolutely should have.

The CCA shop was a real goodie and I got talking to Sally Hackett after asking her about a couple of fantastic pottery figures which happened to be hers. Next time I have some more spare cash in my back pocket I'll be buying one of her cheeky naked figures but I did leave with one of Greer Fester's cacti-painted 'archipelaglasgo' brooches. On closer inspection I realised it had been painted onto floor linoleum. It is excellent. 

And onto evening and to the wonderful modernist Glasgow Film Theatre on Rose Street. The inside is just as pleasing as the outside, with a wood-panelled cruise-ship quality which would be best accompanied with martinis and a backless dress and a hand on the small of my back. But of course, it's a cinema in 2014, not a ship in a 1970s murder mystery. I was there to watch Martin Wallace and Jarvis Cocker's The Big Melt on the big screen, and although it's fantastic that the film was available for months for free on the BBC website, on a big screen is really where it should be watched. For a film that celebrates and chronicles the Sheffield steel industry the booming soundtrack was a wonderful accompaniment- with the rhythmic hammering of factory sounds seamlessly morphing into Northern club music. Watch the trailer below and you'll see what I mean. I wish somebody would release the soundtrack; an instrumental version of Human League's 'Being Boiled' acts as a theme throughout, along with Acid Brass's cover of Voodoo Ray and a pounding 'I-need-to-dance-now' track from Forgemasters. In the Q+A that followed Jarvis Cocker said "people are inherently better dancers in the north because of the rhythm of the factory machines."

Left: Familiar Glaswegian scenery. Right: Sally Hackett card and Greer Fester brooch.

Left: The Glasgow Film Theatre. Right: Paul Morley, Jarvis Cocker and Martin Wallace in conversation. 

Day four

A coffee in one of the red booths at the University Cafe on Byres Road before catching my train. There aren't too many places like this anymore, and it made me realise that I so often go to coffee places with exposed brickwork and a moral superiority which makes it okay to serve tepid lattes. I finished Deborah Levy's book and particularly enjoyed her references to journal-keeping. "It would probably be more romantic to describe it as 'my journal', or, 'my diary', but I thought of it as a note book, perhaps even a sheriff's note book because I was always gathering evidence for something I could not fathom." 

Later that day I saw on Instagram that Jarvis Cocker and his partner had gone for breakfast at the University Cafe a couple of hours after I had. Regrets, I've had a few (said Frank Sinatra once about a similarly missed Cocker-encounter.)

1 comment:

Ally said...

Sounds like you had a great time and really packed it in! Glad you found Tchai Ovna and enjoy a nice long session there, they really do have the most cosy spot.