Every time I visit Glasgow there is something new to discover, from the absurdist cafe to the best South Indian curry, along with revisiting old friends, familiar places and the apparently de rigueur costume party. I’ve been invited on this trip by the very happening and highly regarded Lowsalt gallery to take part in Glasgow International Visual Arts Festival (Gi). I have a month to explore the town while sourcing materials, going to gigs and hanging out. Staying on the Southside is another lovely aspect to this trip, with morning walks in the parks through the peaceful and often magnificent surroundings of Pollockshields as a counterpoint to the long hours and intense production process.
If you’re in need of a brief city escape, take yourself off to visit the House for an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park where you can enjoy the scenic mansion-lined streets along the way, and the art both inside and out at the sculpture park. Walking along Clyde River is another landscape altogether, with the current ‘urban regeneration’ process underway the shiny new buildings are interspersed with desolate wastelands, where the monolithic shipping crane towering over cyclists and pedestrians going into the BBC and SECC Science centre gives the feeling that things can only improve in time.
Taking over the fabulous wilderness of knot-weed by the Glasgow Sculpture Studio’s along the railway, Lowsalt has a completely innovative approach to the notion of an outdoor sculpture park. Lowsalt works in a creative collaborative process with the artists involved, to gather and translate the spirit of this independent local artistic community into a collective framework and initiative.
Not Your Average Park
The rusty ancient-looking metal sign invites you into another time, where all that remains of some alternative prehistoric relics have been disturbed in their whimsical group show Vestiges Park. ‘A collective intervention into a forgotten landscape,’ the park was inspired by the 1844 anonymous publication of ‘Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation”. Written by Scottish journalist Robert Chambers, the book exposed a cosmic theory of transmutation which pre-dated Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’ by 15 years, and foreshadows of many debates that still occur to this day including the validity of evolutionary theories, the demarcation of science from pseudoscience, and the effect of popularization upon scientific ideas. Exhibits include a gigantic fox head and solemnly dancing mechanised bear; the wonderfully bizarre museum of gloves; ‘chambers coliseum’ specially constructed fence enclosing the space; a nostalgic derivé soundscape of wild or imaginary creatures; and the charming Oolite Sisterhood who are in charge of guarding and guiding visitors through the park.
“Vestiges Park does not exist, cannot exist, will not exist. The artists involved deny all knowledge of the project and the authorities are mute. In some cases these artists may not actually exist – they split, double, multiply, evaporate, condense, dissolve and merge until truth and fiction, science and magic become indistinguishable. Vestiges Park is a chimera – there and not there – dare to find us, dare to enter and let us take you to the edgelands, the rotting places where nothing is as it seems… and if you cannot find us it is because we have fallen off your maps”. – Lady Ada Lovelace
Hangout and Refuel
There are plenty of options nearby to refuel after your walk in this wilderness, from cosy vegan and jazz hangout the 78 further along Kelvinhaugh St near the corner of Argyle, over towards Kelvingrove for Firebird and fantastic pizza and salads, or Montgomery’s retro-canteen style cafe on Radnor St. for bagels & cakes and old favourite The Goat which was sadly being refurbished on my visit. My top pick in the area is the authentically spicy Banana Leaf on Old Dumbarton Rd, serving arguably the best South Indian flavours in town, with a wide range of vegetarian options including truly fabulous dosa and idly at extremely reasonable prices served up from their tiny fluorescent lit take-away counter.
Across the road is the magnificent architecture of Kelvingrove Museum, bringing together the relics and stories of history into conversation with the usual museum artefacts in completely unexpected ways. In these stately halls an elephant and aeroplane may co-exist along with ancient warrior weapons, while French Impressionists segue neatly into Scottish local history and culture. The Gi exhibition of David Shrigley works that could be museum pieces serving to highlight their incongruence amongst the many bizarre cases of objects and reliquaries.
If you happen to find yourself invited to a fancy-dress party during your visit, make sure you go check out the Scottish Opera whose incredibly magnificent racks of costumes are available to hire. Everything from a flamenco dancer to authentic Victorian corsets, a robot outfit and more.
Nearby is the Glue Factory, home to another local artist-run group the Finn Collective who took over the multi-level warehouse space with a wild party and concert event for their opening at Gi.
Head over to Queen St for more alternative fancy clothing options from Hellfire Couture and family-run institution Tam Shephed’s trick shop to buy wigs, hats, theatrical make-up and practical jokes, although expect to line up for entry at Halloween and other festive times.
A “Wild” Night Out
One of the best performance pieces I’ve seen in a long time was at Ray’s absurdist Cafe, more correctly known as le drapeau noir. Taking over the seldom used warehouse opposite Stereo cafe and bar in Renfield Lane, this tiny space offered the most diverse and bizarre acts throughout the Gi festival. My favourite involved a death-metal transformator who changed from a gnarled old-lady Babushka offering and throwing mushrooms into the crowd to a soundtrack of distorted Russian klezmer music, into a menacing ten-foot high voodoo skeleton monster dancing dementedly to insanely intense industrial music with a quick flick of the wrist. This was followed by the highly enthusiastic voodoo exorcism performed with flamboyant blood and gore onto a living body – and indeed most of the audience. As one of my hosts commented: ‘this is as wild as it gets on a night out in Glasgow!’
Escaping the City
After that episode, I had to get out of town for a while and was luckily invited to spend the day with a friend visiting his hometown(s) in Clackmannanshire. The newly opened railway station at Alloa may bring his dream of making the inaugural Alloavision song contest and arts festival just a little bit closer, however his cultural focus has leaned in recent years towards doing fieldwork in one of the villages that gives the region its name: Clackmannan. Firstly there is the Clackmannan tower to visit, and ‘look aboot ye’ in the words of the region’s old slogan (now been replaced by the 21st Century ‘more than you can imagine’). How could there be ‘more’ than you can imagine, one may wonder? In this area the rich traditions and living cultural heritage offer a glimpse of more than you might think goes on in a quiet sleepy town. Although anyone who has ever lived in a small town will know, they are a hotbed of intrigue.
Here the local legends include the wonderful Lady Catherine Bruce, who used the sword of her forbears to ‘knight’ visitors including the famous national poet Robert Burns, claiming that she had ‘more right to do so than some others’ (meaning the incumbent on the throne at that time). The church graveyard has a truly amazing series of tombstones with the symbols of a ram’s horns and skull, commemorating the many local casualties from Jacobite uprisings in 1715 & 1745, looking not a little like Pirate tombs. The evocative Stone of Mannan is the actual reason for our visit, said to be an object of ritual and pagan worship from iron-age times, invested with the spirit of the sea god/shaman Manau and brought to prominence when King Robert the Bruce reportedly lost and then found his glove upon the rock. Now teetering on the highly suggestive plinth installed during Victorian times, the Stone is due for a resurgence in interest and mythology.
Our day trip continues on to the old textile and mining town of Tillicoultry, where we discover a tasty pub specialty of Water Buffalo Burgers for £5 at the Bridge Inn – apparently sourced from local water buffalo, although I remain sceptical about this. My friend Andrew attempts to guide me for a walk up into the hills for a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside, however neither of us are too disappointed when time constraints mean we have to change plans. Tasting the brew of a fine imported ale at his old teenage haunt the Woolpack Inn, just off Upper Mills St (1 Glassford Sq) is very handy to keep your spirits up before or after an hours walk to the Mill Glen in the Ochils Hills.
Returning to the big city, I find myself in the ambient surroundings of Macsorleys where Guy, one of the musicians from the Bridgeland Band is DJ’ing at the pre-party for the last Optimo night in Subclub. Finally, we take over the South Portland St Suspension bridge for the opening of Bridgeland, a new meta-nation, (or simply a state of mind?) that you can find yourself in on any bridge, anywhere. As always, Glasgow has been good to me and I hope to visit again very soon!
- Jodi Rose