On paper there’s not much to sculptor Brian Griffiths’s show in the vast space of Tramway 2. In practice there’s not much there either: 24 canvas shapes, like tents, constructed from grey tarpaulins hung over largely invisible metal frames.
BRIAN GRIFFITHS: BORROWED WORLD, BORROWED EYES
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Andrea BÜTTNER: Little Sisters: Lunapark Ostia (2012) and Little Works (2007)
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40/40: FORTY YEARS, FORTY ARTISTS
Glasgow Print Studio
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Indeed, early works in this series were part of a London exhibition entitled The Invisible Show, a reference to HG Wells’s novel The Invisible Man. Each tent, whether cuboid or circular is an empty sleeve, like those of the character Griffin’s, whose clothes or bandages delineated a form that could no longer be registered by ordinary vision.
There’s an essay here on how sculptors create form out of something or nothing, and, in the use of material, a clear analogy with painters’ canvas. There’s an economy too: recycled materials, great big things made from very little. It has been recognised immediately by the waggish visitor who has scribbled, in Tramway’s book of visitors’ comments, the words: “Thrifty Shades of Grey.”
But visiting Borrowed World, Borrowed Eyes is a little like that feeling you have on waking in the night in a strange room. Despite the fact that this is a show in natural daylight, it is as though your eyes are adjusting to the darkness. Colour and texture start to appear where there was uniform monochrome and three-dimensional shapes where there was only flatness.
After a few moments in the gallery no two greys are alike and the canvases reveal their own stories: a stain here, a little patch there. A small zigzag of rust coloured stitching becomes as exaggerated as a giant bolt of lightening
That sense of awakening though, is most powerful in the emotional sense. It’s impossible to see these works just now without making terrible and melancholy associations. There are those little white tents that appear at crime scenes while forensics teams do their work. Or the thousands of tents put up suddenly in serried ranks in the bleak refugee camps for those displaced by the conflict in Syria.
Though I’m not sure, I suspect the title might come from that most melancholy of books, Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic The Road. In the book, father and son travel through a blasted landscape which is cruelly indifferent to their troubles. They are like two hunted animals. In McCarthy’s words they exist on, “Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.”
If all this leaves you, like me, a little down but very thoughtful there is a wonderfully meditative pair of films next door. Andrea Büttner’s exhibition consists of two films Little Sisters: Lunapark Ostia (2012) and Little Works (2007), which are sister projects in more than one sense.
Nuns have been a voguish subject in secular culture for some time. In the post-religious age works like Tacitas Deans’ stunning film Presentation Sisters, the revival of interests in the printmaker Sister Corita Kent and the success of writers like ex-nun Karen Armstrong are not just about spiritual longings. Many of us, girls in particular, reared on boarding school stories or convent memoirs like Antonia White’s Frost in May, are fascinated by the tight world or community that nuns seem to represent.
The films in fact present two entirely contrasting lifestyles. The closed world of a Carmelite order in London and the non-monastic order the Little Sisters of Jesus, who travel with show people and in the case of Sisters Genevieve and Anna, run an arcade selling homemade crafts in a rundown little amusement park in Ostia, near Rome.
What Büttner explores in both films are the questions of creation and display, pleasure and the notions of artistic gift. For the Carmelites the making of “little works”, such as crochet, woodcarving and tapestry is a painstaking part of scarce recreation time, and their presentation a proud but angst-ridden moment for the artists.
The works are made in the context of religious devotion – the convent founder conveyed her own encounter with the Virgin Mary in 1917 by an exquisite drawing. Artistic creation, in this context, is both a gift from god and a subliminal link with a world outside or before the seclusion of convent life. “I had no teacher, I had it in my mind and my heart, and I tried to put it on paper,” explains an elderly nun. “Well,” she reflects, “my mother was my teacher but she couldn’t help me, she was dead.”
The question of artistic and intellectual inheritance is also central for the thoughtful but garrulous nuns at Lunapark, who live in dignified poverty and whose blue clothes are “the colour of workers’ clothes,” although, when prompted, they concede they might also reflect a certain fondness for the Virgin Mary.
Anna is the intellectual of the pair, who muses on the visual pleasure and spectacle of the fair. Genevieve tells how she learned freedom and generosity from the people who work there: “a love of liberty”. She can’t stop smiling and waving gently at people off camera. “You are available to everyone who passes by,” she says, and smiles again.
That notion of artistic inheritance is gently raised again across the city at the Glasgow Print Studio, which is celebrating 40 years since it was formally constituted in 1973 by commissioning a new print from each of 40 artists.
Toby Paterson first visited the studio at the age of six with his grandfather, the artist Lennox Paterson. His fabulous new print revisits the 1970s with an extraordinary image of the band, Can, in rehearsal, looking less like real people than excellent sculpture.
It’s nice to mark the occasion with a forward-looking show, which as well as featuring stalwarts like Elizabeth Blackadder and Barbara Rae is one more reminder of the revival of print among younger artists like Ciara Phillips, Nicolas Party and Scott Myles.
Jim Lambie’s acid bright text work entitled Deep Inside is, in fact an image of acid. It replicates the dying words of Aldous Huxley, a scrawled written note to his wife, “LSD, 100mgs, intra muscular.” Huxley , who was suffering from laryngeal cancer and unable to speak, died shortly after.
• Brian Griffiths until 22 September; Andrea Büttner and 40/40: 40 Years, 40 Artists both until 13 October