Generation shows off Scots modern art’s diversity

Christine Borland, L'Homme double, 1997

Christine Borland, L'Homme double, 1997

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THE best Scottish art of the last 25 years is revisited in the Generation project. Just don’t expect a simple unifying theme that ties it all together

In April 1993 time in Glasgow stood still according to Andrew Patrizio, who is now Professor of Scottish Visual Culture at the University of Edinburgh. In the days before social media, he recalls, word of mouth insisted that there was an art work “that could not be missed, its metronomic surface ticking deep in the cavernous, post-industrial Tramway, insisting that all of us attend it, and ever since attend to it.”

Dalziel + Scullion - Immersion (2014)

Dalziel + Scullion - Immersion (2014)

And time will stand still this summer again. Patrizio was talking about Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho, the art work in which Hitchcock’s most famous movie is slowed down to a glacial pace to become something new altogether. It represents an iconic moment for culture in Scotland; and it is an artwork that so compellingly reflects the radical changes in the world of communications, our ability to appropriate and reshape the stuff around us, that the US novelist Don De Lillo used it as a central metaphor in his own fiction, which is forensic in its attention to shifts in our social world.

From 28 June it will be on show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh as the project Generation: 25 Years of Contemporary Art in Scotland comes to a head with a fresh raft of openings at the National Galleries of Scotland, Tramway in Glasgow and venues across Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee.

Time, of course, doesn’t really stand still. The 25 years, from 1989 -2014 that the Generation project encompasses sometimes feel like the blink of an eye, sometimes like an eternity. And as Patrizio himself has written in an essay about Generation, there is, in fact, no single defining story of recent art in Scotland. But it is a fascinating period in the story of contemporary culture that deserves to be retold to new and younger audiences as well as opened up, interrogated and examined by those who helped create it in the first place. It is the remarkable narrative of how visual arts in Scotland staked a central and vital place in the international landscape and how a grassroots community, particularly in Glasgow, built its own culture and networks rather than waiting for institutional approval.

Since May, across Scotland, venues from Thurso to Dumfries, Kirkcaldy to the Isle of Mull have worked with new and existing works by contemporary artists and this next raft of shows is a chance to see a number of major works recreated, some presented for the first time in Scotland. Every room in Modern One at the Scottish National Galley of Modern Art and the grand suite of rooms of the Scottish National Gallery on the Mound will be given over to the work of a contemporary artist.

Ross Sinclair is recreating Real Life Rocky Mountain, his idealised highland hillside complete with some fine stuffed fauna. Christine Borland will show L’Homme Double, her troubling 1997 meditation on image and identity, which has never been seen in this country. At Tramway in Glasgow Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan will revisit, but not reconstruct, HK, their confrontational landmark installation of the words Heroin Kills at the same venue 13 years ago.

I’ve recently edited two publications which will be published under the Generation umbrella this week. For three months last winter my dining room table was buried in gra nd and glossy monographs from US museums, old slides, leaflets and tiny volumes from David Shrigley’s self-published Armpit Press.

The story that emerged was not about a single way of looking at the world, the dominance of a single art form or tight knit group. It was about a diverse, heterogeneous group of artists whose only shared sensibility was an insistence in working with immediate encounters or materials rather than looking to an idealised future or past. But if there was a single headline about Generation it would be the radical (though not yet complete) change in the possibilities for, and profiles of, female artists. A generation ago, the National Galleries of Scotland summed up the Eighties in The Vigorous Imagination, a male-dominated exhibition in which women artists were present but played a peripheral role. Totting up the Generation shows across Scotland there is a near perfect 50/50 mix of men and women.

This week at the Scottish National Galleries, work will go on show by figures such as Karla Black and Ciara Phillips, both recent nominees for the Turner Prize. There are films by Rosalind Nashashibi, the first woman to win the Beck’s Futures Prize. If there is a single figure who represents those changes, and the hard work behind them, it might be the Glasgow artist Cathy Wilkes, among the artists whose work with the pioneering Womanhouse project in Castlemilk will be explored in a Generation exhibition at Glasgow Women’s Library. This week she will open a solo exhibition at Tramway. Wilkes has an uncompromising insistence on art that reflects the messiness of living, of women and children’s lives and the visceral, physical debris of human relationships. It is matched by her stern refusal to be seen as a representative of anything. She keeps a low media profile and her widespread international recognition and influence on a generation of artists is rarely reflected in the mainstream media.

Generation has the potential to open up a much wider public conversation with the work of artists like Wilkes, and in presenting key works from the past to suggest further possibilities for the future, but crucially its sheer scale and ambition means that it doesn’t need to rely on a single defining idea about art in Scotland. Nicola White, who as a curator back in 1993 commissioned 24 Hour Psycho, has written an essay for one of the two books I have worked on, The Generation Reader. White is now a successful novelist. In her essay she describes a recent chance meeting between herself and two artists, Ross Sinclair and Craig Richardson, in Glasgow. All of them are being interviewed for a television programme about their experiences of the Glasgow art scene in the 1990s. They chat about old times and each seems to have different recollections of the same moment. “What you remember depends on where you were standing,” she writes. “The idea of a definitive version of the past, we agree, is laughable.”

• The Generation Guide (£4.95) and The Generation Reader (£14.95 with the Generation Guide) are published by the National Galleries of Scotland and Glasgow Life on 26 June. For the full Generation programme, or to order the books, visit generationart scotland.org

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