Arts blog: ‘Whether the art world’s crying out for it we’re not sure’

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DAVID Pollock meets masters of the ‘art happening’, Collective 85A

IT FEELS wonderful, with both eyes trained on culture and a blur of safe, familiar, sometimes dazzling experiences going by, to be forced to pay attention to the sight of something truly happening – a movement or an aesthetic which just gets it right, telling us something new about our world or ourselves.

Cue the 85A Collective, a group from Glasgow who stage elaborate happenings which are part art installation and part theatrical event, with elements of music, film and puppetry thrown into the mix. In their half-decade of life they’ve shown the films of Jan Svankmajer within their individually constructed bespoke theatres as part of Glasgow Film Festival, created a detailed pantomime set and performance for a Phantom Band Christmas show and staged a concert in the old Govanhill Baths.

This week sees the staging of a new and positively ordinary 85A event, the cinema premiere screening of co-founder Judd Brucke’s film Chernozem (“Black Earth”), an industrial horror that pays tribute to German expressionism and Soviet documentary of the early 20th century, as well as the vanishing industrial architecture of Glasgow. Originally part-shown as an immersive performance at versatile arts space the Glue Factory during last year’s Glasgow International, this screening will be 85A-ed up by an accompanying masked ball and an afterparty featuring bands including Glasgow’s mighty space-disco warriors Golden Teacher.

“A few of us come from a traditional art background where the audience is usually a passive observer,” says Brucke by way of explanation. “They’re engaged at arm’s length, told not to touch and asked to stand in quiet reverence. We don’t want to deliver this type of experience. We want to get our hands dirty and have our chest cavities rattled by booming bass. We want to be moved between extreme states of emotion, between terror and euphoria.”

He describes the crew as a group of “writers, filmmakers, musicians, performers, sculptors, painters and tech-heads, who are all massively engaged with a wide variety of culture”, and explains that the name comes from the pennant number of a Polish submarine in which they staged their second ever performance.

Despite the tendency to shape some events around concerts or stylised party situations, Brucke says a sense of frivolity mustn’t be overestimated, describing their themes so far as “war, global capitalism, duality and German metaphysics, the sexism and racism inherent in the current fetishisation of Victoriana, the destruction of the natural environment and (with Chernozem) the human cost of industrialisation.” Yet their ethos runs “counter to the ‘oblique and difficult to engage with’ politics experienced in much of the current wave of minimal conceptual art. We want people to engage and understand, so we deliver something that’s entertaining and thought-provoking, and have managed to do so without any public funding or commercial sponsorship.

“Maybe we’re unique in Scotland, but there are loads of groups the world over who are on a similar trajectory, such as The Invisible Circus and You Me Bum Bum Train. Right now there’s a trend in theatre for immersive promenade experiences, so audiences must be looking for something different. Whether the art world’s crying out for it we’re not sure, they seem pretty happy sipping wine in white rooms and making transactions. Whereas we’re more comfortable in a field or factory with some home brew, a soundsystem and an old VHS camera.”

•  85A’s Chernozem film screening and afterparty will take place between the Glasgow Film Theatre and Flying Duck, both in Glasgow, on 29 March, see