Art review: Glasgow International, Glasgow

Tamara Hendersons Seasons End
Tamara Hendersons Seasons End
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The city’s radical heart is beating strongly as artists from around the world imbue Glasgow International with energy and passion

In Oxford House, the pink-painted former court building and police barracks that nestles beside the concrete brutalism of Glasgow Sheriff Court, it feels like the roof has fallen in. Under the exposed beams the young artist Kate V Robertson has installed a cobbled street for an exhibition entitled Semper Solum (***).

Kate V Robertson's 'Semper Solum'

Kate V Robertson's 'Semper Solum'

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Each tile is hand cast from excess food packaging that Robertson collected for a year before the event. For weeks before her opening, as one of almost 80 exhibitions under the umbrella of the Glasgow International Festival, she crafted them in an improvised kiln in the bowels of the building. Yet when you cross her floor, as Robertson anticipated, it cracks beneath your feet. All that work: if not for nothing, then at least for the acknowledgment that nothing lasts forever.

The level of labour involved in GI is unfathomable. Clustered around the curated programme are dozens of projects in unexpected places like Robertson’s fading courtroom, which is about to be reinvented as part of a swish office block. In a nearby steep tenement, artists Toby Christian and Duncan Marquiss, a recent recipient of the Margaret Tait Award, show flicker films, sculpture and sound works in an eerie installation called Renderuin (***).

The Polish artist Monika Sosnowska works with industrial fabricators and former construction workers to create her vast, mangled sculptures at the Modern Institute Aird’s Lane (****). These are 1:1 replicas of real buildings and urban features of her native Warsaw, chewed up and spat out by history.

Akram Zaatari's 
'The End of Time'

Akram Zaatari's 'The End of Time'

In a tiny gardeners’ bothy in the walled garden at Bellahouston Park, is a micro-exhibition Roving Machines and Middlemen (***) where the MaxMara Prize-winning artist Corin Sworn has laid out a cabinet of research materials looking at phrenology and industrial archaeology and a script for a zombie movie you can take away. Sharing the space, in a project also commissioned by Katy West for Bothy Stores Glasgow designer Alec Farmer Trakke has reinvented the sailor’s ditty bag.

At 1 Royal Terrace, a fine Victorian flat overlooking Kelvingrove Park, Belinda Gilbert Scott has installed a pair of giant mirrored goggles that reflect the room-sized group show entitled - Scape (***). At SWG3, the artist Alexander Storey Gordon has revived the pioneering film and video works of Don Levy, their psychedelia and sexual politics seem incredibly dated but the endeavour is admirable and the energy is fierce (***).

At the David Dale Gallery, for her show Desde El Jardin (****) the artist Sol Calero has turned the entire gallery into a set for a six-episode telenovela that has been recorded in the space. Was I alone in noticing the (prop) handgun lying casually on a side table and wondering what on earth might happen next? Even the fun of daytime soap turns out to be hard work.

For curator Sarah McCrory’s second Glasgow International Festival as director, the headline theme was the question of Glasgow’s status as the post-industrial par excellence, but bubbling away beneath that are far more subtle themes of making and also of making do. In McCrory’s own official programme, Tamara Henderson’s Seasons End (***) fills the vast former reading room at the Mitchell Library with glorious textiles and costumes, a car and even a yurt. Henderson has been working at Hospitalfield House in Arbroath, gathering faded flowers and hand-painting lace. Her comical figurative sculptures feature a giant woman photographer, whose life unfolds as a dizzying travelogue of textures and ideas.

Helen Johnson

Helen Johnson

At Kelvin Hall, the rich and angry figurative paintings of artist Helen Johnson hang as beautiful unstretched canvases in the derelict spaces. The show, Barron Field (****) uses classical myths to lament the colonisation and despoliation of her native Australia. At GoMA the Glasgow artist Tessa Lynch has her biggest show to date, with confident works that evoke her daily commute across the city.

On a dreich night I visited the ruined tower of Alexander Greek Thomson’s Caledonia Church for the Circus Between Worlds (***) an unfocused but fun performance evening put together by Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich. The artist David Sherry was dressed as a clown, the writer and scholar Maria Fusco performed as a giant snake with a glorious furry pelt. The Gorbals felt anarchic and full of possibilities.

At The Common Guild, Akram Zaatari’s quietly authoritative exhibition The End of Time (****) explores how history is made through the hand, the eye and the available technology. Zaatari is Lebanese and the country’s civil war is an unspoken fracture that runs through much of his work, but here his subject is love in the Arab world. Amongst framed images of kissing couples caught forever in the black and white archives of an old commercial photo studio Zaatari’s elegiac films muse upon lovers and their conflicts, as well as conflicted love in typewriting and text messages.

The archive is also key to Serena Korda’s marvellous exhibition at the Reid gallery at Glasgow School of Art (****) which muses upon the radical traditions of the Garnethill neighbourhood. Korda has created a vast hanging sculpture of porcelain mushrooms that work their magic through their role as percussive instruments. On the opening night local teenagers broke sweat, performing polyrhythmic music by Martin Low. The clatter and the clamour was awe inspiring, physical labour turned into raw musical energy.

Monika Sosnowska's Pavilion

Monika Sosnowska's Pavilion

• Glasgow International runs until 25 April, although some shows are open for longer. See for details