Samara Scott creates a portrait of Glasgow through its detritus, while Jamie Crewe’s stop-motion film revisits the story of Orpheus and Eurydice
Samara Scott: Belt and Road, Tramway, Glasgow ****
Jamie Crewe: Pastoral Drama, Tramway, Glasgow ***
Lightwaves, Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow ***
The aircraft hangar-like exhibition space of Tramway 2 has been tackled in many different ways over the years, but Samara Scott might be the first artist who has created work which is entirely above our heads. This ambitious show is built on a thick plastic membrane suspended at a height of about ten feet, a kind of abstract landscape of colours and objects illuminated by the light from the windows above shining through it.
One has to wander about beneath it to get the full effect: blasts of red and yellow, pools of green and blue. Across the large space, islands of colour have been created, some dense, others ethereal. Children seem to enjoy running about under it, which adds to the sense that it’s all a bit magical.
But, of course, we have to understand how the magic is made, and that, too, is part of Samara Scott’s game, because these colours have been created from the most ordinary of things. Scott has been collecting her materials all over Glasgow, from Chinese supermarkets and hairdressing wholesalers and those disposing of catering waste. The colours are created by alchemic fusions of substances such as tanning lotion, toothpaste, mayonnaise, burger sauce and food colouring, which will continue to react and decay through the duration of the show. When this exhibition closes, there won’t so much be a de-installation as a massive clean-up job.
Funded by the cultural programme for the Glasgow 2018 European Championships, it’s a portrait of a city through its detritus. It doesn’t hide what it’s made from: look carefully and you can make out plastic bags, cable ties and a crushed water bottle, as well as various sludgy liquids you don’t want to think too much about. Its strength is in its scale and ingenuity rather than its depth, but, as far as it goes, it transforms mundane things into something beyond themselves, which is surely one of the purposes of art.
Next door in Tramway 5, Glasgow-based artist Jamie Crewe presents Pastoral Drama, an installation based around a 30-minute dual-screen film inspired by the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. In the 17th century, the Italian composer Agostino Agazzari composed an operatic interlude in which the story of the hero who ventures into the underworld on a doomed mission to bring back his dead bride is reworked for a male mentor and ward. Eumelio is tricked into the underworld by demons, and Apollo, cutting an altogether better deal than Orpheus did with the god of death, walks his charge back to the world of the living.
Crewe employs a painstaking stop-motion technique using hand-drawn cut-out figures and clay models, set against backgrounds of swirling colour reminiscent of Scott’s work next door. An improvised soundtrack of viola and lever harp whines and wails. The Orpheus film cuts out when Eurydice is lost, but the Eumelio one continues until its hero sows the seeds of his own surreal destruction. Accompanying the show is a text work called Terms, in which a narrator lays down their terms for not being regarded as a man, and 25 prints of “Abductresses” – sirens, furies, grosteques – who adorn the windows, as if to lure people in.
It’s a work which represents significant time investment, and is initially puzzling because it seems to engage little with the powerful Orpheus story of love and loss. Crewe’s interest is elsewhere. The drawings of both Eumelio and Eurydice are based on photographs of Crewe at 21, and both are ultimately confined to flames. Crewe is transgender, and what is done here with the Orpheus story is less about love and grief than about the danger of that transgressive backward look, and the fragile possibility of emerging from the underworld a new person, freed from previous limitations.
Meanwhile, Street Level Photoworks is showing the work of four art photographers who undertook exchange residencies in Glasgow and Quebec. The two Scotland-based and two Quebecois photographers all touch on themes of travel and migration, what it means to feel at home and how one gains a foothold in a land very different to your own.
Scot Mat Hay started out with maps of migrations, and engages with the Canadian landscape as he finds it – snowdrifts and snowmelt, an inhospitable winterscape on which generations of migrants and settlers have left their mark. GSA-trained Melanie Letoré takes a more elliptical approach in her project No you without, showing us images which suggest stories without telling us what they are – rainclouds over a moor, a rumpled bed, an anonymous new-build house – but invests the images with meaning nonetheless.
Quebecois artist Bertrand Carrière has created a series of photographic portraits of people in their 20s in Glasgow, trying to depict a place through its people while including images taken during his first trip to Scotland in 1977. His portraits are sensitive and well-observed, capturing a range of people, some of whom might have their heritage in a variety of nations, but are now part of the melting pot of Scotland today.
Josée Pedneault melds together the stories of a Somali fisherman forging a new life in Scotland with the seascapes around the islands of St Kilda, with particularly striking shots of clouds and water. They are almost completely devoid of people, evoking place and emotion rather than narrative.
Taken together, the four bodies of work illustrate different ways in which photography tells stories, how narratives can be hinted at or left to form in the gaps. Some are more satisfying than others, leaving the viewer to consider how much of the story we need to be told, where we find ourselves wanting more information, and where evocation and atmosphere bring their own rewards. - Susan Mansfield
Samara Scott and Jamie Crewe until 28 October; Lightwaves until 25 November