I tend to think I’m rubbish at working to someone else’s specifications. That commissions stifle my imagination. But, the only projects I’ve managed to complete, successfully, in the last year or so have all been commissions. All my current self generated projects, and I have many, are in various states of undoneness. When I can do anything I want, I tend to do nothing. It’s a bit like living in New York and never going up the Empire State Building, or walking The Highline. You can do them anytime, so you don’t do them at all. You let other things get in the way.
I’ve been letting other things get in the way all year, actually, since the first lockdown, so as well as being terrified, I’m thrilled to have a new commission. This one is the most abstract I’ve ever had, which makes it both the most challenging and the most interesting, and, yesterday,* I went gallery hopping in Glasgow in the hope of getting myself into a making frame of mind.
Here I am on the 08:10 Glasgow bus, again, having used my free pass. Couple of weeks since my last trip and it was noticeably darker, and colder. So I’m all wrapped up in padded black, with unwashed hair because I didn’t want to wake D with the hairdryer. I don’t suppose anyone noticed.
There’s a Ben Nicholson painting at Kelvingrove I love. And I wanted to see it again, it’s been a while. But I didn’t get that far. I got as far as checking the route on my phone before being distracted by the cold and a perceived need for a new winter coat. Also, I hadn’t had any breakfast.
The route to the gallery from the bus station takes you along Sauchiehall St. Once the main shopping street in Glasgow, it’s now been usurped by Buchanan St. amongst others, but it still has a huge M&S, a TK Maxx, and a handful of smaller outlets.
I ignored the small shops, and looking for somewhere to get a cup of coffee and a bun decided to head for the CCA which is a little under half way from the bus station to Kelvingrove. I walked past TK Maxx, but then a blast of wind got me shivering (I’d slung on a jumper that was too bulky to comfortably zip my jacket over, so had unzipped) and went back.
Thus, I got sucked into the bargain illusion and lost myself trying on jackets I wouldn’t normally go near. By the time I emerged, purchase free, I’d become so used to the unnatural light and strange buzzing sounds I felt quite disoriented. And it was lunch time. I shook myself off and staggered to Saramago.
There are places in which one instantly feels a sense of at-homeness. The first time I really noticed this was when, in 1988, I went to Milan. I don’t think I noticed it while I was there, I was too busy feeling it, but when I got home I realised I felt less comfortable, less welcome, less accepted and understood than I had in Italy. In Milan I didn’t feel judged, and I didn’t feel, like I did at home (ironically, home was Glasgow at the time), as if my mere existence disturbed people. I distinctly remember saying to my husband of the time: ‘Italians seemed to love me!’ But what I really meant was, in Italy I was just another human being.
These days I’m used to being seen as a bit odd. It’s just another of life’s irritants, like having to scrape ice off the car in the mornings. But that doesn’t mean when the feeling of being seen as mildly contentious is absent I don’t feel light and springy. And entering the CCA, walking into its once outside, now roofed, courtyard café and being guided to a table by a young woman with smiling eyes and wayward hair was like the first warm morning of the year. No ice on the windscreen. The place was full of people who barely noticed me. I ended up staying so long I had to rethink my plans, but that seems to be the secret of the artist’s date.
I ate a smoked tofu and pickled vegetable wrap, which was much more delicious than it sounds; drank chocolate spiced Yogi tea; absorbed the harmonies of the food, sounds,** smells, and sights, and, in order to stay a little longer, ordered the caramelised peaches.
As I waited for the wrap to arrive a youngish couple, maybe they were thirty, maybe they were younger still, arrived and sat at the table in front of me. They were unlike everyone else in the room: heavier; they ordered beer, for him, and something with coke for her. He immersed himself in his phone. She sat quietly looking around. She looked out of her comfort zone, but happy to be so. She didn’t resort to burying herself in her phone, or pretending to be fascinated by the poster in front of her, she held her ground, even when he went to the loo and was away for ages. She just sipped her drink and absorbed the atmosphere. I found her impressive.
In the few hours I had left before the bus would take (bring?) me back to suburbia, I explored the rest of the building: browsed its contents, picking up a couple of books*** in the foyer book shop, before rushing off to Glasgow’s tiny Gallery of Modern Art.
The main gallery was closed for deinstallation, but up a couple of flights of stairs was an exhibition of some of the pieces in their collection. I can’t remember what they called it, but it placed the work of four of my favourite artists alongside the work of artists who were new to me. And is such as way! Don’t ask me what that is, I only had about forty minutes before I had to run off to the bus station, which means I didn’t have time to think, or make notes as I often do in galleries. All I could do was exist, for a while, in the space. Which means I left with nothing more than a feeling: for the positioning, the use of space, the proximity of hitherto distant artefacts, and a sense of possibilities.
On the way home I was able to sit at the very front of the bus, and watch the road like a cinema screen. And I listened to the Audible rendering of act 2 of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. And when I got off the bus, there was D waiting in the rain for me.****
Yep, things didn’t quite go to plan, but I feel like I learnt stuff I needed to learn without even trying. I adapted to the obstacles my own stupidity put in the way and ended up with a pretty good result. Just as I’m having to adapt my ideas for the commission to use my actual skills rather than skills I wish I had; the materials I have access to; the timeframe; and the remit.*****
Thanks to the young woman in the CCA cafe, who showed me how to be brave, and to the rush round GoMA, which showed me how to place seemingly disparate components in a way that makes a whole thing, I now have a pretty clear idea of what to do. I’ve been gathering elements, trying them out together, discarding, experimenting, asking questions and finding ways to answer them. I still have a number of decisions to make but it’s a process, and I love processes.
*It was yesterday when I wrote this, it’s now last Wednesday, and who know when it will have been when I get round to finishing and publishing this post!
**See the short video above. According to SoundHound the music is ‘Ease Yourself’ by Parsley Sound.
***A book of Scottish nature words for D, and I must be living twice: new and selected poems 1975-2014, by Eileen Myles, one of my very favourite poets.
****He really didn’t need to come out in the cold, our house is less than a five minute walk away, but it was such a joy to see him there. He is a good husband.
*****So, a gigantic sculpture made from discarded surf boards will have to wait.