Public launch opening remarks from Catherine Fehily

Thanks to fire safety regulations, New Work from Glasgow got to have not one launch but two. We’ve been really lucky with our support for this exhibition and have been greatly encouraged by Catherine Fehily, new head of the Crawford College of Art and Design.Catherine’s engaged and thoughtful comments were a fantastic endorsement of New Work from Glasgow. As such we were very pleased that she agreed to allow us to reproduce them below.

(Not ten things I like about this show, but five things I love about it)

I love what’s happening here because:

  1. It didn’t need to happen – nobody asked for it, commissioned it, ordered it or paid for it.  It wasn’t part of anybody’s job – it happened, or rather it was made to happen, simply because two people thought it should happen.  It is, in that sense, a great example of the generosity of the curatorial act.  Rachel and Sarah (Pluck) found something that they thought was exciting and decided to share it with the rest of us.  They didn’t impose a pre-determined theoretical thematic on the work they selected but simply responded – openly, intuitively and with pleasure, to what they were seeing and experiencing when they chose the works and artists to be represented here.
  2. It’s full of magic – once the process had begun, they carried on in the same vein – open-minded, responsive to opportunities, resourceful, creative, patient and tenacious in the pursuit of something that it seems, was never quite pinned down or defined.  This lightness of touch, this confidence in their own instincts and trust in the qualities they sensed in the work they had chosen allowed for the intervention of serendipity at every stage.  The venue, for example, this building, with its dramatic echoes of past use and its beguiling spaces, offered the possibility of accumulated references and meanings through the juxtaposition of artworks with the signs, structures and surfaces of the building.
  3. It’s sumptuous – when I asked Rachel and Sarah how they had chosen the works they told me that they had responded mainly to formal qualities – light, colour, material, and so on, and to work that played in the spaces between the physical and virtual worlds, rather than to any overt content or concept.  I came to the conclusion, looking at the exhibition, that they’re actually a pair of raving formalists and I’m delighted by that because I thought formalism had gone out of fashion.
  4. It’s utterly contemporary, which means that as an audience, we don’t quite know how to approach it – it’s new.  The work resonates with references to other things, but again there’s a lightness of touch, a playfulness that seems to position us, the audience, in a very pleasurable, if not a comfortable, place.  The work is seductive enough, beautiful enough, to invite us in and once in, we can join in the play, adding our own layers of association – all we have to do is to relax, to be open to what we see and hear and to see what happens – the work is thought-provoking, but subtly, gently, never stridently so.  
  5. It’s welcoming – there seems to be an absence of judgement here.  Will Kendrick’s orchid, anthurium and yucca may be kitsch but in here, they are allowed to be themselves – the whole question of taste is sidestepped and they become as endearing, in their way, as Christabel Geary’s uncanny rubbery or feathery creatures that squat on the floor nearby, or Sara Moustafa’s glistening tarmac and bright yellow no-parking line that hang enigmatically from the ceiling.  Ross Birrell’s elegy to the burned down Mackintosh buildings provokes a poignant, emotional echo in our sense of the building in which we now stand and James McCann’s visceral film and performance span the realms of the intensely physical and the spectacularly virtual. Meanwhile, much more quietly, in what I’ve come to think of as the corridor of ghosts and apparitions, Paul Deslandes responds to the “Multidisciplinary Teaching Laboratory” by populating it with enigmatic equations, vaguely fleshy manifestations and boxed-in spectres and further on, Heather Lander’s hypnotic, ethereal light manifestations scintillate as gloriously as the Aurora Borealis or some other celestial kaleidoscope, whether or not anyone is watching.

Finally, the fact that we can enjoy all of these connections, echoes, synergies and juxtapositions brings me back to the curators and to all of that (often invisible) work that so generously provides us with this intensely rewarding experience.  Here, the role of the curator is as critical and every bit as creative as that of the individual artist we are more likely to celebrate.  I’ve witnessed the transformation of this amazing space from a collection of messy, neglected, unloved and unused rooms to this delightful site of intense sensory, emotional and intellectual experience and I know how much thought, work and sensitivity have gone into that process.  So I’d like to say a very warm thank you and offer many congratulations to all of the artists and especially to Rachel Warriner and Sarah Kelleher – whose names don’t appear in the catalogue – for bringing this delightful spectacle from the real capital of Scotland to the real capital of Ireland.

Catherine Fehily

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