2005-11-15

Radiance: Glasgow -- UK's 1st Festival of Light

Light is a funny old thing. It can illuminate or it can deceive... It can create complete fantasy upon the blank canvas of darkness -- consider Blackpool's Illuminations -- or it can lighten an ancient building just enough to show how dark it really is. Today's lighting artists have learned the power of subtlety: 'over-egg the pudding' and you end up with 'Disneyland'. Lighting is at its most effective when it builds on the raw material, on what is there to be lit. 'Radiance', Glasgow's first Festival of Light, aims to do just that -- and what raw material it has to draw on. 'Radiance' focuses its spotlight on 'The Merchant City', the area east and south of the Victoriana of 'The City Chambers'. Once the 'des res' of Glasgow's merchant classes, the area spent the best part of a century in disrepair before being transformed in the last decade into the preserve of loft-style apartments, wine bars and boutiques, the epicentre of the new, trendy Glasgow. And yet it is still a place where history seeps out of almost every alleyway. Shiny new buildings 'rub shoulders' with abandoned spaces 'earmarked' for 'regeneration'. Former townhouses and grand offices linger, glorious in decay. The pends still bear the signage of long-gone retailers. It is a place full of memories, fertile ground for the imagination. With so much buried architectural treasure, Glasgow is the ideal venue for Britain's first major Festival of Light. Masterminded by Baillie Mr.Allan Stewart, convenor of the City Council's lighting strategy and a former electrician, it is a lynchpin of the city's regeneration, as well as an attempt to turn some dark winter nights into a family-friendly festival. It is about helping the people of Glasgow to see their city 'in a new light'. However, in handing over artistic control to 'nva', the environmental arts organisation responsible for works such as 'Grand Central', which transformed the disused upper floors of 'Glasgow's Grand Central Hotel', and this summer's 'The Storr on the Isle of Skye', you should expect a bit more than the illumination of a few obvious buildings. Lighting designer Mr.Dave Bryant, who has worked with 'nva' for 15 years, says the city is full of possibilities.
'Glasgow is an amazing city full of hidden architecture. 'Behind the glitz and glamour of "The New Merchant City", there is this whole other world. 'The architectural detail and the amount of money which was spent on these buildings in years gone by never cease to amaze me, yet the majority of people in the city never see them. 'Light enables you to draw attention to things which don't normally get attention. 'The first thing I always do when I'm looking at a site is "take stock" of what I've got, the history, the way the environment is being used already. '"At the end of the day", I'm not replacing or substituting anything; I'm trying to build on something. 'It's important that whatever you do has some context with the place.'
Under his careful direction, '190 Trongate', a former bank which even in disuse has a weighty presence, will be illuminated by children's designs in 'Painting With Light'. Meanwhile, a very different building, a rundown office block in Osbourne Street, becomes the site of 'Trapped', a performance using lighting and animation to suggest shadowy creatures amid the urban spaces. Mr.Simon Corder, the lighting designer who recently lit London's 'Oxo Wharf', chose 'New Wynd' for his installation 'Bough 2', which creates a tree-like shape from red and green neon tubes. The lane, with its looming darkness and strong verticals, was ideal for his design.
'I don't try to fit work to places, the work always at least partly responds to the place. 'I was immediately drawn to "New Wynd" because it felt like a good place to make a piece of work. 'It's quite a bleak corner in a tough part of town, and that's part of the inspiration, to make something grow in a place that isn't particularly joyful,' says Mr.Corder.
It is no surprise that 'Radiance' has a strong visual arts programme, as 'The Merchant City' is home to a significant section of Glasgow's thriving visual arts community. The programme, curated by Ms.Katrina Brown of 'Dundee Contemporary Arts', has been extended to include many of the galleries and artist-run spaces in the area. Artists taking part include Mr.Ross Sinclair, Ms.Fiona Banner, and many of them are responding to the richness of their environment.
'"The Merchant City" is an amazing bit of Glasgow,' says Ms.Brown. 'There are these pockets of hidden brilliance where you can see through to what the old city was, past the shops, bars and new apartments to the old merchant buildings. 'Anyone familiar with that area might know there are interesting buildings or funny little alleyways, but not really notice them, and part of the point of art is to show the every-day in a different light. 'It has an amazing combination of grand old architecture and in-between spaces which are not redeveloped and not quite in use. 'Inevitably artists are more interested in these spaces -- the more obvious spaces are not the best to work in.'
She has spied out ideal corners for artists to work in, including an 'amazing' space for Mr.Ross Sinclair's neon work, 'We Love Real Life Scotland', directly behind the city chambers at the top of John Street.
'It's a weird space between buildings which I've always been interested in, and I thought it was fantastic for Ross.'
London-based artist Mr.David Batchelor places his 'Glasgow Candelabra', sculptural lighting made from recycled plastic bottles, in the pends of Virginia Street and Miller Street, lanes used in the merchant days to take carriages to the rear of buildings, and today largely disused. Mr.Batchelor says:
'The site is important for me, without the site you don't have the work. 'The pends are utterly ideal. 'They are a bit of dirty industrial architecture, which is the kind of stuff I really like to work with. 'The work I make is often quite bright and colourful and these down-and-dirty places are a good backdrop.'
Glasgow-based artist Ms.Belinda Guidi also had her eye on the 'ideal' space for her movie-inspired sculpture 'L'Avventura': the roof of the Victoria pub, between the Briggait and the Clyde.
'Glasgow is a fine city, very vibrant, and has this mix of poor and rich; run-down and wealthy. 'I like how they live together, it's very interesting. Glasgow still has that edge.'
'Glasgow is the ideal place to trip the light fantastic', SUSAN MANSFIELD, The Scotsman,2005-11-15, Tu
'Radiance', Glasgow, 2005-11-25/27.

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