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Contemporary Visual Art

The Spookier School: (Anti-)Surrealism in Glasgow

This paper poses the question ‘What is Surrealism?’ from a particular vantage point: that of a practicing artist who has lived and worked in Glasgow since the turn of the twenty-first century. With reference to my own art practice, I will consider my troubled relationship with the category ‘Surrealism,’ as contingent with the specific trends of the Glasgow art-scene during this period and the broader international context.

In particular, I will address the apparent interest in surrealist methods demonstrated by Glasgow-based artists in the early 2000s (in opposition to the neo-conceptual and relational aesthetic genres that had placed prominent Glasgow artists on the international map in the previous decade). Whilst acknowledging the value of research into the historical surrealist movement (for shaping a more rigorous understanding of my practice), I will also recount my frustrations with the movement as they emerge in two areas: doubt regarding the ‘revolutionary’ power of the unconscious, and the potential valorisation of ‘linear’ narrative thinking – even in the domain of the ‘fantastic’. Read more →

Jessie Whitely in Conversation with Laurence Figgis

CASTRO introduces Artist Talks: a nine-event series which offers the chance to hear from young artists through learning and discussing about their practice. The Talks aim to connect the practice of the artists currently on the Studio Program, external professionals and the public.

In conversation with a professional of their choice, each participating artist will discuss themes in their work as well as current issues in contemporary art. As all events in the CASTRO Public Program, the talk will open up to a round table discussion with the public.

Jessie Whiteley is a Glasgow based artist. Her current work is primarily painting, drawing and comics, as well as collaborative projects. Read more →

Paintings with Legs

and the world is a white laundry,
where we are boiled and wrung
and dried and ironed,
and smoothed down’(1)

Inger Christensen

When I visit Lotte in her studio, and I look at one of her paintings, I see legs. These L-shapes have been made from cut-wood shapes smeared with ink, pressed against the calico to leave a mark (a sort of wood-cut, a sort of mono-printing). And all I can see is legs. But that seems like a heavy cumbersome word—“legs”—too cumbersome—and I keep the word to myself, until the artist says it—legs. Read more →

Bad Retail: A Romantic Fiction (preamble)

[…] these quilted snatches are viewed as past moments – of clarity, beauty, civilization, and spiritual elation – that must somehow be retained and restitched in a sense, spliced onto the present, […] as if they were alive, as if they were types of intelligent, deathless energy, and this so as to allow the past, with a nourishing insistence, to feed the present.

(Oppenheimer 1998: 84, ‘Goethe and modernism’) Read more →

About ‘The Great Macguffin’

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Laurence Figgis, The Great Macguffin (detail), 2005-12, ink, crayon, watercolour on paper, 160 x 350 cm

I first stumbled on the (great) MacGuffin in 2005, when I was searching for a title for a piece of work that was then in production, a large scale ink and watercolour drawing that had occupied my attention for some months. I was still in the throes of making this work when I read Alfred Hitchcock’s account of the term in his seminal interview with François Truffaut. And I knew straight away that I had found not only the title for the work but also the name for its protagonist, the imaginary character (part human, part animal, part machine) with whose fortunes the drawing is principally concerned. The word itself struck me with its amusing lyric – or rather non-lyric -quality; I liked the heavy, cumbersome, down-to-earth sound. But the explanation behind the word was just as captivating.

‘MacGuffin’ is Hitchcock’s term for a pretext or plot device that in its typical and most intellectually satisfying form must always be radically under-explained within the diegetic narrative.  In many cases it would not hold up to rational scrutiny if the audience subjected it to any attention.  Thus in Hitchcock’s film Notorious (1946) we are led to assume  that particles of uranium (viable for atomic capability) can be stored in wine bottles in the form of a crystalline black dust, hidden in the chief antagonist’s cellar. Read more →