If you arrive during one of the city’s typical squalls, the Bridgeton area of Glasgow appears, superficially at least, a bleak kind of place. There is a whole road fenced off for demolition, and – apart from a pair of Strathclyde’s finest walking the beat, some kids playing around the Bridgeton Umbrella (a Victorian bandstand that marks the area’s central crossroads) and a few old boys having a fag outside a local pub – it’s pretty quiet. Historically the area was Glasgow’s industrial heartland, and particularly – as witnessed by street names like Muslin and McPhail (after merchant Duncan McPhail) – a place of cotton milling and dyeing workshops. For better or worse, regeneration remains a way off, leaving space and opportunity for artistic endeavours to flourish.
David Dale Gallery & Studios is one such setup (around the block is another, the influential Chemikal Underground
Records label). The gallery is named after the eighteenth-century businessman who set up Britain’s first Turkey-red dyeing works in the area, and who, using his resulting wealth and building on his early utopic socialism and strongly held religious views, was keen to promote education among the working classes.
Walking into the inaugural two-person show at the gallery’s new space (on the same block as its original venue), a slow drip-drip-drip can be discerned. Spend any time in artist-run spaces or studios and you get used to down-atheel architecture, but this seepage turns out not to be from a leaky roof (indeed the gallery, not disguising its pragmatic heritage, is well turned out) but from a large block of ice frozen around a steel frame which is strung from the ceiling of the main exhibition space.
The melting ice sculpture, titledUntitled (Refresh) (all works 2012), is by Kate V Robertson. Burning away in some sort of elemental race to destruction with the ice isUntitled (Wane), a huge totemic candle by thesame artist. If this juxtaposition hasn’t delivered a sense of (perhaps slightly overwrought) theatre to the show already, then Kilian Rüthemann, with whom Robertson shares the exhibition, does hispart with three expansive sheets of steel that lean against the supporting architectural girders of the postindustrial space and transect the gallery – seductive and ominous in equal measure. A further sheet work by Rüthemann occupies the stairs which lead to the studios. It’s a neat opening gambit by the curators (the gallery has three permanent directors, Ellie Royle, Max Slaven and Ralph Mackenzie), with both artists’ work drawing attention to, complementing and challenging the building.
Untitled (Leak), for example, another work by Robertson, is a waist-high rectangular plinth clad in tiles that are identical to those that line the walls of the entrance corridor (the parenthetical reference is to a trickle of ink trailing out the bottom of the sculpture); similarly, Untitled (Compromise) consists of a brick-shaped glass mould that seems to bulge organically from a pane in one of the gallery windows.
The curatorial thematics of this opener are not coincidental. The directors’ interest in the formal context of staging exhibitions extends beyond the immediate architecture to an awareness of the relationship between the exhibiting artist, the local area and the city in general, Royle and Slaven tell me. While the gallery doesn’t exclude local practitioners or those whose work is perhaps familiar to a Glaswegian audience, it does seem to favour a model of introducing artists from further afield. Residencies, for example, have begun to form a more frequent production model for exhibitions. The last exhibition in the gallery’s former premises, The Eclectic Is Now (2011), was created in situ by Danish artist Sören Hüttel, the third, after Kevin McPhee and Darren Tesar, to partake in the programme.
None of them had exhibited in the city previously. It’s a position that works in Glasgow’s favour. The city is blessed with a number of institutional spaces and a plethora of artist-run galleries (most notably SWG3 and the perennial, excellent Transmission Gallery) that are integral to the rude health of the city’s art scene, offering, in general, space and opportunities to the mass of artists living within the city, not all of whom are simply graduates of the Glasgow School of Art. But the quality and fecundity of the city’s homegrown art scene can work against a wider plurality with regard to the exhibitions staged. (When the commercial Sorcha Dallas gallery, with its far-reaching list of represented artists, closed last year, this point came up repeatedly.) David Dale’s attempt to build a bridge between fond localism and outward-looking perspective is, therefore, a welcome and necessary element within the city’s ecosystem.