Amy Rodgers

Deputy Culture Editor - Art

The gulf between the joy of creating art and the enjoyment of viewing it can often be huge. To see this, all you have to do is observe a young kid lost in the process of making something and compare it with how they behave in an art gallery. When art is something that can bring so much joy, curiosity and wonderment, why are galleries so boring, sterile and serious?

I love art. But I hate galleries. I say this as both a viewer of art and an aspiring creator. As viewers, few of us have the privilege of sweeping into an art gallery nonchalantly. This confident and carefree attitude toward art galleries is reserved for those with an arsenal of art history knowledge and a trust fund. For artists, being welcomed with open arms by a gallery who is keen to show your work is tough. You better hope you have a few degrees and a few good names to drop under your belt. Art is supposed to be liberating, egalitarian, fun. But the amount of times I’ve stood in an art gallery feeling uneasy says otherwise.

The Hings N Bits exhibition at the Southside’s Rum Shak this Thursday promises something different though. I caught up with Cal Mac and Zoe Kirkland; two art students who, frustrated with their experiences of conventional and traditional galleries, decided to put an exhibition on in the basement of a bar. And the criteria they asked when taking submissions? It just needs to make you laugh.

Glasgow Guardian: Hi guys! Can you tell us a bit about yourselves?

Cal: I’m Cal. I do sculpture at Edinburgh College of Art, I’m in my third year and I curated this along with Zoe. I usually make work responding to mental health on a personal and political scale, and usually work in a dialogical and collaborative way. I’ve also previously made work from my position as a gay man around internal homophobia and anti- queer abuse on social media that’s derived from heteronormative representation in gay porn and film. So, a lot of the stuff I’ve done has been really heavy, so by doing this exhibition it feels like a good way to escape from that temporarily. It provides a bit of comic relief to my work.   

Zoe: I’m Zoe and I’m doing sculpture at GSA, also in third year. My work always reflects things that I find funny in my day to day life, I try to portray that to an audience through film. I’m inspired by all humorous art and my work tends to be more about the audience's reaction (how well it does at actually being funny) and the aesthetic rather than having an underlying deeper meaning. I struggle with the theory side of my course and often find myself struggling to enjoy art that I have to think too deeply about and understand.  

GG: Where did you get the idea for the exhibition?

Cal: After we collaborated on a video, we were in Lisbon when we decided - we (and all of our pals) are so bored in these sterilised white gallery environments where the art always requires the viewer to make this extraordinary leap to actually understand the substance of the work. I think we had always had this frustration with this unappealing state of gallery art, but I think it was at that point we decided - right I’ve had it, let's do something about it. Humor has always been central to our friendship, so it just made sense.

Zoe: I think we had talked about the idea of putting on an exhibition together, but it became more of a thing after we collaborated on the video of Richard and Neil. Richard and Neil and two characters that me and Cal came up with separately that we knew had to meet and create a film. Me and Cal are on the exact same page when it comes to humour and I think that's what really pushed the idea of this exhibition.  

GG: What can we expect from the exhibition? Is it just paintings/photography or is there other stuff? Will there be DJs/music etc?

Cal: So in terms of medium you can expect painting, video, sculpture, interactive, performance. We wanted it as diverse as possible so that the works might be similar in comic effect but they’re still contrasting from one another. We've chosen around 22 vibrant and alive works, some of which are playful and lighthearted in their tone, others are just really funny.  

Zoe: Yup, and we did talk about having a DJ after the videos and performances have finished but decided they should just keep going for the length of the exhibition and not have any loud music so people can talk comfortably about how much they are enjoying all the funny art!

GG: Have either of you been to any exhibitions/shows recently that you found really exciting/a bit different/ actually fun?

Cal: We both saw Rachel Macleans film recently, that was fun. I can't speak for Zoe, but I thought it was an imaginative and fun approach to looking at big themes like technology and feminism. Other than that, I can't say I have tbh. I’d describe the work in my most recent gallery visits as impressive, intelligent, ambitious, but definitely not fun.  

Zoe: I enjoyed Rachel Maclean’s film and by the end I was hit with issues that the film portrayed about our society and how it's completely fucked beyond repair. I really appreciate this way of making people talk and think about what's going on in the world through art, but for me doing art is more of a way to escape these things for a short time and to feel positive and inspired by people's creativity. I’m struggling to think of an exhibition I’ve seen recently that's made me feel happy.  

GG: Do you think there is a difference in atmosphere between having an exhibition in a café/bar than in a gallery space?

Cal: 100%. Personally, I can’t stand the purified white cube, full of people standing with their hands behind their back, tilting their head slightly to prove they’re thinking deeply about the work. I actually find it very odd how there’s so much discussion to be had about art, it’s meant to provoke response and thought, yet in galleries there's this echoing silence. By having this exhibition were trying to get people engaging with the work, through having it in a normal social environment. It doesn’t come without challenge though. Because it's a dark space we wanted every artist to really think about how they were going to light their work up, so their light source becomes an extension of their work. This has ended up being an exciting collaborative process between curator and artist and we can’t wait for people to see the final product.  

Zoe: I think we are both ready to hear laughter and carry on in an exhibition environment rather than awkward silence from the viewers, more like the kind of vibe you would find at a student end of year exhibition. Doing that in the downstairs club space of a pub is a bit easier and I think it will encourage a lot more people to come down who wouldn’t visit an exhibition in a quiet white gallery space. A lot of the work will be interactive as well like having performers just mingling with the crowd making it a bit more down to earth.

GG: Have either of you had any experience with barriers within the art world? I get the impression that it’s often very elitist…

Cal: Yes. It’s in a very sad state where most of the people who get into art schools come from privileged backgrounds. The rest have to work throughout their degree and that, more often than not, hinders their performance. So, the artists of our society come from privileged positions and are incapable of either reflecting our society or providing a voice to those who do. So, there's this barrier between artist and public, where the artist is making work about subjects completely inaccessible and uninteresting to the average person. I don’t know if that answers your question but yeah, I hope our exhibition is a step in the direction against this divide. Not necessarily by interrogating the artists saying, 'who's your mum how much does she earn?!', but by the nature of the work being more palatable for everyone.

Zoe: In discussing art, it can seem quite stern and serious and you can feel looked down upon if you don’t have a vast repertoire of famous artists throughout history. I’ve seen me putting on a serious face and nodding along in agreement to avoid embarrassment. Not coming from a fine art background and originally going to do illustration before I applied for sculpture, I feel at a disadvantage in terms of knowledge sometimes and wishing I had the ability to remember more artist names and facts even though it doesn’t relate to my practice at all.

Catch Hings N Bits at Rum Shak this Thursday 19.00 - 23.00. The event is free and open to everyone.

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