Issue 1 September-October 1991 RSS

Northern Lights


This year's Windfall show, held in Glasgow and organised by local artists, brought together 26 international artists. The enthusiasm and openness that made a show of such diversity possible has also attracted attention from south of the border.

In the last twelve months, Edinburgh has seen the closure of the Fruitmarket, the 369 Gallery and the Richard DeMarco gallery; in Glasgow, the Tramway and most recently the Third Eye Centre have shut, all as a result of financial difficulties. Perhaps because of this lack of gallery support, it has been left to a group of artists in Glasgow to put on increasingly ambitious shows. With artists such as Douglas Gordon, Craig Richardson, Christine Borland and Kevin Henderson now attracting international attention, artists’ initiatives have put Glasgow on the map.


Transmission is an artist run gallery in Central Glasgow. Founded in 1983, Transmission has a history of showing innovative and international work, including a Polish season and more recently, Simon Patterson. The current committee comprises of David Allen, Claire Barclay, Douglas Gordon and Christine Borland, with others acting in supporting roles. The committee hands over to younger artists every two years. Transmission has a membership of over 100 local artists who, for a yearly subscription, can use the gallery darkroom, photocopier and word processor.


Windfall ‘91 was a collaboration between 26 artists, from Glasgow and five other European countries. The first Windfall was held in London’s Hyde Park in 1988, the second in the docklands of Bremen in 1989. During 1990 David McMillan, a Glasgow-based artist took a trip through Europe to find artists for Windfall ‘91. The resulting show took place in August in the unassuming Seamen’s Mission. The Mission is now due for demolition.

A conversation with Douglas Gordon, Nathan Coley and Martin Boyce

Where did you all meet?

Nathan Coley We were all in the Environmental Art department, within Glasgow School of Art.

Douglas Gordon Older people left doors open that they shouldn’t have, and we got in. When my year started on the course, we didn’t have a head of department. They gave us a course document that we were supposed to follow and we rejected it, wrote our own and followed it. Everyone talks about how young artists are doing things now, and they mean an age group of 23 year olds. Most of us were 19, straight from school, writing our own course document. It was a real stroke of luck.

Martin Boyce In other colleges it often seems that a particular tutor influences a group of artists. At Glasgow it was the students within a department who made things happen.

DG Things in Glasgow were so quiet and isolated. All of a sudden there was this group of 20-30 students, in an annexe of the Art School, whose only reference points were each other. It really intimidated the rest of the school, and made us become even more incestuous. But in a really healthy way. It meant that when people in the older years began to get opportunities outside college, doing things in Europe, they came back and fed that energy straight back in.

MB I remember that in my first year, my notion of what an artist does was a million miles away from what it is now. I thought you’d wait 20 years, and then maybe have an exhibition. But in my 2nd year, I’d see Douglas and Craig [Richardson] going to Ireland to be in a performance festival, and then in shows at the Third Eye Centre. Seeing people a couple of years above you doing things while they were still at college made you realise what could be achieved.

NC People still ask us ‘Why do you create your own context?’ I answer ‘Well, is that not what you do? Is that not what an artist is?’ The department bred confidence in working without a studio, but with writing letters, talking to people, negotiating.

DG People also ask us if we were reacting against to artists like Stephen Campbell and Adrian Wiszniewski, who were prominent when we were at school. But really, nobody could be bothered. They were so far away from what we were trying to do, we didn’t use them as a reference point at all. They were just a tiny, unimportant part of the international art world.

NC We don’t refer to them, but Scotland does. People asked if Self Conscious State was the new Vigorous Imagination - what were they talking about?

DG Things are happening so quickly now. By the time those artists had left Scotland and begun showing abroad, we were already bored with them. There was no point setting ourselves against them.

NC Our department was physically down the hill from the painters. Our references aren’t painters as such, they’re more to do with media. I was trying to think of a really crass sound bite for NB, a local TV programme, and I said the work had more to do with hiphop and The Face than it has to do with Constable. She didn’t understand it at all. But actually I think the strongest influences have been each other.

DG There are now so many people working here that if even ten of us went away, there would still be 20 or 30 left here. That’s probably what’s exciting about it. Perhaps for the first time ever in Scotland, there’s been a mass big enough to carry on. David Harding gave a talk about us, and said that the survival of the group has depended on their denial that there is a group. Because the emphasis has been on other people becoming involved. He said that if these people stay around, and continue to do what they are doing, in five years time they will have completely changed the whole face of art in Scotland. Nobody intended to do that, but we’re beginning to realise that there is now some continuity. We will all work with each other again. There’s a real hysteria involved here. I don’t think anyone here could sit back and not think about doing something.

NC I think everyone going to Dusseldorf would be the best thing.

DG We had this joke that we should all pack our bags and go off to work in some European city like Dusseldorf. The likelihood of it happening is pretty slim, but it’s indicative of the way we’re thinking.

How did Windfall ‘91 come about?

NC David McMillan went to Europe last year and met a lot of artists. I don’t think any of the artists he met are actually in Windfall, but he spread the word. From there we set ourselves a remit that the visitors would outnumber the artists based in Glasgow. The artists were chosen not just on how much we liked their work, but on its suitability to the project and how much they would interact and network. There was an idea of how much could Windfall benefit from having them in the project. Also there are some artists who were selected because we thought it could do their work a great service.

DG In a way, we’ve all been given chances in the last few years. We wanted to give some artists a chance who were quite fresh and inexperienced. Also, because there was not much money, the social aspect took on a pretty significant role. At this stage, having put so much effort into the project, there’s a disappointment that there had to be so many compromises. Someone described Windfall as a classic liberal exhibition. We knew that was going to happen, but we hoped it could be a federal republic of art ideas. There was so much energy that necessarily had no focal point. I think it was a valuable thing to do, but I wouldn’t like to work like that again. This has a lot to do with previous Windfalls. I think the artists from abroad expected people here to be making work that absolutely engaged with the fabric of the building. And that’s not what happened. This has been our main topic of discussion in Glasgow for the past year or so; we feel that the term site-specific has become meaningless.

DG There was a public conversation a few weeks ago, and there were incredible differences of opinion about Windfall. Michael Lapuks was in the first Windfall, in London’s Hyde Park, 1988. He feels very strongly about the name Windfall - his idea was that it should always be young artists creating a work that could never be shown in a gallery. And that’s not what we’re about at all.

NC Roddy Buchanan spoke for most of us when he said that he had no respect for the past of Windfall, and no interest in the future. It wasn’t that Windfall came to town and we joined on. It was our party and we played the records. I think a really positive way for Windfall to develop would be for Gerard Byrne to go back to Ireland and initiate something between a few of his mates. I don’t think it would be a bad thing if it wasn’t even called Windfall. Simultaneously, Josep Dardaña goes back to Barcelona and starts the Arts Association that he’s been speaking to me about. That’s how Windfall continues. It doesn’t need to retain any constitution, banner or title at all. That’s why I wanted to do it. I’m not really interested where it goes.

DG The whole idea was that something was happening in Glasgow in Summer 1991. Other things were happening here, but Windfall was the focus. Maybe next year something else will happen in Glasgow.

MB There is a real support structure here. We’re more interested in working with other people than having one man shows.

DG There’s a real atmosphere of mutual admiration, and collaboration. But we were very lucky to have Transmission there when we finished college. A lot of people could become involved, show their work and programme events there. In a gallery which operates on a professional basis. Hopefully it will continue that way when the present committee gives up and hands over to the next generation.

NC In terms of choosing a site for Windfall, we were very aware of its context, both in Glasgow and in Britain. In terms of Glasgow, we’ve chosen a very neutral space, one that is not at all loaded or nostalgic. We wanted to focus more on the work.

DG We were encouraged by events like Building One and the East Country Yard Show, but at the same time, attention was placed on the spaces and the events more than the work. We wanted to get away from that by choosing a very bland space.

NC We were offered an industrial shed that would have been better than the Saatchi space. We were offered a big victorian lawyer’s building right in the centre of the city. But they were so loaded with a certain aesthetic.

DG Also, those people did it when the time was right. This isn’t the right time for that type of space. There was money going round, and they did it very well.

NC We also had to bear in mind also that there were more visitors from abroad than artists from Glasgow in Windfall.

DG We didn’t want to replicate what happened before in Windfall. Last year’s was in a warehouse space, and we just thought it had been done.

DG On the one hand, people here are pretty pissed off that there’s no gallery system and seemingly no interest. But on the other hand, when people do get galleries, they begin to think that they don’t want to show with certain other artists. Because that system doesn’t exist here, there’s none of that defending your position. I get the impression that in London, if you talk to certain people at a private view, they might feel that they could have something to lose by being seen talking to you. Obviously it’s not as extreme as that, but if I asked someone to collaborate with me, they might have to think about their gallery and so on. Up here at the moment, no one’s got anything to lose. The reason for all this activity - Information, Self Conscious State, Surface Tension, Transmission, Windfall - was to encourage dialogue. Between artists showing and artists who came to see the thing.

MB A good example of this is my own position. I left art school in 1990, and have had a keen involvement with this group for the last year.I had decided that I was going to do an MA course in design. I’ve always been interested in that area, and I guess it comes through in my work. But I’ve had a real involvement with Windfall, and a much higher degree of interaction with other artists than ever before. It’s really changed my view of the future, regardless of my piece of work. I don’t want to do that course now. I want to continue with what I’m doing. And that’s one of the real benefits of this kind of activity. It’s been a really good thing for me.

Windfall ‘91 took place during July and August in Glasgow

Walk On at Jack Tilton gallery, New York, September ‘91 included Karen Forbes, Douglas Gordon, Kevin Henderson, Angus Hood, Craig Richardson and Graeme Todd.

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