Curated by Sarah Lowndes and produced by Katie Nicoll
Dialogue of Hands was an outdoor sculpture park for children and adults, located on the open air elevated East Gymnasium of the iconic 1964 building, formerly known as the College of Building and Printing (recently renamed City of Glasgow College). The exhibition was an immersive sensory environment, with an emphasis on real time audience participation and attracting families with children. The courtyard, which despite its city centre location, was hidden from view and previously unused, was landscaped in homage to the 1960s environments of Brazilian artist Helio Oiticica, using willow trees, flowering cherry trees, birch trees and sensory herbs (lavender and rosemary) and play carpeting in homage to Oiticica’s seminal participation project Eden (Whitechapel Gallery, London, 1969). The exhibition also referenced Palle Nielsen’s famous Model for a Qualitative Society (Moderna Museet, Stockholm, 1968) which similarly explored the boundaries between art/play, control/freedom and adulthood/childhood.
Dialogue of Hands was named after a collaborative work by Helio Oiticica and fellow Brazilian artist Lygia Clark, in which one of each artist’s hands were joined together within the loop of a paper moebius strip. The title reflects Oiticica’s belief that the viewer who fully participated in his work was joining a critical experiment in the exercise of freedom.
The four artists selected to participate in this group collaborative exhibition project, Chris Johanson (USA), Camilla Løw (Norway), Mary Redmond (UK) and Corin Sworn (Canada/UK), made sculptural works designed to be played with by both children and adults in an outdoor environment.
The brief for the artists participating in the exhibition was to make works that were participatory and invited audience interaction by both adults and children. In contrast to most conventional art exhibitions, there were no ‘please do not touch’ signs in the Dialogue of Hands installation.
The project was envisaged as offering a space for relaxation and exploration both for members of the local community and international visitors attending Glasgow International 2012.
The new commissioned works produced for Dialogue of Hands included a musical sculpture by Chris Johanson called The Song the Sun Sent Us incorporating steel pan drums and to be played by adults and children and two colourful revolving metal sculptures by Camilla Løw, Operator (2012) and Compose (2012), both designed to be turned and touched.
Mary Redmond produced Tracks (2012) a series of three large site-specific sculptures intended to be touched, as seating, staging and as a prompt to action. Corin Sworn developed Tent City (2012), a series of three sculptural structures, which incorporate peepholes, hiding places and re-arrangeable block printed textile drapes.
Each of the four artists participating in the exhibition had significant interests in sculptural environments, legacies of modernism and audience participation. Chris Johanson’s practice encompasses painting, sculpture, installation, film, video, music, writing and playing in bands. Asked about the motivation behind his art, he responded that ‘life is about looking at and being a part of life. We need to be a part of each other. If we separate we are alone. That is a world of walking dead people. That is why I make art, to talk about how important it is to stay in the now and look at life.’
Camilla Løw’s work revisits the disciplined formalism of Russian Constructivism, De Stijl and Minimalism. Although referencing those histories, Løw’s work emphasizes the anthropometric qualities of sculpture, suggesting connections between the stable structures of modernist architecture and design and those which are still in motion: the social relationships of inhabitation and response.
Mary Redmond uses a mixture of found objects and divergent raw materials in site-specific and carefully scaled works she describes as ‘something ordinary made strange’. In the past she has spun a web across a gallery or strung pieces of painted wood and a plastic seat together like a mobile. Corin Sworn has made a number of works relating to early childhood education systems, such as a series of photorealist pencil drawings inspired by Summerhill, an alternative school founded in Dresden in 1921 by Scottish progressive AS Neill or ‘Adventure Playground’ (2006), a reconstruction of Danish artist Palle Nielsen’s 1968 adventure playground.
There were a number of free workshops and activities linked to the exhibition, including a storytelling workshop, a make your own parangole (cape) workshop and a make your own musical instrument workshop. Chris Johanson led a Drum Circle Performance at the opening of the exhibition and Glasgow altpop band Correcto played a free concert at a closing event on the last day of the exhibition.
Dialogue of Hands was commissioned by Three Blows (Sarah Lowndes and Katie Nicoll) in association with Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art in collaboration with City of Glasgow College and with additional support from The Modern Institute.
Photographs of Dialogue of Hands by Martin Clark.