The archive is a real existing thing within the resource room at Transmission. This room also contains a library and a collection of slides and other visual material left at the gallery by artists for viewing by visiting curators or other researchers in the days before digital documentation. A physical encounter with archival, promotional and research materials, as well as with the art on display and the gallery committee, was a key part of the pre-Internet Transmission experience. Such an encounter enabled different kinds of collisions to occur between artefacts, people and ideas than might now take place in the digital era.
Unlike the archive sections on other gallery and museum websites, we have opted to use ours as a means to record the subjective experiences had by invited guests in our resource room. The invitees often have a direct relationship to some of the materials, perhaps because they have been a committee member, an exhibitor in the gallery, a regular (or irregular) visitor over the years, or because they deposited documentation of their work in the slide-bank. They are invited to spend three days in the resource room, and pull out any number of materials they wish, digitise them, and arrange and interpret them in any way they find interesting in this section of the website. You can see these projects by selecting one of the tabs above.
We have also decided to allow the memories of these encounters to fade over time, so archive projects will only be displayed here for two years, echoing the way that the committee structure of the gallery functions. We do this in order that guests feel able to take risks in what material they use and how they choose to interpret it, knowing that their proposal is an asterism to the Transmission programme’s constellations, a temporary and experimental joining together of different artefacts drawn from different times, spaces and registers – extra lines drawn across those historically embedded within the fabric and the psyche of the gallery.
Our archive page seeks to set the instability inherent in witnessing against the stability of the archive, generating small pockets of knowledge and alternative readings that are allowed to be lost as new ones are produced. In this sense we hope to replicate Transmission’s status as an institution that does not learn, but rather publicly documents learning. Committee members take their learning with them, leaving an imprint of the processes, relationships and lines of enquiry that they pursued for both their own ends and those of the Transmission community, during their two-year stint at the gallery.
Elsewhere on this site is a limited digital summary of recent exhibitions, but if you are here at the archive section looking for information about exhibitions or events from further back, or for very specific information about recent exhibitions or artists, then please call or email us, and we can go down to the resource room on your behalf. If you live nearby, then come and see our archive for yourself – it’s open all the time, and much better than looking at a screen.
‘This section of the website has been initiated by James N. Hutchinson’
OZ THE GWEAT AND TEWWIBLE
I want to talk to someone in strictest confidence. I want the artist to be an ideal person. I want the show to be a complete success. I want the show to make friends for me. I want a person with aids for President. When you’re stuck in the middle of reality, it’s so hard to see if it’s really the middle, the end or the beginning. It was one of the problems of being part of the Committee at Transmission Gallery: will our show mean that we are presenting something (a mistake) referring to the past, or is it about the present or, hopefully, the future? We were afraid of dominating, afraid of being dominated. Me, rather, I should say, speaking only for myself. I’m trying hard to think about how this is going to come across to people.
We were thinking a lot about how things were coming across to people. Of course, we had meetings to decide on programming but more often someone would just say we should show X or show Y and that would be it. Sometimes it’s a good thing that a show happens for reasons outside of social factors and is nothing to do with any known social world. It’s hard to move beyond the circulation of codes, accompanied by a tacit agreement not to mention social and power relations, often the prevailing conditions of the presentation of art works. Not having the language, I didn’t discuss any of this with my colleagues at the time.
Ellen Cantor’s show, “Within Heaven and Hell” happened inside the context of a recently professionalized art scene of the late 1990’s / early 2000’s in Glasgow, where the aesthetics of administration had been put to work, maybe permanently, for the administration of aesthetics. Which, to me, felt like a let-down, like the normalization of something that should never be normal. It would be wrong to characterize this scene as entirely like this, it’s my personal myth of that time, there were exceptions. But that’s all I’m going to say about it.
Looking around this year’s (2016) Frieze Art Fair special exhibition zone “The 90’s”, my friend was saying, “It was always Germany. London was nothing!” You couldn’t help compare these ‘scenes’ and the German and American Galleries certainly looked a lot smarter that the British versions. Back in those times there was an idea in Glasgow that YBA London was embarrassing and uncool and hopelessly commercially compromised. But everyone knows there’s more to markets than money and, yup, people in Glasgow were doing things like making weird alliances with Scandinavian galleries. Meanwhile, the processes of Transmission gallery programming produced the idea to invite Ellen to make a show at the space.
I’ve been asked to recollect and reflect on this experience. It’s difficult to write this because I find it hard to analyse exhibitions, even sixteen years later, and also I don’t want to pretend that I was at the centre of something that now seems like a good idea, due to the artist herself, her life’s work, and the contextualizing labour of other people. I’ve taken so long to write this short text, and there are now major retrospectives and lengthy articles in Frieze, The White Review and Artforum on Ellen Cantor. Check them out.
There wasn’t much material to collect on Ellen Cantor at the time - material to hand, that is. No internet, in the current sense, and the office computer couldn’t have coped with it anyway. I was working at a bookshop and I discovered there was a catalogue in the works, through a supplier ad. Sophie Macpherson and myself were very interested in her work anyway: the surrounding noise about her work being recently banned in Southampton, some features in VERY, a review by Ellen of a Georgie Hopton show. I think we asked Cabinet to send info. I spoke to Alex Hetherington about the work; he was a fan and was particularly helpful and insightful. Sophie phoned Ellen and arranged everything, it was very fast. Sometimes these things can take years and you’ve left the Gallery long before the show happens. We met Ellen at the station, everything went great.
The Incineration of Bambi
The space was divided into two: the first arranged as a small gallery displaying framed works on paper. Collages of video stills, photos taken directly of a TV screen, attached with drawing pins, a blowjob sequence paired with a movie star collapsing. Drawings of bambi-types, deer, mothers with young huddling, dreaming, cowering. Women, quasi-cartoons, naked drifting in the picture space, co-existing with strips of texts. Language moulding bodies, a tiny teddy bear attached to the paper. The paper behind cut into swirling shapes. Handwritten diaristic statements about sex and crisis. The walls in the room were originally plain white, but on the night before the show Ellen wanted to make them built higher, and purple and orange, the colour scheme of her hotel room. It should have been a complete hassle, a disaster, but it ended up being cool and fun. Walks and talks around the block at dawn for cigarettes etc.
In the second space, the video space, the screen as large as possible, projecting “Within Heaven and Hell” (1996). Leatherface was having a think about stuff, dissolving into Christopher Plummer singing Edelweiss, bless my homeland forever. Bliss is under permanent threat of annihilation: the doomed couple, up on the same floor to ceiling screen, on their way through a field in Texas, about to get dismembered. The Alps and Ellen Cantor’s voiceover, speaking about turbulent sexual relationships. The threat of the family. Everything was happening at the same time, layered. Violent death by cannibals / true love. It made me think about nihilism, the anarchy of emotions, the terrorism of emotional reliance on other people. It was positive, hyper direct, totally non-ironic and, as such was probably incongruous to the general milieu of the time.
These works now seem as if they look forward to synchronizing in the future with the “conflations of persona, aesthetic form and personhood” (Felix Bernstein, TZK, October 2016) of many of today’s artists, which might explain the particular intensity of current institutional interest in Cantor’s work.
It’s cool when artworks are not a puzzle. Symbolic power requires, as a condition of its success, that those subjected to it recognize its authority and believe in the legitimacy of those who wield it. The incongruity and non-compliance of Ellen Cantor’s show at Transmission Gallery with the general output of the local and wider art scene was a source of its distinction. I remember the show as being literally invisible to some people, probably for aesthetic reasons – I mean this as a positive. The format-powers apparently addressed and re-processed by the show were straightforwardly distant clichés of US culture, Hollywood etc. It either refused to recognize, or just ignored currently prevailing critical and canonical fixations. The primary reference point being the exposure of the whatever-forces at work on the subjectivity of the artist herself, a formula for pure content.
Alan Michael is an artist based in London. He was on the Transmission committee from 1998 – 2000
TRANSMISSION POSTER ARCHIVE
Catriona Duffy in conversation with Lucy McEachan, at Panel, Glasgow, 6 June 2017
Catriona Duffy – Plan chest drawers titled ‘1983-1993’, ‘1994-1999’, ‘2000-2005’, ‘2006-2009’ and ‘2010-MISC’ store Transmission’s exhibition and event poster archive. The most recent years are unsorted and densely piled - markers of a programme in process. Classification blurred by physical layering, I look for an institutional ‘house style’ or for a common desire to create stylistic detachment. Arranged within the modest plan chest of five A1 drawers I find neither. Rather, filed in protective acetate folders, methods of appropriation, economy in production and a particular visual exchange between counter-culture and civic-identity overlap across the paper works.
Physically stored apart from box-filed programme and resource ephemera, the posters, designed largely by artists or committee members, describe diverse artistic practice and enduring productivity. Collectively, I understand them as a graphic illustration, not only of event details but also of central ideas proposed by Transmission’s constitution – the promotion of social communication, the circulation of information and its independent distribution and consumption. In setting up the physical Transmission archive during your time on the committee, were the accumulated posters considered in this way - as an autonomous whole, a form of social and institutional recollection, transmitted through print?
Lucy McEachan - I joined the committee in 2004. At that time scores of cardboard boxes were stored on the mezzanine directly above the Transmission office, containing a multitude of printed ephemera, photographic slides of shows and openings, and copies of Transmission’s landmark 2001 publication, charting the evolution of the organisation since 1983. Leftover posters from past exhibitions were also stored here, with uncollected works from previous Members shows and other materials, including VHS showreels, tools and objects gathered over time and placed haphazardly. Some of these items formed an accidental archive, with no obvious provenance or recorded acquisition. This assembly remained dormant until 2006, when the gallery decanted to premises across the road as part of a council-led refurbishment of the building complex it occupied. During the time away from its permanent home, the Transmission committee worked to preserve the poster works, and the membership took advantage of the opportunity to draw a physical archive into the architectural plans for the upgraded basement space at 28 King Street. Then, though linked to the wider activities of the gallery, the poster archive was imagined as a separate concern, a physical manifestation of the unique history of Transmission, which could be considered alongside broader ideas about design, art, and the artist as graphic designer.
Catriona Duffy - Involving design styles both influenced by and a reaction to the complex relations between digital technologies and print, the artists hand is celebrated by cut-and-paste, biro illustration, photocopy and Tippex. This stylistic tone feels bound by a precise tension between the individual and the collective, paralleling the ways in which other subcultures or institutions have constituted a ‘style’ through visual communication. Forging formal alliances with like-minds, and excluding or reconsidering those Transmission defines itself against through design, do you feel that the posters represent a particular Transmission ‘style’?
Lucy McEachan - The newsletters stored within the archive exemplify how successive Transmission committees have willfully adopted a cut-and-paste aesthetic, despite the advent of other forms of digital reproduction. Contained within the photocopied paper newsletters are recent exhibition reviews, opportunities and news, events and thoughts from the committee. Physically pasted and stuck together, the hand of the committee is visible for all to see and draws attention to ephemerality, community, joint production and a plurality of perspectives gathered from across Transmission’s history. This is also true of the members show posters, crafted by each committee, often with more that one individual at work on the design.
There is a definite tendency, revealed within the archive, towards a handmade and experimental style, independent of one dominant aesthetic and its aligned historical associations. Perhaps this started as a practical solution and then became an intellectual guide for production, one that prevailed through the successive committees, deliberately confronting the idea of a particular gallery branding, or a ‘Glasgow Style’, through their making. The posters exhibit a confidence, often knowingly defiant of a particular approach, taste, or ‘politeness’ in their design. They become artworks in their own right, extensions of the exhibitions and events they once announced. Now from a distance, they communicate something of the context of their production – often omitting the year and independent of their original function – through choice of typeface, paper, image and composition.
The 1990s saw the arrival of readily available desktop imaging software, adopted by artists and evidenced in the collection through experimentations in new digital fonts, scales, colour and a mish mash of styles influenced by the equally inventive and prolific music scene in Glasgow, made visible by club posters, flyers and album artwork.
Into the early 2000s, as design practice increasingly moved from print to the web, Transmission stuck to the printed poster as means of mass communication, appropriating styles and mores from previous years’ productions and placing value on the poster as an object of continuing agency, carefully folded and posted to the membership, to galleries and curators all over the world, to announce the upcoming show.
But, beyond their practical role as advertisement, documentation, or as artwork pinned to a studio wall, do they form a particular narrative of how Transmission artists have engaged with the language of design, when considered across the decades?
Catriona Duffy – Through a slippage and fixing of graphic styles, connected through recent history, I think Transmission’s poster designs consider issues of value and place. Contemporary graphic trends are replaced by a shared desire to mine historic graphic tropes, particularly those that contain obvious civic, cultural or political meaning. Found imagery, type and outdated commercial designs surface in posters across the portfolio, sourced and cascaded down from the periphery of Transmission’s collective memory, their distinct narratives recast through appropriation.
A sampling and transferring of motifs and logos, acknowledgements of support from the Scottish Arts Council (later Creative Scotland) and Glasgow City Council (later Glasgow Life) could be understated visual clues. Oddly cut and pasted, enlarged, foregrounded, or assumed into selected fonts, the marques draw attention to a consistent appetite for subversion, edited though print. Manipulating convention and positioned in a defiance of corporate guidelines and market strategies, they prompt questions about art infrastructure and public funding, charged, by Transmission’s experimental status, with new meaning.
Viewed together, the posters adopt an inherently outward looking position focused, not on international art markets, but on a concern with local socio-politics and Transmission’s position within Glasgow’s distinctive cultural evolution. Their collective commonality is a knowing acknowledgement of the conditions through which Transmission has flourished, references re-referenced across the chronology of the drawers.
Lucy McEachan - Yes, ‘Years’ of culture, architecture and design, and city festivals are quietly, yet confidently observed within the design of posters from 1990, 1999 and 2006, which existed alongside large-scale city marketing campaigns that sought to promote and re-define a post-industrial Glasgow, on the back of culture.
In this way the poster archive acts as a record of the artistic and political concerns of the Transmission community, defined through the accumulation of visual communication that confirms a certain narrative. However, the archive is also incomplete and the posters that are missing are notable in their absence. While the A1 drawers are a work in progress beyond 2010, it is also evident that in the past few years there has been a gradual move away from the material form of the mailed-out poster and newsletter towards digital reproduction and e-communication, making their presence- and accessibility- less immediate within the membership and the gallery’s physical archive. This move away from the haptic presents an interesting dilemma for the archive: How can we get our hands on these posters as their means of distribution and consumption are reimagined, and storage is redefined?
Panel is a Glasgow based independent curatorial practice led by Catriona Duffy and Lucy McEachan. Lucy was on the Transmission committee from 2004 to 2006.