While the world’s eyes have been on Glasgow and The Commonwealth Games, Festival 2014 has been celebrating the city’s cultural contribution to the world.
Scotland’s galleries have been taken up by the Generation exhibitions, but two of the most intriguing, and largest scale projects have taken art out of the gallery and into public spaces, in the form of Phil Collins’ Tomorrow is Always Too Long, and the 85a collective’s Cargo Camera... Action!
What both these pieces share is a willingness to expand the boundaries of art, in Collins’ case approaching a fusion of documentary form and the musical (!),while 85a use a background in environmental and performance art to breathe new life into the theatrical.
While Collins now lives in Berlin, he has lived in Glasgow previously and knows the city well. While the idea to screen the film in Queens Park Rosebowl may derive from Berlin’s Freiluftkinos (open air cinemas), the humour and humanity of the film are very Glaswegian. Tomorrow Is Always Too Long presents an epic, kaleidoscopic fresco of the city, derived from people’s experience. While it’s initially disconcerting to see a documentary scene in an antenatal clinic segue into musical numbers written by Cate leBon, such lurches in tone soon seem natural, with Maryhill’s infamously raucous bar Frampton’s becoming the setting for a touching musical meditation on late flowering love.
Intercut are interviews with Glaswegians talking about their experiences, ranging from pensioners to women fighting against the deportation of asylum seekers. Some of the speakers are granted their own slots, as on the Shopping Channel, such as the Tartan Elvis, who shows us how to make the perfect cheese sandwich, or Willie the towel salesman from the Barras, who’s so funny he deserves his own show.
Notions of personal freedom are explored on a gameshow where young people are unable to answer basic questions about philosophy or science (such as “what does AIDS stand for?”) while being able to rattle off the names of mobile phone providers or pop trivia, followed by a young man’s musical journey through Barlinnie. As if all this wasn’t enough, animated interludes explore the darker side of the city, including some polymorphously perverse sexual shenanigans in Queens Park. This is one of the most complex, ambitious films ever made in and about Glasgow, and richly deserves wider exposure.
85a are an artists’ collective who have created a unique body of work merging performance art and environmental art into something that resembles theatre, but, mercifully, not as we know it. While most of their work has been quite underground, and set in strange locations at late hours, Cargo Camera action sees them engage them with a regular audience in daylight on the banks of the Clyde, to triumphant results.
Initial fears that they may have sold out to the Commonwealth Games are soon allayed by the rich seam of satire running through the show, taking jibes at everyone from the Games to BP. Working on the largest budget they’ve ever had, it’s a joy to see that their unique homemade aesthetic is intact, and their star monster, the Kraken, is made out of a binbag...and still manages to look great. Their democratic ethos is equally intact, with five performances done on the day, so that all the audience get good seats.
Like Tomorrow Is Always Too Long, Cargo, Camera... action plays with notions of the cinematic, making the audience witness to the filming of a B-movie, The Hunt For the Rattus Norevegicus, by a megalomaniac German director, Rudolph von Haagen-Dasz - think Werner Herzog, with the talent removed. (Best line: “I want the poetry of Truffaut, the politics of Elia Kazan, and the sexual mania of Michael Bay”.) The budget is so low the audience even have to provide diegetic sound effects, such as the squawking of gulls and barking of seals.
This was the prelude to a surreal torrent of artists and acrobats interacting on, above and below Judd Brucke’s gorgeous set/kinetic sculpture of the ship itself. Each performance was soundtracked by a different band, playing part of the ship’s crew of mutant rats. While Golden Teacher provided a throbbing electro soundtrack that stood by itself, Halfrican came up with a rousing surf punk soundtrack that perfectly suited the story.
Both Tomorrow Is Always Too Long and Cargo, Camera...Action were equally rapturously received by very mixed crowds, ranging from the art cognoscenti to kids, providing an affirmative answer to the question, “Who’s afraid of video or performance art?” Not Glasgow, it seems.

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