It’s that time of the morning, the time when I make a recurrent journey from the Wardrobe, (my office) through the Mackintosh Museum and down to the janitors’ box to collect the post. One of the delights of working in the building is being privy to the installation of each exhibition, witnessing how each builds and reaches its completion, and then getting the chance to engage with it throughout its duration.

I recall the first installation day of Michael Stumpf’s exhibition; This song belongs to those who sing it. A small section of lemon yellow appeared on one of the walls, rather like a patch of mould in the corner of the gallery. I strolled through as the install team pondered over the best way to fulfil their next task: to cover the entire wall in tin foil. I watched as the initial length was applied in the corner butting up to the yellow growth. An assortment of rags and cloths were used to rub the strip of foil onto the pre-glued wall. Over the next week, the full width of the wall was meticulously embellished with silver foil.

Michael Stumpf: This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It

The gallery must have been a hive of activity over the weekend as, on Monday morning I was greeted by two glowing walls of colour – one of lemon yellow, and the other of yellow and pink, creating a coral colour, both layered with coloured washes, highlighting the layers of history in the walls.

Tuesday was a traditionally dull grey morning in Glasgow. I battled against the wind as I approached the, soon to be opened, Reid building, from the East. Looking up, I was surprised to notice the words “NOW SING” peering down at me as they confidently marked their place on the balcony, and emitted a vibrant energy.

Michael Stumpf: This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It

Returning to the Mackintosh Museum, the gallery display cabinets usually hidden behind faux walls were being revealed. The copper pillars of the cabinets faced the silver wall, their shiny surfaces reflecting me, you, us, in them.

Michael Stumpf: This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It

The next few components seemed to appear in a flurry.

a gold stalactite form hanging from an overhead beam,

a carved sandstone rock with a cast bronze twig sticking out of it on which a glass band hung,

a giant pink rock suspended from the ceiling by a long narrow band of denim, rather like a conker on a string.

The works that hang are grounded by the positioning of a heavy acrylic resin O (one violet and one red) under each. As the movement of people through the space causes a gentle swaying of the cords, the cast rings sit ready and waiting to catch what hovers above.

Michael Stumpf: This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It
‘Endless long bowed phrases’ (2014), denim, plywood, steel, tube clamps.

Three other acrylic resin rings are rooted to the floor, their weightiness contrasting with the triangular frame that hangs at the other side of the museum, acting as another prompt to gaze up, and be reminded once again of the Mackintosh gallery in which we are standing, with all its history and peculiarities.

Michael Stumpf: This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It
‘Perplexed’, paper, calico, aerosol paint, denim, acrylic resin, steel, tube clamps (2014)

This attention to context brings me back to the display cabinets that have been stripped back to their original state and one lovingly clad with denim. An assortment of small delicate objects are placed inside, like relics from an architectural dig. That famous saying “the context is half the work” plays in my mind. In this case, the context has been used as a material, an important element in the exhibition.

Such consideration has also been given to the audience. Regular tours circulate the prestigious Mackintosh Building, congregating in the gallery and inspecting the architectural features. In a studio next door, a critique is in progress, the work being rigorously examined. In the gallery, the two text works on facing walls, “Looking at you” and “Looking at me” encourage us, the audience, to investigate our own relationship to what we see.

Several days later at its official opening, all eyes are on the Reid Building. In the words of Liz Lochhead, who was commissioned to write a song to mark the momentous occasion, the Reid is

“the bonny new building,
the new kid on the block”.

As I gaze at its glass paneled walls, I notice in the reflection, a familiar vibrant pink ring hanging from the Directors office, drawing my attention back to the Mackintosh Building and inevitably upstairs into the museum.

Michael Stumpf: This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It
‘Ring’, cast acrylic resin (2014). Mackintosh building, Director’s Balcony.

So, just as the students at the Art School gradually move through their studies and emerge as graduates, and in a similar way to how in Benjamin Britten’s, The Young Persons Guide to Orchestra, the orchestra is broken down into constituent parts only to be brought together to form a full orchestra, my understanding and appreciation of the exhibition developed with each new encounter.

Perhaps I reached the chorus when I attended the final event programmed alongside the exhibition. A tap dancer conversed with the objects in the gallery, offering a new perspective on the installation. The atmosphere in the gallery was one of anticipation and excitement as the gathering scrutinised each other’s footwear, calculating who would be the one to burst into dance. A young man, dressed in tight jeans and a Michael Stumpf customised jumper climbed the stairs and we all watched in silence as he ‘eyed up’ the gold suspended sculpture, Perplexed.

Tap Dancer looking at Perplexed
Tap dancer Greg Robertson performing in Mackintosh Museum, Photo: Michael Stumpf

It was as he stood, hands folded across his chest, gaze moving up and down the work, that I considered the scale of the hanging form, its relation to the human body and I was reminded of the image of the rock in jeans that featured on the exhibition invitation. His foot began to tap on the wooden floor, producing a rhythm that shifted in pace; from steady contemplation to excited energy, albeit without any ‘jazz hands’. He travelled effortlessly around the space, activating and animating the work as he moved up close to it, naturally returning to the gold sculpture before finishing.

The enthusiastic applause that filled the gallery as he disappeared down the stairs was, for me, a fitting response to this joyous exhibition that celebrates materiality, embraces colour and generously considers the context and audience.

Michael Stumpf talks about his GI 2014 exhibition at GSA

Michael Stumpf: This Song Belongs to Those who Sing It runs until 4 May at the Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Museum . For more information see the GSA website.

For more about Glasgow based artist Helen Shaddock, see her My Process article on Central Station here.

All images unless otherwise stated by Janet Wilson. 

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