Build It and They Will Come
Until June 29; Travelling Gallery (

After 25 years rumbling around the country in its old bus, the Travelling Gallery has been reborn, and it’s looking magnificent. The new bus, specially built, has been fitted out by Sutherland Hussey, the architects responsible for the award-winning Tiree Shelter. The result is a gallery space infinitely superior to many of its bricks and mortar counterparts.

Wider than the last double-decker, this gallery feels like a good-sized room. Skylights run the length of the ceiling, bathing the space in daylight until the time comes to close them with the nifty remote control. A lighting track provides good gallery spotlights, and speakers are built into the four corners of the ceiling. Stylish wood furnishing conceals hidden cupboards, technical gubbins, and a fold-down seat. This is the tardis of gallery land.

Launching the new bus is an exhibition close to the City Art Centre’s heart. Inspired by the process of building the bus, the curator has drawn together a show of contemporary art engaging with the built environment and its modernist leanings. It’s a complex theme, digging up the broken dreams of early modernism and excavating the scarred territory between art for art’s sake and real, lived experience.

Despite its depth, the subject is also accessible – we all live in and around buildings, and whether we like it or not, our lives are affected by them. At the merest hint of a stair, path or window, our imaginations start to fill in the blanks. It’s those blanks which fill the show, setting off architectural fantasies the minute we start to explore the exhibition. That’s a very good start for a show which is set to visit over 50 schools around Scotland.

No show on this subject would be complete without a contribution from Toby Paterson, and the three examples here – all reliefs – hover perfectly on that cusp between art and living reality. With only the pattern of paving stones to give the game away, these perspex constructions might be the mid-20th century reliefs of Victor Pasmore, entirely abstract explorations of form and shadow. But because of those paving stones, we read them as bird’s eye descriptions of real suburban space, with curving walls and benches, ripe with possibilities for the freerunner or skateboarder.

Panamá-based artist Donna Conlon introduces a sense of fun with her animated DVD, Urban Phantoms. Perched on a concrete ledge before the crowded skyline of Panamá City’s financial sector, Conlon gradually reconstructs the view with colourful bottle-tops and discarded match-boxes. Something is revealed of the child-like imperative of the city’s architects, deriving simple pleasure from building up and up.

Will Duke’s three videos, much more sinister in tone, use 3D animation to depict high rise flats, industrial complexes and even a children’s playground, building and unbuilding themselves. Like every other work in this show, real people are nowhere to be seen. Instead, the built environment takes on an organic energy of its own, self-propagating as if it’s all that’s left in the world.

While Duke’s films come with heavy, industrial sound tracks, Cath Campbell’s lace-like works draw you into a world of delicate fantasy. Drawing fragments of architecture with incredible technical detail, she cuts into the paper to create a fragile mesh, floating quietly in space. In your mind’s eye, you make your way up escalators, lifts, and stairs, through corridors and into open spaces, without ever really knowing where you are. Never before have bricks and mortar seemed so inconsequential: a fitting tribute to the all-new Travelling Gallery.

Catrìona Black, Sunday Herald 06.05.07