October, 2012. I’m standing at the entrance of the Cooper Gallery at DJCAD. The Cooper Gallery used to be a hidden jewel when the main entrance to the college was at the other end of the Crawford Building. Soon it will be a more completely hidden jewel as the main entrance is being transferred to the neighbouring Matthew Building. But, in the meantime, with neither entrance functioning, the Cooper Gallery is a virtually impossible to find jewel. That is, unless you’ve been told by someone in the know to nip through a particular fire door and to navigate two corridors keeping a lookout for THIS and THAT.

Which reminds me that Stephen Murray, an artist currently studying the MFA at Glasgow, but who got his BA from Duncan of Jordanstone, used the neat phrase ‘Dungeon of Jordanstone’ in a tweet responding to Strange Bundle. He also claimed in the same architectural-geographical tweet that Glasgow is not the new London. I must check out what he means for myself soon, but for now I will take in this show in the few minutes I have to spare before meeting up with Kate.


The wall text, which is by David Bellingham, catches my eye. I guess the ‘something else’ that the text speaks of is the walls without words on them. But the sentence also invokes the philosophical question ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’, which has endless ramifications so let’s not go there. Let’s stick with the less mind-boggling ‘Why is there something rather than something else?’ Actually, it’s a moot point, as hardly anybody is going to make their way to this space until the entrance business is sorted out. Something (a dungeon) in the place of something else (a college, a gallery, a think tank).

There are three artists in the show but I don’t have time to take in the other two right now. The gallery guide includes this paragraph which I do have time for: ‘
David Bellingham is an artist of near total obscurity, who scratches a living making and mending. His work is occasionally to be found in the regions but it does not stay long and it is hard to spot. You will not have heard of him before and you may never hear of him again. He was born in South London and lives and works in Glasgow.’ So Glasgow is the new London, as far as David Bellingham is concerned, and what Stephen tweeted may have been just his own personal perspective!


Elsewhere in the Crawford Building, Kate lets me into the MFA studios and we walk together to her corner space. The A3 prints she had on the wall when I was here a week ago are now less formally displayed on a shelf. A shelf! How did she manage that? Kate shrugs and tells me the place may not be heaving with technicians, but they are around if you look for them, and they are helpful.

Yesterday she had a talk here with Edwin Janssen, who delivers the Art and Publics module on the MFA. He has recommended that Kate read about artists’ work on archives and museums. Which she plans to do while also acquainting herself with the performance art that women were doing in the 1970s. I recall from Kate’s original proposal that she intends to do work around her grandmother, who died in 1974. She was called Gaga and ‘Lady Gaga, a grandmother’s grandmother’, was the provisional title of Kate’s project. A Gaga Museum? A Gaga performance based on an interpretation of the work of Marina Abramović? Kate will no doubt read, talk and think before deciding how to place her own practise in relation to it all.

We make our way from one hub of contemporary art to another. You get from DJCAD to DCA either by dropping a couple of letters or walking a couple of hundred yards east along Perth Road. At present there are two shows up in the exhibition space, and this evening two artists from the college are going to respond to the shows with work of their own. Kate knows both this evening’s artists, so here we are, ready to see how they’re going to rise to the occasion.

First up is Morgan Cahn, who is in the fourth year of her degree course (having come over here from the States at the beginning of her third year). She does a lot of performing. In fact, Kate tells me, she has four performances lined up for this week alone. Knowing what was coming up this evening, I did spend a few minutes with the pre-existing work when I arrived in Dundee this afternoon. The installation, by British artists Dash MacDonald and Demitros Kargotis, is called
Imagine Being a World Leader. Certain elements on display are reminiscent of the setting for an international summit. A film shows clips of children, wearing suit jackets provided for them by the artists, trying to learn how to deliver speeches and greet fellow ‘world leaders’ in an appropriate way. Some of the handshakes are so dysfunctional it makes you realise how socially skilled our politicians are. The shot below, downloaded from the DCA’s website, displays a competence (solid eye contact, decisive hand gesture) that is not typical of the children’s presentations.


Morgan Cahn is introduced to us by Graham Domke, Exhibitions Curator at DCA, responsible for this evening’s (((echo))). Morgan, with limited time at her disposal, goes straight into her thing. She tells us that she would like us to shake hands with her and with each other, and that to facilitate this she has a choice of two antiseptic hand gels. We are asked to vote for mango or mint. I raise my hand for the mint option and so do the majority of the seated audience. Soon we are standing up, shaking hands with Morgan (who has remembered my name from when we were briefly introduced earlier today). We then shake hands with each other, having been asked to pay attention to the same rules of etiquette that the children were taught about. The hand shaking is a bit embarrassing, as the situation is somewhat artificial, but it does lead to a certain amount of talking to strangers as people try - ever so discreetly - to come over as socially competent.


We take our seats again for the second half of Morgan’s performance. Again she gives us a choice. Are we to help her complete her postal vote for the forthcoming American presidential election, or are we to have a discussion about feminism for the five minutes remaining to us? Kate and I both raise our hands for the feminist option, but, apparently, the presidential election has it by a narrow majority. Morgan tells us that there are four candidates, not just the Democrat and the Republican. She is tempted to vote for the Green candidate, who is a woman, not a businessman as two of the other candidates are described on the form. But in the end she plumps for Barack Obama. We watch as she marks the form accordingly. Now I’m wondering why she didn’t just allow us to vote on who she would vote for! Because, being an art audience, the majority of us would certainly have gone for the Democrat. I’m reminded of a work by Bob and Roberta Smith from 2009:


Perhaps Patrick Brill (aka Bob and Roberta Smith), based in London, was implying that there is unlikely to be such an inspired liberal/left wing politician for the UK electorate to vote for. Perhaps, what with Obama having taken some stick from his own supporters since he was elected President, the artist is pointing out that this politician remains an enlightened individual with the best chance of achieving meaningful change for the majority of the American people. Or is it all about one’s colour preference: mint or chocolate?


Back to the present. What is Morgan Cahn getting at? Has she set herself up as an artist-politician, ostensibly giving the audience-electorate the chance to vote, but really keeping the decision that counts - the power to move towards equality or to conserve the current distribution of wealth - for herself to make? Are you watching, kids? Are you deconstructing? Look and learn how the adult world works. As a parting shot she asks us to vote on whether the piece we’ve been taking part in should be called
Shaken, not Stirred or Shaken not, Stirred. Those that still haven’t got the idea vote one way or the other.

Take a peek at Morgan’s
website and see how she comes across in other performances. The casually corporate image seems to be specific to Shaken not, Stirred.


We move next door to where a Danish artist, Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen has a show which includes the video work,
Rendezvous. On one screen a male migrant worker (from Kerala in southern India, working in Dubai) faces across to a second screen where the members of his family living in Kerala stare back at him. Every few minutes the particular worker/family changes, but what doesn’t change is the sense of absence on the one hand, exile on the other.

Graham Domke introduces David Fyans, who tells us that his response to the video installation is an audio piece called
Frequency=Distance/Time. Dave is on the MFA and his studio space is next to Kate’s. He’s up and running very quickly on the masters, having earned a first on the BA and being both technically brilliant and creative in the ever-expanding digital world. Here, he’s used the physical distance (10 metres) between the suspended screens, together with the distance (2952 km) between the airports of Dubai and Kerala, as a starting point. The closest musical note to 2952 is F sharp, apparently. That’s been taken as a harmonic base used for modulations in frequency, based around multiples of 10 cycles per second. Presumably, all that’s arbitrary, but the sound, when it starts, seems suitably melancholic. It reminds me of Brian Eno’s ambient music from decades ago. Frequency=Distance/Time can be listened to here. With permission I’d embed it on my website, but I doubt if my Rapidweaver skills would be up to that.

Kate has been visiting Dubai since before her daughter (born the same year that Gaga died) got married to a citizen of that country. The couple employ three members of a Sri Lankan family: husband, wife and daughter. We discuss whether it makes sense to us for Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen to have focussed entirely on the male in exile. Basically, the situation is the same though. Money flows from Dubai to the Indian sub-continent. Longing no doubt flows in both directions.


I walk between the screens to where Dave is in a huddle-bubble of his own. He has a laptop and several boxes of electronics in front of him, lighting up the dark. He’s turning dials, twiddling knobs and I’d like to ask him what exactly is involved, but I can’t because he’s concentrating on what he’s doing. So I make do with capturing what my camera is making out of the darkness (a Francis Bacon-type scenario). Then I return my attention to the audio.

Eventually I turn round and make out Kate sitting in her seat about ten metres away. The situation puts me in mind of the 16 miles we are apart from Tuesday to Thursday now that the MFA is underway. That’s OK though, the separation helps both of us do our own thing. We are still basically together; there is no sense of loss. As Kate looks towards either of the screens, I think she is more likely to be thinking of the kilometres between herself and her grandchildren, who live in Dubai. How many kilometres? I need to turn to Google Maps to find out.

Screen shot 2012-10-05 at 09.30.10

It’s about 10,000 kilometres between Dundee and Dubai. Kate’s grandchildren: two lovely boys, 10 and 8, and a girl who is now old enough to join in the fun and games when we’re with them. And as I bring them to mind I feel for Kate. No longer willing or able to travel to Dubai, she sees her daughter and grandchildren for one week a year when they come on holiday to Cornwall for the month of August. The family is accompanied by a Sri Lankan maid. This August, Sanji told us about the house that members of her family are building back in Sri Lanka, with the help of money that she and her parents are earning in Dubai. She also spoke of the length of time that she’s been away from the friends she grew up with. The 29-year-old woman doesn’t get emails or calls from home any more. Her peers have lost touch. If Sanji does manage to return to Sri Lanka in the future, and moves into the new house, will it feel like home?

From DCA to Dubai is a long, long way. Ask Kate. From Dubai to the Indian sub-continent is a long way too. I think we all appreciate that, thanks to
Rendezvous and its echo.

P9270818 - Version 3

Sitting down beside Kate again, I notice that four artists from the MFA are sitting together in a row looking at the screens. One is from this country, but in front of her are women from the United States, Sweden and Korea. Do they relate to the loneliness of the male migrant worker from India? As they’re only at the beginning of a very intensive course, they may well be feeling anxious and homesick right now. In a sense they are migrant workers, but they are an elite form of such. The flow of money is actually from the foreign country to the host, beginning with £12,000 of tuition fees. But what may be taken back home, in due course, is cultural currency. Not that Korea, Sweden or the States lack culture of their own. But contemporary art is in demand throughout much of the world right now, and where better to get a masters in it than DJCAD? What with Dundee - rather than Glasgow - being the new London.

So let me get this straight. DJCAD is exporting culture, bringing in foreign currency in the process. Can Dundee single-handedly pull this country out of recession? Well, why not? I’ve heard that Barack Obama is going to apply to do the MFA here next year. But only if he’s not re-elected as President of the United States. If he’s re-elected he’ll put his own personal ambitions for self-improvement on the back burner for another four years and devote himself to raising the fortunes of the majority of the American people.

Kate won’t let me end on that flippant note. Not with the audio still laying down a sombre mood. Not while families are kept asunder by economic opportunity cum financial necessity. She points out that everyone on the MFA is in a privileged position with many choices in life. It belittles the plight of the Indian worker to draw the parallel that I have. Dubai, thanks to oil revenues, is one of the richest places on the planet, while Indian wages are among the lowest in the world. There is something grotesque about the use of cheap labour from the Indian sub-continent in the United Arab Emirates.

I think about it. (Kate has a better-exercised political sensibility than I do.) And I conclude that she’s right.


We just have to vote for it and embed it in our work. As the artists we’ve come across today seem already to be doing.

Note: Making Words - Marking Words gallery installation images courtesy the artist, David Bellingham, and Cooper Gallery, DJCAD, http://www.dundee.ac.uk/djcad/exhibitions/ Colour Photos: Dylan Drummond.
If any other copyright holder wishes a more formal credit or for an image to be removed from this page then they should contact me and I will do as they ask. Also, if anyone would rather not be appearing in a picture on this site, then please let me know and I’ll adjust things accordingly.