Glasgow is a city punctured by urban experiments. Voids and tears in the urban fabric where housing and industry once thrived, leave scraggly edges littered with the detritus of patches in the urban realm. Cities are scarred with memories of places that have been removed, leaving behind slabs and metal. Spaces that were closed off by hoarding and fences, grasses blowing through old plans and rusty regeneration. Modern artistic practice seems to frame this post-industrial landscape in semi-ironic kitsch, often ignoring the very human qualities that basic urban infrastructure can evoke. Yet it is among the thrown-away forgotten spaces in the city, that the most radical of creative practice can thrive. Cities like Sao Paulo, Berlin and Glasgow have built cultural reputations on their engagement with their raw urban decay seeping into the street and facilitating new types of artistic endeavour and public engagement. The public realm, cluttered with the urban furniture to poke and prod people around our city can also guide us to new understandings.
In his work, Gustavo Ferro interrogates the mundane, everyday objects – formal and informal – that form the minutiae of cogs that facilitate the city. Informed by the brutalist playground of Brazil, his art makes elastic that very rigid of urban infrastructure –road barriers, kerbs and bollards. His output until now follows a narrative that explores these banal anonymous relics, a path that can be traced to the current work. His Piquetes Anônimos (ongoing project) demonstrates the artist’s willingness to engage with the underlying human aspects of these objects, exchanging the handmade timber and concrete posts for handmade replicas. Ferro asks us to question the art and the artist, the canvas being the city, inherently open and malleable. In his practice he takes manipulates often functional concepts and artefacts, provoking us to see them in more fluid, animated ways. His drawings of twisted and looping barriers, allow us to view taken-for-granted functional objects, through an almost psycadelic prism as one was tripping through the city convulsed.
His residency in Glasgow presented opportunities in a new yet familiar context. With a gluttony of abandoned spaces and adorned with layers of urban bling in in a metal and concrete bukkake, Glasgow is inspiring as the quintessential gritty post-industrial backdrop for modern art. Disparate neighbourhoods are draped in rings of hard roads, connecting bridges, grey repeating barriers and tokenistic public furniture. Yet there is a unique language and materiality among these textures that can often glisten in the neon-grey sky. Ferro’s Grinding series injects life into the generic metal tubing that forms the balustrade to Glasgow’s ballroom. His sculptures bring an almost musical quality to the material, their appearance in space seeming like graffiti doodles on live space, and Instagram. His desire to use the artworks as devices to dialogue the public in situ bring an extra dimension to his work, and points to a new level of engagement with his subject matter. Themes around public and private space, ownership, security and authority all present in his work with the Grinder series. Employing a tactile playfulness with the otherwise clunky, ugly functional subject matter allows us to envisage a more porous society – away from constant surveillance and rules. Developing an idea of the city as a playground allows us to seek out new ways to improve our public infrastructure and prototype social innovation.
Donagh Horgan, is a design strategist and architect based in Glasgow.
(This text was published part of the exhinition Grinding Series at SWG3 Gallery in Glasgow, 2016)