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Katrina Brown – Opening the Door on The Common Guild

In 2018, The Common Guild closed down its exhibition space in the Glasgow townhouse owned by artist Douglas Gordon it had called home for a decade. Beyond the move from Woodlands Terrace, ongoing off-site projects continued what had been a key component of the contemporary art organisation’s programme since being founded by Katrina Brown in 2006. 

 Even when forced to shut down physical events in 2020 due to Covid induced lockdown, an online strand included films by Phil Collins, Akram Zaatari and Sharon Hayes, as well as In the Open(2020-2021), two series’ of environmental sound-based commissions. Beyond lockdown, during COP26, The Common Guild presented Mobbile (1970/2021), a re-presentation of German artist Gustav Metzger’s modified car that collects and stores its own carbon emissions. All this pointed to an even more expansive future for the organisation.


“We were always only ever meant to be in that building on a temporary basis,” Brown explains. “What started out as a two or three year project ended up being ten years of exhibitions there. Despite the fact that all the artists who worked with us really loved it, we were really conscious of the issues of inaccessibility. If anyone had any kind of mobility restriction, even if they could get into the building, they wouldn’t really get far around it.”


With no affordable solution, “we just had to draw a line under it and focus on other bits of our programme that we had more control over in terms of trying to ensure they were accessible.” 


Two current projects are prime examples of this. Moving in Relation (2021-2022) is a series of five events by Corin Sworn, the second of which, a performance lecture based presentation, took place offsite in April. Due later in 2022 is May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth (2020-2022), by New York/Ramallah artists Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme. 


“Corin has had this research project for the last couple of years looking at the relationship between movement and facial recognition technology,” Brown says. “She was really keen to try and develop something generative and progressive, rather than just one thing, so we started talking about how to make different events that would maybe feed into her thinking.”


Moving in Relation continues a relationship with Sworn that began when The Common Guild presented her work as part of Scotland + Venice 2013. 

“Working with an artist more than once is something we’ve done before,” says Brown. “That allows audiences to experience what can be quite different strands within an artist’s practice.”


This tone was set from the very start, when the first Common Guild presentation in 2007 was an off-site performance by Martin Creed, followed later by an exhibition at Woodlands Terrace in 2010.


Brown’s approach dates back to when she worked at Tramway, the multiple artform venue housed in the former transport museum on Glasgow’s Southside.


“I can remember these debates about visual art versus theatre,” she recalls, “and while you’d get theatre companies like The Wooster Group coming back repeatedly, visual artists were more of a one-hit wonder, and wouldn't be invited back in the same way. 

“Having The Common Guild as a buildingless organisation frees us up to do that, because you can work with someone in two different places and it doesn't feel like the same thing.” 


A similar process with Abbas and Abou-Rahme is ongoing. 


“Basel and Ruanne came to do a talk with us that turned out to be the very last thing we did before lockdown,” says Brown. “At that point, we were starting to talk with them about doing some kind of project in Glasgow in the future. Two years later, we're finally getting around to it.”


May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth developed from a co-commission by MoMA and the DIA Art Foundation, both in New York, and includes an online platform and an in-the-round audio-visual installation.


“A lot of their work is about the Palestinian diaspora, and this piece in particular is about the importance of song in Arab language cultures. It seems like an incredibly important work to bring to Glasgow, where there is a considerable Arab-speaking population.”


Glasgow’s relationship with the world has been at the heart of The Common Guild since the start. 


“We wanted to bring artists to Glasgow who hadn't shown here before, but who we thought had something to say in a Glasgow context, whether that's about particular issues or whether it was about a way of working or an approach. That and the ability to work in different formats were absolutely the most important things about The Common Guild. We were never just a building.” 


While The Common Guild’s future will remain nomadic, Brown is also looking at the possibility of settling down elsewhere.


“Working in different parts of the city at different times feels like a really energised thing to do,” she says, “but we also have an aspiration for somewhere permanent. We know how much people used to like coming into the library at Woodlands Terrace, and that's something we want to try and recreate in the future. 


“It would be nice to think we might at some point run an exhibitions programme again, but we wouldn't want to give up supporting artists, developing new works and making these differently formatted experiences for people.”


May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth by Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme is presented by The Common Guild at a venue to be confirmed in September 2022. Moving in Relation by Corin Sworn is ongoing. Further details can be found at

Scottish Art News - April 2022



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