TAC 44 Index
NEAL BEGGS' work is part of the Centre for Contemporary Art's capital development programme and is funded by the Scottish Arts Council National Lottery Fund. This helps explain its high profile, for it covers the full length of the entrance hall to the McLellan Galleries on Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street.
The west wall lists all 284 current Munros in height order, giving the name and the height in metres and feet. Opposite is a list of 304 blocks of flats (of eight storeys or more) built in Glasgow between the 1950s and 1970s, giving the block name or number, road, and height in metres and feet. Highest is 11 Mitchellhill Road (196m), lowest is 42 Halley Place (32.2m).
And that's it. No pictures, no grid references, no comparison, no interpretation - just the names and heights. The information panel merely says that "the work will develop over the next 18 months as Beggs records a series of climbs throughout Scotland." It does not indicate whether the flats will be climbed, but Beggs is reported to be planning to spend a night on top of every block, though he has apparently run into access restrictions from Glasgow City Council. If he manages it then presumably he can claim to have bagged the Beggs.
On the assumption that art is intended to generate some sort of emotional response, I found this wall work surprisingly evocative, in a systematic kind of way. Stob Coire Sgriodain, which was that...? Ah yes, lots of snow, slid down the upper slopes, picked up a bottle that had popped out of Pete's rucksack a minute or two earlier. April 1989 I think, from a Corpach base.
Seeing all the names in a single large take makes you realise how many there are. It sinks in much deeper than when looking at, say, the Harveys Munro wall-chart (though Harveys don't include the flats).
In theory the inventory of flats should have been much less interesting than the hill listing, yet I wasn't so sure. Again, this mysterious "it" started sinking in. All those flats, all those floors, all those rooms, all those people, what are they up to in their high-rise hide-outs? I felt I wouldn't mind going back for more detailed study.
Two weeks later I woke up in the car park of Liverpool Marina with an hour to spare before heading through the Mersey tunnel to my mother's flat (two storeys, doesn't count) for Sunday breakfast. After a wind-assisted stroll round the Albert Dock I popped into the Tate Gallery of the north to see what was on offer. The first exhibit consisted of a roomful of giant net socks dangling from the ceiling, each with a bulging wodge of spices in the foot. Ugly, but pleasantly pungent. This was part of a city-wide exhibition called Trace, the theme of which was to "suggest materials or objects that allow us to reconstruct personal histories through memories and associations". I don't know if this theme is intended to be part of Beggs' work too, but I found his big Munro display to be a more effective memory trigger than the spicy socks. Maybe that just shows I'm more list man than spice boy, naturally filing away hill names alongside hill memories.
This inexplicable fascination with large-scale list-making seems harmless, but you have to be careful. On hearing the news that a Glasgow mother had been charged with murdering her six-year old son by pushing him out of a high-rise window, I didn't think "how terrible, what could have driven her to that?" No, my first thought was "how high were the flats?" Not good. I thought art was supposed to broaden the mind, not channel it deeper into existing ruts.
The concept of "list as art" seems to be gaining ground elsewhere, too. Tracey Emin's "My Bed" scooped the recent Turner Prize publicity, but more interesting was "Everyone I have ever slept with": a tent inscribed with the names of every body she had ever bagged.
And Matthew Engel of The Guardian is running an occasional column called Listomania, to celebrate "the mundane and the simple, spare rhythm of brevity ... to show that euphony can be found anywhere and everywhere." I found some of the lists submitted by Engel's readers to be quite captivating, regardless of subject matter. I had no interest in Staffordshire coalmines of 1829, until I read this:
Red Shag, Brief Furlong, Little Row, Peacock,
Great Row, Cannel Row, Thirty Inch Cannel,
Chalky Row, Frogs Row, Row Hurst, Easling.
Even better, listen to the tea gardens of Assam:
Gabroo Purbut, Cherideo,
Ligri Pookrie, Hathi Pooti,
Deopani, Mazengah, Towkok,
Call me an artless codger if you like, but these lists stir my imagination more than any amount of proper poetry.
So, where can the list art-form go from here? Beggs' work has size and scale, impact and resonance, but it has no rhythm. Like music (and indeed hill-walking), list verse will surely work better if it has rhythm. The next step should therefore be to build on the work of Beggs, Emin and Engel to create more rhythmic verse from lists of hills. Here's my first effort:
Gun, Crock, Tinto
Cracaval, Askival, Smean,
Glas Bheinn, Fashven,
Scaw'd Law, Ward Law, Hoove.
No doubt some of you can do better than this childish homage to Trumpton and the shipping forecast. If you want some inspiration, pop along to the McLellan Galleries for a big wall Munro experience. It's more rewarding than dangling smelly socks from the ceiling. On display until 2001.
TAC 44 Index