“Scottish design is underrated”: Glasgow exhibition celebrates 20 contemporary makers

We speak to Stacey Hunter, curator at Made in Glasgow, which is showcasing and selling the work of independent designers from the city, including risograph prints, scarves, home products and raincoats inspired by Scottish weather.

“We’re trying to get across that Scotland has an amazing design scene,” says Stacey Hunter, curator at design exhibition, Made in Glasgow. “A lot of people don’t know that, because our branding and tourism strategies are so connected to heritage and tradition – but we’re really good at contemporary design too!”

Hunter is behind the Glasgow-based initiative Local Heroes, a group that partners with other organisations to showcase the work of up-and-coming designers and craftspeople.

Its latest venture is Made in Glasgow, an exhibition created in collaboration with Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, which celebrates the work of 20 Glaswegian designers, spanning over 30 products including risographs, clothing and home products. The show also acts as a shop – all the exhibits on display are for sale.

Glasgow home to Scottish design community

© Christina Kernohan

The exhibition, which coincides with new multi-sports event the European Championships taking place in the city and hence a surge of tourism, looks to celebrate Glasgow’s current craft scene, and provide a “great snapshot of Scottish design”, says Hunter.

The three-week-long show has been funded by government agency Creative Scotland and Glasgow City Council, and is based in Glasgow district Merchant City. It is the second iteration of the event, which first took place in 2016 at Edinburgh Airport and celebrated the work of nine Scottish designers. This year, the show is solely focused on work coming out of Glasgow.

“Glasgow is where most of Scotland’s flourishing independent design community is based, including individuals, design studios and makers,” she says. “In general, Scottish design is underrated, and I think there’s a lot of different reasons for that,” she says. “For one, there is no national programme for design in Scotland, so there’s a gap in provision. A public programme, from exhibition to festivals to events, should be on the agenda as a priority.”

“I wanted it to be a spectacle”

© Christina Kernohan

Glaswegian artist Steff Norwood was commissioned to help design the exhibition space for Made in Glasgow, which looks to be bold and daring rather than filled with white walls and cube-shaped plinths, says Hunter.

“I wanted it to be a spectacle,” she says. “I thought about the future of retail, and what shops will be like without shelves or tills, and tried to apply this to the exhibition space – the designers’ products will be bought, after all. I felt people were bored of the mainstream, defined notion of good taste – the ‘white box plinth’ – and find it minimal and bland.”

The resulting exhibition space sees plinths made to look like large, geological sculptures, almost like islands dotted around the room.

They have been given different surface textures, to reflect the different landscapes of Scotland, from grassy to pebbly to ones that look like volcanic lava. The structures have been covered in a layer of resin jesmonite, then covered with car spray-paint to create a futuristic and sparkly effect.

© Christina Kernohan

This science-fiction-inspired aesthetic has also been applied to the exhibition space’s windows, which have been covered in iridescent vinyl. This means that when car headlamps or the sun hits them, they flare up and look like neon lights, changing colour from orange to purple to silver.

Everything from candle-holders to prints and jewellery feature in Made in Glasgow, but many of the products also look to reference Glasgow specifically.

Raincoats and home ornaments

The Glasgow Raincoat, by Love and Squalor and Alice Dansey-Wright, © Christina Kernohan

One such exhibit is The Glasgow Raincoat, created collaboratively between graphic designer Alice Dansey-Wright and fashion designer Rebecca Coyle, who owns her own clothing shop Love and Squalor. The coat is a tongue-in-cheek nod to Glasgow’s notoriously wet weather, and features weather-related motifs such as moons and suns, as well as symbols links with Glaswegian architecture and heritage, such as the steelworks.

A more peculiar piece in the show is Balancing Act, by graphic designer Gabriella Marcella, who owns her own risograph print studio Risotto. She has turned her hand to product design, working with sustainable, scrap wood to create a home ornament that encourages the buyer to construct their own product. Made up of colourful, wooden blocks, which can be threaded along a wire, visitors are encouraged to work out how to arrange the ornament so that it balances on its own, then place it in their home.

Fernanda from Le Zite scarf collection, by Giulia Fiorista, © Francesco Tagliavia

Some pieces even tell a story. Sicily-born and Glasgow-based designer Giulia Fiorista has created a set of five, colourful scarves, titled Le Zite, which is Sicilian for The Girlfriends. The scarves depict the lovers of late Italian designer Ettore Sottsass, each one translated onto a silk square, acting as a homage to the legendary designer.

Whatever visitors’ preferences, the show of over 30 products looks to depict the “wealth of local brilliance” in Glasgow, which is normally hidden behind the “homogenous high street”, says Clive Gillman, director of creative industries at Creative Scotland, and highlight to visitors that the city’s design scene is open for business.

“The Glasgow School of Art fire has affected the community”

Just two months ago, Glasgow’s art and design community was hit by tragedy, when a huge fire devastated much of the Glasgow School of Art (GSA), the second time a blaze has hit the school in four years. The Mackintosh building, famously designed by Scottish architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh, was destroyed, and the school’s director has since confirmed it will be rebuilt, according to The Guardian.

While by no means a remedy, exhibitions such as Made in Glasgow are doing their bit to bring the spirits of the city’s art and design community up again.

Sgrafitto cotton scarf, by Mhari McMullan, © Ross Fraser Mclean

“There has certainly been a ripple effect of the GSA fire,” says Hunter. “The GSA is such a powerhouse that it’s definitely affected the creative community, and people who live here. One of the textile designers in our show, Mhari McMullan, who has made a cotton scarf, has her own shop Welcome Home, which is based near the GSA – now it’s temporarily closed and she can’t get into it.

“A small silver lining is that some of the staff from Welcome Home are currently working with me, helping to staff the shop and run the exhibition, before their shop re-opens in September,” she says. “It can’t make anything better, but this show is a nice thing to have on right now as a celebration of design. Designers are so resourceful, so I’ve got every confidence that the GSA recovery will be a full one.”

Made in Glasgow runs until 12 August 2018 at 58 Albion Street, Merchant City, Glasgow G1 1LH. Entry is free, and the exhibition is accompanied by a series of events and a limited-edition magazine. For more information, head here.

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