Graham Fagen: Downpresser (2 stars)

GoMA, Glasgow, until Mon 28 May


It’s difficult to discern exactly what Graham Fagen is getting at with his new installation of photographs, screen prints and DVD projections at GoMA. The exhibition, entitled Downpresser, is a personal response to the bicentenary anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, and is part of a series of related events planned by Glasgow City Council to run through 2007. But does a personal response like this tell us anything? It seems that research-based art has become ‘application form art’. A political point is made, but what is it? All we find out is that Fagen likes reggae, his favourite holiday destination is Jamaica, that he’s into Robert Burns (who was going to go to Jamaica to work as a bookkeeper until success and money kept him here).

The exhibition takes its title from the song Downpresser Man by Jamaican reggae musician Peter Tosh (1944-87), an ‘inspired’ soul with a saviour complex who was killed during a robbery. Tosh’s mother Mama Tosh is present in a photograph, peering through pained eyes. As your eyes flick from her face to the kitsch sunset on your right, the gentle sound of drumming and the jazzy low wail of a trumpet pull you through the exhibition space, past previously exhibited screen prints (of ships that Burns planned to travel on), to the film Downpressser at the back of the gallery. An impromptu performance of Burns’ ‘Slave’s Lament’ is being sung on a beach. The once oppressed inhabitants of the Caribbean are now made to work for Fagen’s art.

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