All glimmers in limbo: Tramway

Motion city, soundtracked

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Cate Simpson explores an installation steeped in the history of a beloved venue

Glasgow’s Tramway has a rich, varied history that closely mirrors the city’s development from a noisy industrial town to a centre of arts and culture. The building began life as a tram terminus (the clue’s in the name), housed the Museum of Transport, became an epic backdrop for Peter Brooks’ Mahabharata and Andy Goldsworthy’s sculpture in the late 1980s, and was saved from demolition in 1990 by plans for Glasgow’s year as City of Culture.

Now in its 20th year as one of Scotland’s most pioneering, versatile arts venues, Tramway’s anniversary celebrations kick off with the second exhibition in Minty Donald’s two-part series of site-specific artworks, glimmers in limbo: Tramway. Last October, this installation-come-community history project saw the Britannia Panopticon Theatre transformed into a playground for visitors to interact with the building’s architectural heritage. Both buildings are ‘sites that hold our cultural memories,’ says Donald. ‘They are embedded in the social and cultural context of Glasgow.’

This sense of shared history permeates the glimmers in limbo project. Donald calls visitors ‘spectator-participants’, explaining that ‘their responses “make” it.’ The emphasis is on allowing people to experience the building’s history for themselves, learning something about the city’s own development in the process.

The highlight of the Tramway installation is in the venue’s main exhibition space, where visitors push trolleys along the tramlines that remain as clues to its humble beginnings. Each trolley holds a video projector that beams contemporary images of Glasgow’s old tram routes onto the walls as it moves (that Tesco didn’t implement something like this years ago seems like a huge missed opportunity).

‘The footage was filmed with the camera sticking out of the sun roof of a van. I traced all the routes using maps of Glasgow from 1893-96 . . . some bits of the routes aren’t accessible – one-way streets, pedestrianisation and other planning decisions have changed the layout of the city. The bits that we couldn’t drive are represented by a jump cut to the next bit – so there are ruptures in the journey.’

Add to this the soundtrack of technicians’ whispered conversations and it might be like finding yourself backstage at a ghostly production of that first Mahabharata, the show that precipitated the venue’s most recent rebirth.

All glimmers in limbo: Tramway works will be viewable on Sat 16 & Sun 17 Feb; the Tramway 2 trolley exhibition runs until Sun 2 March. See www.glimmersinlimbo.co.uk

Glimmers in Limbo

A set of installations, interventions and events celebrating the history of Tramway, all put together by Glasgow artist Minty Donald. See www.glimmersinlimbo.co.uk

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