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Artist puts focus on weddings for 2014 Games celebration

Phil Collins is poring over a slithery pile of black and white wedding photographs.

framed: Phil Collins is caught in front of the camera, but he will be putting relationships in the picture for a film to be shown during the Commonwealth Games celebrations.       Picture: Mark Mainz
framed: Phil Collins is caught in front of the camera, but he will be putting relationships in the picture for a film to be shown during the Commonwealth Games celebrations. Picture: Mark Mainz

We have coffee and are sitting in the kitchen of The Common Guild, the gallery and contemporary arts dynamo based in the Park Circus area of Glasgow. Collins - no, not that Phil Collins, but the award-winning, Turner Prize-nominated artist of the same name - is purring over the images.

"These are fresh to me today," he says in his light north-west English accent. He flips through the images of alternately pensive, happy, awkward, uncomfortable and glowing just-wed Glaswegians from the past 50 years or so.

"Delighted," he points at one, then "Oh dear, freezing," he notes of another. He points to another, a picture of a couple edging coyly into a car. "I mean look at that outfit. This is great isn't it - the way the light is refracted on the window, and they look so uncertain and unsteady; he is essentially holding her up."

These photos, which Collins is seeking more of, are key to a major project he is concocting with The Common Guild to run during the 2014 Commonwealth Games celebrations. He will make a film that will be shown on a large screen in Queen's Park, in the south side, next summer.

The artist is in an intense phase of research. He was born in 1970 and has twice been resident in Glasgow, while his father, Glen, was born and brought up in Dennistoun. Collins wants to know Glasgow's institutions better, and is trying to piece together his already close knowledge of the city with hitherto undiscovered biographies and histories.

The artist is known for his lushly made films, which have covered a series of topics that, at first look, seems hugely disparate. But they generally include first-person narratives, forgotten or suppressed histories, the intricacies of identity and language, as well as, winningly, music and humour.

He has filmed a disco dance marathon in Ramallah, made a re-recording of a Smiths album (The World Won't Listen) in Bogota, staged a frank press conference with participants of reality TV, made a moving film on the Serbian language, created screen tests for an imaginary Hollywood film in Iraq, and made a work featuring Germanic pornography. Softly spoken, he has, when we meet, just visited Barlinnie Prison.

A graduate of Manchester and Belfast universities, he won a Paul Hamlyn Award in 2001 and teaches in Cologne at the Kunsthochschule fur Medien, while living in Berlin. His Glasgow work will begin filming in the New Year, but first he has a lot of research to do.

Hence the wedding photos, which The Common Guild will collect for him. "The photos will be one of the central sequences of the film," he says, "We are looking for all kinds of marriages - any kind of commitment ceremony, of a relationship or even a friendship.

"Weddings are interesting not only in the promises made, but in the way promises are made in an economic sense. They are places of romance but also mistake and accident. They tell you really strongly of a given time and so much about personal history."

Glasgow is known and unknown to Collins. His family links meant he visited often through the 1970s, and he lived in the city as an adult for two stretches in the 1990s and the 2000s, but for the film, he wants to learn more.

"Part of this is my love affair with the city. But part of it is this: I don't know how much anyone really knows Glasgow - it is full of contradictions and full of multiple histories and multiple purchases on the city."

He adds that Glasgow's identity is complicated and could be hard to define in a single film. "The city is divided, along lots of different lines, historically. I think its identity is a lot to do with language, it is a very demonstrative city in lots of ways, and also it is a place that is also made up of incomers, who have become very much a part of it."

Does Collins feel Glaswegian, because of his family? He shakes his head. "I don't know if I do. I feel English in lots of ways, but it is definitely part of my history. And I have not made a film here before. That is the beginning point: to look at finding characters and stories and individuals and groups, who can tell something of being from or moving to Glasgow."

What, exactly, is Collins looking for in Glasgow? "We want people with amazing stories to tell. It could be people who took part in the Second World War, it could be transvestites from the 1960s, it could be people who immigrated in the post-War period, it could be musicians - all of those things, those are the places where I begin listening. I always begin by listening."

His visit to Barlinnie is not an unusual act for Collins. His practice has in the past involved a lot of visits to prisons, especially in New York, where he has worked in institutions such as Sing Sing.

He says: "They are difficult, heartbreaking places, but they make up a central part of the way we understand society. And yet they are invisible to us most of the time."

Collins is now moving between Glasgow, Berlin and Cologne as his Scottish project comes into greater focus. If it follows how he assembled his past films, he will interview a lot of Glaswegians before editing all the material down to something more manageable: his film made in Germany, Marxism Today, was cut from 82 interviews to a final edit of three.

Another part of Glasgow, not just the people in it, fascinates the artist: its troublesome history of demolition and rebuilding, of half-realised master plans and lost or submerged architecture could form a key part of the film. "I read a lot of Glasgow history. I see the motorway going through the city as complete science fiction, and I can think of no other city that does that," he says.

"And that is part of its nobility in a way, but it not only divides it in ways that are completely unpredictable, but offers a journey that is almost completely urban. It is a bit Blade Runner in the rain, with the lights running through Charing Cross. It offers great potentials. It is another form of landscape."

The Common Guild, which is working with Phil Collins on the film, is looking for photographs of the "widest range of engagements, commitment ceremonies and weddings from the last 100 years in Glasgow".

"These can be traditional or unconventional records of all kinds of relationships - marriages, deep friendships or secret love affairs."

Pictures can be sent as scans to info@thecommonguild.org.uk, or call 0141 428 3022 for more details.

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