Thursday, 28 June 2012

Tom McGrath and the Rotterdam Arts Foundation

As the archive becomes searchable through the index it's beginning to throw real light on the origins of the Third Eye Centre and the research conducted by Tom McGrath when he was shaping the institution. As he had spent much of the 1960s in London it seemed safe to assume that proto-art centres such as Jim Hayne's Art Lab in Covent Garden had a vital influence on his thinking. While this may be the case, the archive points to other locations and much more explicit dialogue about the future direction of the Third Eye. Following a research trip to the Netherlands, McGrath writes to Felix Valk at the Rotterdam Arts Foundation:

15th March 1973

Safely back in Glasgow, I am now trying to do something about my visit to Rotterdam.

First, let me thank you for your hospitality while we were there, and all of your interesting though and explanation. I learned a tremendous amount from it all, and will probably be taking over some of your ideas in total, e.g. I might well have a toy-making exhibition here too. 

I am getting a basic video unit within the next two weeks and will be able to make and play back ½” black and white material. Rob Breen has details of your equipment, and I will make sure that my own is compatible with yours.

In this case, would it be possible for me to use some of the video material you have in Rotterdam? Would there be a hiring charge for it and how would it be transported from Rotterdam to Glasgow. Would it be safest to have someone actually take it from one place to the other?

The other possibility was with regard to the colour video tapes made by American artists that you showed us during our visit. The Fine Arts Society of Glasgow University are interested in helping run programmes of video in Glasgow and, through them, I would be able to get 2” American colour video re-processed to ½”, thereby making it useable here. I am not sure if the material you showed us was 2” and would be grateful if you would let me know about this. What kind of financial arrangement would there be in this case?

Will you be interested in tapes in exchange once we get things going here? It really is a completely new field here, and none of the artists have used video before, so it will probably take some time before we start producing our own art video, but we should soon be able to produce video records of poetry readings, art events and the like, and I will give you details of these as they emerge. It would be a good way for us to keep in touch with events in each other’s countries. Let me know what you think….

...The other idea which I would like your thought on: During our visit you mentioned a Rotterdam artist who was heavily involved in drugs. There has been a lot of drug use by creative people in this country too, and I am sure it has had both positive and negative results in their personalities and their work. I wonder if it would be possible for us to carry out a two-country survey (or even two-city survey if this is more manageable) on drugs and creativity, and the use of drugs. We could then publish this as a joint Rotterdam/Glasgow venture/ What do you think.

This letter is interesting as it reveals a more continental influence on the Third Eye. It also marks a key moment in the development of video art in Scotland that can be traced through other material in the archive. One of the satisfying aspects of video art is the way in which founding moments of the medium can be more easily identified as they are linked to the specific, and relatively recent, development of technology or the purchase of equipment. McGrath's letter to Valk seems to mark one of those moments.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012


Having now indexed almost all of the one hundred and three boxes of Third Eye Centre archive material, I’m still frequently surprised by unusual and intriguing items hidden amongst the administrative paper work and correspondence. 

Some of this more formal correspondence is often between exhibiting artists and the programming team at the centre regarding the details and arrangements for their exhibition, but can feature more irreverent exchanges in memo's and notes such as this 1976 personalised postcard from Scotland’s first Makar, Edwin Morgan.

Image Credit: Third Eye/CCA Archive
Morgan was a regular feature of the Third Eye Centre’s publishing and literary activities, from oral readings in the first months of the centre in 1975 to a special evening of birthday performances in 1985 with Tom Leonard, Tom, Alasdair Gray and Liz Lochhead. Many of the publications published by the Third Eye Centre of Edwin Morgan are currently available at the GSA Library, including the rare Star Gate: Science Fiction Poems.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Illustrating Publications

Within the boxes of Third Eye Centre archive material I have been discovering an intriguing quantity of catalogues produced to accompany almost every exhibition at the centre. 

Often amongst the paperwork are handwritten notes, proofs and correspondence with the artists, contributors and printers, offering real insight into the development of even the slimmest and simplest of catalogues.   Some exhibitions such as 'It's all writ out for you' a retrospective of Scottie Wilson in 1986, demanded more significant publications.  In this case, a collaboration with the established publishers Thames and Hudson to produce a nationally distributed book and touring exhibition.

Long before and after this support of a large publishing house, The Third Eye Centre has encouraged and produced a remarkable body of creative writing, poetry and Artists’ book through its publishing activity.

It is illustrated through the material in the archive and reading the publications that this activity was not an ‘add on’ in addition to its visual arts programme, but very much a part of it as the centre developed projects with significant Scottish authors and poets such as Edwin Morgan and Hamish Whyte as well as French concrete poet Henri Chopin.  The Last Book of the Rich Alphabetical Hours of Henri Chopin publication and exhibition in 1984 visualised the poets work, and is one amongst many similar visual and literary collaborations in the Third Eye Centres programme including Seven Poets (1981) Noise and Smoky Breath (1983) and Behind The Lines (1989).

Image Credit: Third Eye Centre/CCA Archive, Illustration by Willie Rodger

Until this material is made fully accessible, the Glasgow School of Art Library houses many of these catalogues and publications for reference and research.

Friday, 8 June 2012

What We Have Done, What We Are About To Do.

Plans and preparations are currently underway for an exhibition at the CCA which will make visible the ongoing work of the Glasgow Miracle: New Evidence and Insight project.

From Saturday 18 Aug – Saturday 1 Sep the exhibition will reveal over 70 films documenting the activity of the Third Eye Centre in the 1970s. The footage covers the early existence of the organisation in Blythswood Square, the construction of a gallery space and cafĂ© in 350 Sauchiehall St and the appearance of many famous artists, bands and performers. In the spirit of the age, the films also chart Glasgow itself, audiences and activities in the art centre, and key figures such as Jimmy Boyle, John Byrne, Michael Craig-Martin, Madelaine Taylor, Keith Tippett and Tom McGrath.

These films have been in the care of Street LevelPhotoworks for many years and it has only recently become possible to digitise and view them due to an AHRC funded research project undertaken by CCA and Glasgow School of Art. All of the digitised film is still in a raw state, unedited and, in many cases, unidentified. The aim of this exhibition is to present a progress report on the archival process rather than a completed project. We invite you to help us to identify some of the material or to share your memories of the events that you may have attended.

There will also be samples of the documents and images we are indexing in the Third Eye/CCA archive and a small exhibition of photographs by the Glasgow photographer George Oliver who documented the early days of the Third Eye Centre.

Another gallery will be devoted to contemporary Glasgow-based artists creating new work in response to the idea of archives and the process of archiving.

In the week following the exhibition there will be a series of workshop days in the galleries. Curators of other specialist archives will present talks on their collections and lead discussions on various aspects of the archive as it relates to contemporary art.

A number of screening and panel events will then roll out across 2012/13 which will focus in on some of the edited subject matter. This will initially take place between Street Level Photoworks and CCA.

For full exhibition details visit the CCA website