Adi’s adventures with the Travelling Gallery

Adi has been spending some time with the Travelling Gallery for his Internship. You can read his newest blog below.

Adi blog (002)

A whimsical medieval minstrel, Mike, looks up with a loving gaze in his twinkly eyes at the Go-pro carefully mounted onto the back of the bus. He walks towards it, guitar in both hands, strumming out an acoustic serenade as the bus slowly pulls away at a safe and steady distance.

“Happy Birthday to the big beautiful bus!”

He cheers.

“You’re 40 years old and we all agree.”

He continues.

“Though some newspapers called you art in a bus…”

They did.

“You’ll always be the Travelling Galleryyyyy!”

Just a few more strums.

“Happy Birthday, Travelling Galleryyyyy!”

This song ran on a loop from a flat screen T.V on the back wall of the Travelling Gallery bus for 6 hours straight. As it did, I, your beloved writer, stood inside the bus, volunteering alongside the Travelling Gallery’s driver, Andy Menzies, and one of its administrators, Sheila Capewell. Over the past two days, with the bus firmly parked in the middle of Grassmarket square, we welcomed over 200 curious locals and tourists. What they saw was not only an exhibition from the Travelling Gallery but also a celebration of the Travelling Gallery.

The Travelling Gallery, as per the name, is a literal travelling gallery. For the past 40 years, with funding from Creative Scotland, it has burnt rubber across all parts of the country. To encapsulate all of that in a song is a strange yet thoughtful decision to make. Whose decision, you may ask? Let’s take a second to go back to the film. To our minstrel’s side stands an unassuming boom operator. Despite wearing a bright yellow high-vis vest, the young man is nearly invisible, as he stands next to this living, breathing, singing telegram. In a way, he shouldn’t be, for he is none other than Gordon Douglas, the performance artist responsible for organising the Travelling Gallery’s 40th anniversary exhibition. By staying behind the scenes, Gordon seems to have undermined his own role as a performance artist. However, as best put by Andy;

“Gordon is part of the art, but he is not the art.”

Believe it or not, that’s barely even the peak of the weird, the wonderful and the wonderful weirdness of this exhibition. A set of drawers installed into the gallery walls are lined -stuffed to the brim, rather- with a colourful cavalcade of felts, fabrics and other sewing materials. In one corner, next to the T.V, I saw an explosion of court jester’s apparel. Further up towards the entrance of the bus, a tattered, 1930s-style crooner. Going up just a little bit further, a full-sized chicken suit and, lastly, the piece de la resistance: a four-person suit and hat, aptly designed for a one-man barbershop quartet. What better way to deliver a singing telegram when you’re the only one of your four mates that can actually sing?

Looking over this entire scene, I felt like I was backstage on a live episode of Monty Python. However, over time, I had realised that this seemingly random display was a lot more intricately designed than I had given it credit for. There was connection I hadn’t thought to notice before. The costumes themselves represented initial costume concepts that Gordon and Mike had developed whilst preparing their singing telegram. So, in a way, these prototype costumes do have some relevance to the Travelling Gallery’s 40th anniversary celebration. Think about it. You enter the bus itself, pass all of these initial costume concepts and come all the way down to the flat screen T.V, where you are greeted by the final product. It’s like Gordon Douglas wanted to celebrate the growth and evolution of the Travelling Gallery by taking us through the growth and evolution of the project used to celebrate the Travelling Gallery in the first place.

The bus that I had volunteered in was the third bus to host the Travelling Gallery and was built in 2007. There was the second bus back in 1983 and, of course, the original from 1978. Despite going through three different buses in the past 40 years, the Travelling Gallery has always persisted in delivering ground-breaking contemporary Scottish art to all sorts of communities; care homes, prisons, schools, libraries, big cities, small cities, everywhere! As Andy himself says;

“A person’s appreciation for art should never be determined by their postcode.”

Although the Travelling Gallery seldom leaves the country, Andy has found that when working in the gallery;

“The whole word comes to you!”

Over the years, people from all walks of life have passed through the Travelling Gallery’s doors. In turn, Andy has been taken aback by both the collective and individual responses from its steady stream of visitors. For example, when visiting a smaller town in the country, Andy was met by a security guard from a shopping centre near where the Gallery was parked. Upon entering the gallery, this stoic and hard-shouldered security guard spoke passionately about the exhibition and regaled Andy with tales of his own exploits as an amateur artist. On the other hand, during an exhibition in Glasgow, the Travelling Gallery was visited -ever so briefly- by a rather prudish art professor. In a move reminiscent of an archetypal snooty professor from a rowdy 1980s college movie, he took no more than one step into the gallery and scoffed; “rubbish” before immediately walking back out. This, Andy said, didn’t so much as upset him but, rather, it surprised him. As mentioned before, the man was an art professor. Andy expected him to have known better. Then again, it hasn’t been all sour grapes and bad apples. Amongst the smorgasbord of characters encountered by Andy have been some of the kindest, interesting and most open-minded people to ever set foot in the gallery. Just today visitors included a mayor from a small town in Finland, a PHD student doing her thesis on artistic outreach and a local seamstress- who admired the handiwork of the costumes created by Gordon Douglas. In fact, I myself even encountered a man who went to art school with Gordon Douglas himself!

It seems to me that the people who visit the Travelling Gallery are almost as interesting as the exhibits themselves. They see the art, they interact with the art, they relate their own life experiences to it and are able to offer a wealth of knowledge which add even more intrigue to the overall exhibition itself. It is for this reason that the Travelling Gallery has been so successful. It brings art to all and it brings all together.

About edinburghmuseumsoutreach

I'm the Outreach & Access Manager at Edinburgh Museums & Galleries (the museums service of the City of Edinburgh Council). I take the museums out to community groups and schools. I really enjoy meeting lots of people of different ages and backgrounds and helping them connect with our collections. I love showing people some of the amazing objects that we hold and I like helping them to remember the past or to create something amazing.
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