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I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on janpatience@me.com (All work © Jan Patience)

Monday, 19 September 2011

Graham Fagen's Missing



ARTIST PROFILE: GRAHAM FAGEN
Missing 
T5, Tramway
25 Albert Drive, Glasgow
0845 330 3501
www.tramway.org and www.nationalgalleries.org
Until Oct 2 (closed Mondays)
A scene from Graham Fagen's powerful video installation, Missing

Graham Fagen’s twin screened video installation starts with a familiar metaphor. The sea. Two identical seas set against a white, washed out wintery sky. The waves tumble and fall relentlessly. In the world beyond, people are going about their business. Living their lives in public places and private spaces.
Fagen’s installation, Missing, now running in tandem with Andrew O’Hagan’s stage adaptation of his 1995 book, The Missing, at Glasgow’s Tramway, consists of two large screens side by side in a large empty space. 
While the stage production has been commissioned by the National Theatre of Scotland, Fagen’s installation has been commissioned by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Following on from its premiere at Tramway, the work will be shown at the refurbished gallery when it re-opens in November. 
Both films run simultaneously, pulling your eye in two directions. On the left hand side, a hand-held camera takes the viewer on a journey from the litter-strewn lanes and woods of Irvine, the 1960s new town in north Ayrshire where both Fagen and O’Hagen grew up, via Glasgow to the bright gaudy lights and backstreets of London. 
Some of the sights are familiar; discarded mattresses, wee boys playing on a trampoline, an escalator leading up to a shopping mall.
The action moves to a sleet-lashed mock Gothic church by the side of the M8 in Glasgow, then to a bustling Buchanan Street before heading to the Barrowland ballroom in the city’s east end, where the letters light up one by one. The journey moves on by train to King’s Cross in London and to Buckingham Palace and Piccadilly. 
On the right hand screen, from the starting point of Irvine Harbour Point which indicates the number of nautical miles to far-flung places, such as Argentina, China and Latvia, we retreat into an interior life. There’s a mantelpiece with two vases of wilting flowers, a very ordinary sofa, a jumble of shoes in a rack, an unmade bed, covered in an IKEA duvet. The camera lingers on a closed front door.
A woman reads Kate McCann’s book about her missing daughter Madeleine while a child’s voice shouts ‘hello!’ in the background. An older man watches convicted serial killer Peter Tobin on the news and a younger man calls up the infamous photo-fit picture from the 1960s of the killer known as Bible John on a PC.
Connections are made in the corners of your mind. You see the familiar staring gaze of a forever three-year-old Madeleine McCann. You remember theimage of Bible John from old newspaper stories. The missing never really disappear from view, either in public or private.
It’s a powerful piece of work and Fagen wants to know if I am ‘miserable’ after watching it when we meet for a coffee in the Tramway cafe.
The remark is jokey, but in truth, the film does leave me feeling anxious and, as the mother of two young children, hyper-aware of the dangers which lurk in the most ordinary places. 
Fagen explains he was approached to make the artwork back in January by James Holloway, director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. “I don’t think they were aware I knew Andy,” he says. “But we grew up together in Irvine and were in bands together as teenagers.”
This unique partnership enabled both men – now in their 40s – to take stock of the subject-matter which O’Hagan first explored as a young writer almost 20 years ago.
“We’ve talked about this a lot,” says Fagen, who spent time as a war artist in Kosovo in 1999. “I went to Kosovo and had a job to do and I got on with it.
“Andy says the same thing about interviewing people for Missing as a young would-be writer in his 20s. He asked very direct questions in a matter-of-fact way of people whose family members had gone missing.”
Before we go our separate ways, Fagen tells me about a trip to London earlier his year with James Holloway for a meeting at the head office of the charity, Missing People.
“They showed us a film which showed what their work was all about and I was a mess," he says. "There I was crying while James was just getting on with the meeting.”
Fagen admits the whole experience of making the film has been an emotional one. Now I have children of my own – as Andy does – I find myself thinking about how hard it is for those left behind. You have the conjecture and the doubt. You hear stories about people leaving their front door unlocked and the bedrooms of the missing person untouched for years.
“I think the toughest thing about the whole business of missing people is the ambiguity.”
Back in the gallery, the twin screens keep rolling and the double lives continue.
This is an unedited version of a review which appeared in The Herald arts section on 17/09/11

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