Emotion and the body: In Emotia at Tramway

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[Written by Rowan Bland (she/her)]

[Image Credits: France-Lise McGurn installation images from Tramway Show (courtesy of Tramway)]

A light, pastel space lit by one large window awaits you. In this bright square is where I went to see In Emotia, a new site specific commission at Tramway by Glasgow based artist, France-Lise McGurn. The title In Emotia refers to a specific state of being, of being in motion and also in emotion. By using three-dimensional installations and utilising the walls, windows, and even the structural poles of the gallery as her canvas, McGurn truly realises her title. As her brush strokes transcend the classic notion of the “canvas”, we see how emotion transcends expectations, and moves fluidly, like water, and like our bodies.

In this exhibition, we see four traditional canvas pieces, which are then surrounded by endless paintings all over the walls. McGurn also features neon installations that mimic body parts and echo movement. Colour wise, the stark yellow and blue of the neon against the dreamy pastels of the exhibition space is visually striking. The cool blues present in some of the canvas works represent feelings of melancholy among some of the feminine figures dancing in the paint. Some of the women painted on the wall seem to dance enthusiastically and filled with joy – this is an exhibition which showcases all emotions in a tactile and sensitive way. My favourite canvas work, Déjà Déjà Déjà Vu consists primarily of pink and off-white colours, and features feminine faces lost amongst multiple legs and limbs. Whilst some of the people McGurn has painted are full figures, we also see just limbs – there are feet, hands, thighs and arms positioned on their own. For me, the use of the body and limbs seems to represent a sense of body positivity. These women,  moving and dancing in their own emotions, are allowed to be free in their naked bodies. They are not always physically whole, which allows these women to not be emotionally whole. With body positivity presented as something fast flowing in the water, I feel as though McGurn has used movement and emotion to portray bodies fully at peace with themselves.

The figures are painted as if they are water themselves – fluid, wild, and at peace. They resist the notion of being fixed or static. They represent the real life body – ever changing and forever in flux. In Public Image we see a bold blue image of a torso situated next to a large and powerful feminine figure, and it is this juxtaposition which makes the piece so eye-catching. Moreover, next to Public Image are the windows into the gallery, which are also painted. There are faces and spots of coloured paint on this window, so that the art is always presented to the public, even those simply walking by. This reminds us that our bodies themselves are a public image – and the exhibition encourages us to reject the persistent gaze of others and to accept our bodies as water-like beings that change and ripple.

In Emotia is a must see exhibition for both art lovers and the layman. It is deceptively simple – one bright room filled with images of colourful women in movement – but it is the layers behind every painted face and every pointed toe that makes this piece so special. It reminds us that our bodies are ethereal and remarkable – we are not simply the sum of our parts. You feel a sense of community with the figures McGurn has painted, and you leave the exhibition feeling empowered in your own ability to own the changing fluidity of your own emotions.

You can see ‘In Emotia’ at Tramway from 18 January – 22 March. This is a free exhibition.


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