Visual Arts: A green and pleasant city

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The Independent Culture
IF PERCY Thrower were still with us, his favourite YBA would be Anya Gallaccio. Known for her monumental installations of natural matter left to decay - hundreds of oranges, 10,000 roses, chains of red gerberas and 34 tons of ice - the artist has of late turned to more green-fingered projects. She transformed the lawn outside London's Serpentine Gallery in 1997, planting wild flowers and vegetables in all the bare patches. Now though, in Glasgow, Gallaccio is engaged in a spot of rather more dramatic container gardening.

Part of a series of one-off projects commissioned by Tramway in found spaces across the city, while the venue is closed for redevelopment, Glaschu is housed in a grand, Victorian building in the final stages of renovation to its former splendour.

In one high-ceilinged room, the artist has designed and planted a living carpet of tiny plants and flowers in a temporary concrete floor. Initially inspired by the way weeds and bushes grow through the roofs and windows of derelict buildings, Gallaccio took her design from the archives of Glasgow's Templeton Carpet Factory. The work takes its title from the Gaelic word for Glasgow, Glaschu, meaning "dear, green place", playing on the city's historical and contemporary identity.

The design and the building refer back to Glasgow's great days as second city of the Empire (the building was lavishly built using money from the tobacco trade), while the contrast of concrete to vulnerable- looking greenery harks back to the unsympathetic redevelopment of the city in the 1960s. There is an autobiographical aspect to the work too, in that Gallaccio was born in Glasgow, but her family moved to London when she was a toddler. It is both an emotional and slightly sentimental response to this experience, as the title suggests, and a more distanced reflection on the idea of origin and putting down roots. The concrete, the unfinished restoration work and the chill air in the installation space undercut any cosy, rose-tinted perspective.

Glaschu was conceived as a green line-drawing to be seen from a balcony above but, owing to safety problems in the venue, this isn't possible. This is a pity, as the effect of the work as a whole is slightly diminished by that lack of an overview.

That said, looking at the plants and lines of green life through the concrete around your feet brings other pleasures. The high-ceilings are put into bizarre relief by these tiny signs of life; you feel simultaneously dwarfed by the space and a clumsy giant compared to the plants. Best of all is the feeling of stumbling across a secret garden in the middle of the city, not some hazy, sun-drenched paradise - this is, after all, Glasgow, where the daffodils aren't out yet - but a quiet corner where past, present and future mingle in unexpected ways. In a city renowned for contrasts - its hard men, friendly people, poverty, architectural riches, concrete housing and much- loved dear, green places - Gallaccio's Glaschu makes perfect sense.

To 25 April