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Alter Altar

By Rachel Ashenden, 01.09.2023
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Jasleen Kaur, Alter Altar 2023 © Keith Hunter Photography

Jasleen Kaur’s musical and kinetic sculptures take turns to spring to life in disjointed harmony at Glasgow’s Tramway. Kaur was born in Pollockshields and celebrated her wedding at the Central Gurdwara next door to the gallery, the artist’s solo show, Alter Altar represents Tramway’s commitment to championing local artists. Almost instantly, it becomes apparent that these sculptures have been meaningfully commissioned for the exhibition space; most strikingly, a Perspex structure built to resemble Glasgow’s foggy sky and an automated Indian Harmonium, its wires satisfyingly running through the old tram lines.

The only sculpture which has not been made for the exhibition is ‘Sociomobile’ (2021), but it is far from out of place; in fact, it is the most compelling. Reminiscent of Surrealist ready-mades, this powerfully evocative yet playful sculpture was made for both personal and political ends. Crafted for the British Textile Biennale, a larger-than-life hand crocheted doily is delicately placed on top of a sonically enhanced red Ford Mk3 Escort Cabriolet XR3i. An unlikely juxtaposition, ‘Sociomobile’ bonds her dad’s first car to ‘his migrant desires’, looping in the legacies of Empire through the inherent politicalness of cotton. When the soundtrack of Kaur’s childhood plays – from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to N-Trance – it is as if the engine might ignite, causing chaos in the exhibition space.

Strewn with disparate objects (some of which are quintessentially Scottish, like litre bottles of Irn Bru and colour coordinated balloons), Begampur, sky (2023) is a portal to Kaur’s memories of growing up with her south Asian family in Pollokshields. A whole hour could be spent vertical on the axminster carpet, staring into the fake sky in an attempt to recognise some of the objects on display and consider their significance. A severed fake tongue is one of those objects; it may be sinister, indicative of silence, or comical, like a practical joke played amongst siblings. A funeral wreath spelling out Kaur’s aunt’s name is close to the sky’s edge, someone who’s absence is clearly still greatly felt, as the onlooker is reminded of their own first experience of familial grief: the first cut really is the deepest.

Jasleen Kaur, Alter Altar 2023 © Keith Hunter Photography


Depending on how you move around Alter Altar, you might end on a note of intersectional solidarity. On the floor are two overlapping archival photographs, one of the May 2021 anti-immigration protest on Kenmure street, and the other of Sikhs supporting Muslims at the 2020 Framers protest. Both photographs are blown up so much that the resolution is significantly reduced but their visceral impact remains, speaking to the radical potential of protest in a period where the right to do so is quickly being curtailed.

Alter Altar is showing at Tramway until 8th October