Visual Art

At Innovative New Gallery, Community Is the Work of Art

Artist Lynne McCabe drew on memories of growing up in working-class Scotland when creating her new Montrose space.

By Michael Hardy January 19, 2015

Artist Lynne McCabe at her new gallery, She Works Flexible

Sensational Landscape
Thru April 4
She Works Flexible
1709 Westheimer Rd.

Artist Lynne McCabe grew up in a working-class family in Glasgow, Scotland, in the 1980s—one of her first memories is of her parents collecting money for neighbors during the 1984-85 coal miners’ strike. When Margaret Thatcher’s government finally broke the strike, a crushing defeat for organized labor, many of McCabe’s neighbors lost their jobs. Although he wasn’t a miner, McCabe’s father also found himself out of work and the family briefly moved into public housing and went on welfare.

Despite the privations, McCabe remembers these years fondly, reminiscing about reciting Robert Burns in school, overhearing adults argue about philosophy and politics over Guinness at the pub, and watching union parades march down the street. “The government didn’t just destroy jobs, they destroyed a culture,” she says. “Working-class culture in Glasgow was really special.”

McCabe hopes to recapture some of that communal energy with her new Montrose gallery, She Works Flexible, which opened last week in the space formerly occupied by Domy Books and The Brandon art gallery and owned by architect Dan Fergus (who also owns the adjacent Cafe Brasil). She Works Flexible, named after a line in the essay collection Taking the Matter Into Common Hands, will display avant-garde work by regional and national artists, with each themed exhibition accompanied by a commissioned text and free public seminars.

A satellite gallery known as FlexSpace, housed in the building formerly occupied by the Space boutique, will host residencies for emerging artists. First up: the artist collective Barbee Manshun, which will produce a series of one-night-only performances over the coming months. “She Works Flexible is like the big, serious sister to the rock-and-roll upstart of FlexSpace,” McCabe explains. 

The main gallery’s inaugural show is titled Sensational Landscape and features sculptural assemblages by Seattle-based multimedia artist Cat Clifford and weavings by Phoenix-based Erika Lynne Hanson, with an accompanying essay by Egyptian artist Malak Helmy. In conjunction with the exhibition, local writer and philosopher Joshua Lawrence will lead a free three-week seminar titled The Subject to the Sublime that will explore the relationship between self and landscape.

McCabe first came to Houston with her then-husband in 2000 after graduating from the renowned Glasgow School of Art (perhaps best known in America for spawning the indie bands Belle and Sebastian and Franz Ferdinand) in 1999; she was the first member of her family to attend university. She describes herself as a “relational” artist, creating spaces for dialogue and critical exploration. Over the next eight years, she produced such spaces at the Blaffer Art Museum, North Carolina’s Ackland Art Museum, and the Venice Biennale.

For an eight-month Project Row Houses artist residency in 2007, she transformed one of the unfurnished, whitewashed houses back into a domestic space—their original purpose—and invited women from PRH’s Young Mothers Program to cook a series of dinners, at which they mingled with local artists like Robert Pruitt and Lauren Kelly. At the end of the residency the mothers could take home some of the artworks that had been displayed at the dinners.

In 2008 McCabe moved to San Francisco to attend graduate school at the California College of the Arts. When she graduated with an MFA in 2010, she realized that she had to make a choice: would she apply for teaching jobs elsewhere, or stay in Houston? Her decision to stay came from her belief in the importance of building community. McCabe considers She Works Flexible the logical continuation of her artistic practice, which consists of making spaces rather than objects. But for all her lofty ambitions and recondite theoretical vocabulary, McCabe holds onto a rather old-fashioned faith in the power of beauty. 

“When we encounter art, we want that moment—that visceral, sensual experience,” she says. “I want the sensual, even though I’m a completely conceptual artist and I can’t get out of my head. There’s been a moment when we’ve abandoned the idea of beauty because we’re suspicious of it. We think it will distract us from the social or political ideas the work is dealing with. But there has to be something that draws you in more than the ideas.”


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