John Samson

Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art
Royal Exchange Square
September 18, 2016–April 17, 2017

View of “John Samson: 1975–1983,” 2016–17.

The current exhibition presents five documentary films by the late Scottish artist and anarchist John Samson. The gaze here is invariably focused on oddities, outsiders: Dressing for Pleasure (1977)—perhaps Samson’s most famous work—investigates rubber and latex fetishism, with rare footage of the punk boutique Sex, run by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren. Garments such as inflatable latex bodysuits, gas masks, and PVC overalls become ethnographic objects. These fetish costumes—along with those who derive a great deal of enjoyment from them—are presented and described with an almost affectionate kind of poetry. Samson is similar to Werner Herzog—another filmmaker who has utterly revitalized the documentary format. However, unlike Herzog or more conventional documentarians, Samson doesn’t make use of an authoritative narrative voice to comment on what we’re seeing.

The Skin Horse (1983) is a film about a dating agency for people with disabilities. Samson skillfully handles the topic without lapsing into sentimentality or cliché as his subjects talk rather directly about their sex lives. Samson doesn’t patronize them or construe them as victims. The artist’s primary concern in his films is letting “unconventional” people speak for themselves, as well as challenging our assumptions about what is and what isn’t “normal.”

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

— Melissa Canbaz