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Gray mural goes digital

Pauline McLean | 12:43 UK time, Friday, 4 March 2011

Food and art have always been interlinked in the Glasgow restaurant, The Ubiquitous Chip.

It was there in 1971 that a 26-year-old Alasdair Gray turned a blank wall into a canvas, famously accepting food and drink, rather than cash, as payment.

So when the restaurant wanted to mark its 40th birthday with a new artwork, he seemed the obvious person to ask.

Except that, instead of a static mural, painted onto the walls, the restaurant now had more ambitious plans.

"I imagined deer galloping through the restaurant," says Carol Wright, who runs the restaurant with her partner, Colin Clydesdale.

"Animals interacting with the diners as they ate their food. It was one of those conversations you have after a glass of wine and everyone thought it was a bit mad and then we realised there were people who could help us actually do it."

The people, in this case, were event producer Neil Butler of UZ and digital artist Deborah Norton.

Deer proved impossible, but alongside the real pond is a digital rock pool. Dip your fingers in and the fish circle.

During courses, diners put on 3D glasses and salmon leap through the restaurant. Morag the Highland cow heralds the arrival of the beef course (no room for sentiment here!).

There's no dramatic unveiling. The Alasdair Gray mural - a digital work which takes up a whole wall of the restaurant - is revealed slowly through the course of the evening.

Last night's opening night was a low-key event, with the creators in the midst. There's no formality, no-one announces when to put on the 3D glasses - but every so often, someone spots activity and the whole restaurant follows suits.

This is of course a neighbourhood well used to eating, and indulging in artistic pursuits at the same time.

Oran Mor has successfully offered theatre at lunch and dinner and every meal in between.

And art in restaurants is not unusual, except in this case when it's interacting with the customers.

It's also Gray's first foray into digital art, and, if he seems unconvinced by the process, he thinks the final result "should be entertaining".

Deborah Norton says she tried to develop a process which allowed Gray to work in ways in which he was familiar, controlling colour and shape before adding it to the projection.

For Gray, it's not that new. "To me, it's just lanterns, transformed into slides and projected onto the wall," he says.

"I wish we had more time to concentrate on that, without other projects, but we did what we could and I think it's quite good. People will be entertained by it, I think."

Up to 70 diners a night are expected to sample the work with their dinner between now and the end of March.

Carol is aware it won't appeal to everyone, but she says they're keen to try something new, which continues their long-running interest in art.

And the benefit of a digital mural is that it's not fixed to the wall. So there's every chance that the new artwork could be on display elsewhere in the near future.


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