Tuesday 25 June 2019
Glasgow means “dear green place”.
In front of Glasgow Central, while we were exiting Tantrums Doughnuts after getting coffee and, of course, home-made doughnuts, a friendly truck driver heard us speaking in foreign accents and gave us the can of Iron Brew he was keeping next to his driver’s seat. He then showed us a can of Iron Brew tattooed on his left biceps, and a bottle of Iron Brew tattooed on his right biceps: “Welcome to Scotland!” We didn’t get a chance to taste it yet, but it’s waiting for us in the fridge at Surge. We are told by Alan, Surge’s director, that it tastes like fizzy bubble gum.
In rehearsals Shona led a verbatim exercise on the topic of change in Victoria Road to reflect theatrically on the walk we did yesterday. We essentialised some of the actions that we were doing and that were happening around us (like the rain, sweeping rain out of shops, walking down the stairs are realising we were about to go into a very wet environment) into some more stylised movements. We then collected the following fresh memories from each other, and then played them as ourselves, as our partner, trying to remain very close to their ways of telling the stories verbally and to their ways of expressing themselves physically, and then we created new characters out of these little scripts:
1- They’ve, they’ve built a bicycle lane but they’ve, we’ll probably have to change our attitude to bikes because somebody died… they, she was our age and she got hit by a truck and she died on site and passed it on the bus. They put a white bike to mark it, someone put a white bike. I dunno em there are also, the area Victoria Road is on is on massive, it’s built on massive cave system or mines or something.
2- Just south of Victoria Road there was the battle field and now that’s become a park, and from the top of the park you can see the city… (chuckle) in the rain. And you can see a big building, a big pinky purple building that says “people make Glasgow”
3- On Victoria Road the weather was changing, there was this Biblical rain from triples… do you say triples? (laughs) Then it was raining again. There is a lot of construction on Victoria Road, the street is open. (pause) How has it changed? Shona told us a story about the queen and how Scotland had become with England. That was 300 years ago… 400 years ago? It happened at Queen’s Park where we went.
4- So when I went shopping at Lidl with Dylan I was really surprised that he accidentally met two different friends of his from uni in Edinburgh who now live here. So it must be/I can imagine that a lot of people our age live here or moved here recently. People around 30 years old. It must have changed the area. I mean it surprised me.
We then spent some time clarifying the questions we’d like to ask the people we are interviewing and people we meet along Victoria Road. Here are some central questions we feel might help open discussions about people’s concerns and hopes, and that might also help us understand how the area is lived:
After rehearsals we had an interview with Alan about his work with Surge and about doing theatre in the public sphere in Glasgow:
- We had prepared several questions for Alan, but he set off with some questions of his own for us: Who is your work for? What do you want to achieve and with whom?
- We talked about the issue of parachuting into communities to ‘make art’ and then leaving, and the harm this can cause, but then also how some ‘parachuting’ projects can have an incredible impact on communities. Alan gave us the example of a Chinese artist in Liverpool (he was based there for many years) who for the Biennial worked with the 6 different wards and in each identified with the community a building that was disused and that the community felt was disappointing for them. Some chose abandoned cinemas, old pubs, etc., and these buildings somehow represented important sites, pillars in a way of the community that had been left to decay. The artist then stuck enormous acupuncture needles through these buildings, and 10 years later almost all of them had been rehabilitated by the authorities and had almost all been restored to their original use.
- We also talked about the gentrification of Victoria Road, and gentrification in general and how artists contribute to it. Alan recommended we read “Welfare State International” by John Fox – this is an artist reflecting back on having worked in the same neighbourhood for 30 years and feeling like he failed because the area was then gentrified and the people he worked with were pushed out. What is it we are trying to leave when we go? Disappearing could be quite damaging. “People are sometimes very resistant to gentrification but sometimes wrongly, it could benefit the neighbourhood, the problem is that often regeneration completely alienates local people.” Example of hipster cafés serving a certain type of food, local people should be able to say this is not what we eat, this is the food we want. Also often the regeneration is not for the people who already live there – to improve their quality of life – but is for projects of expansion of the city centre, it’s to bring the people who work there in.
- Alan feels that performance in the public space is quite well received in Glasgow: the audience are open and curious, “the character of Glasgow is fairly open, if at times violently open”. But it’s important to always ask ourselves what the public space we intend to work in is usually used for – what do people usually do in these spaces, who uses the public space and how. Alan feels that at times in some ethnically diverse areas of Glasgow the public space is dead. George Square in the centre of Glasgow is also badly designed and really unused.
- Why work in the public space? For Alan it’s about getting people to reimagine the the space they live in. Reimagine, reconsider, make a more interesting environment, opening possibilities for things to be otherwise. In more recent decades this work has gained a new political importance because of the erosion and buying up of public space. Artists working in the public space are now also doing it to reclaim those spaces. The nibbling off of parks is happening a lot in Glasgow.
- Which space will we choose to perform and who are we performing for? Choosing a location is key: is it an already charged location? If we are exploring the themes of fear and change, do we choose a place that people are already fearful of? Like an immigration office? Or a place that is already charged with importance and meaning for some inhabitants, like a mosque or a church? Or would you rather try and identify a more ‘neutral’ space? An unused space, that doesn’t have anything big or symbolic attached to it, an empty shop perhaps. Does a neutral space exist in the city?
- Alan does not feel Glaswegian, at all: “there is a nationalist kind of thing, an unpleasant colloquialism like we’re better than everybody else, nationalism seen as a good thing here, that I do not share in any way”. He goes on: “here there’s a sort of …” (pause, clenches fist). “In Glasgow I would never do anything where the primary colours are green or blue – that’s just asking for trouble.” Or during the Scottish referendum for independence they were putting on a play about a completely different topic that was going to have “yes” and “no” banners, but they scrapped that idea because it was going to be read in the light of the referendum – the public debate was monopolising “yes” and “no”. Must be aware of local politics when working in the public space.
- What would you do if you won the lottery? Alan would take over an unused building and make a “creation space” in Glasgow’s city centre: a space to make public art that is artist lead, with multi-art forms, like they have in Marseille and Brest and in many other places.
We continued exploring the questions of gentrification and of art in the public space/with the community with the Swap Shop on Victoria Road and with GAS for the rest of the afternoon.