Glasgow Can Make It
When you see it written down, what springs to mind? There’s the marketing speak: it’s loved, people make it. It’s a student city, an employment hub and at the cutting edge of anything with a conjectural edge to be cut. There are the facts: it is the third largest city in the UK. It was one of the great cities of the Industrial Revolution. It has the highest population density per square kilometre of any Scottish City.
There was your newsfeed: #Glasgow2014, #BringItOn, #commonwealthgames
And then there was the day to day real life experience of being a Weggie, or a settler, or a student or a tourist. Broad and all encompassing as the hundreds of thousands of people who walk the streets with their culture and history in tow.
For the first time in a long time, Glasgow had the responsibility of not only representing itself on the international stage, but also, of representing Scotland as a whole. Previously a job left to quaint and historical Edinburgh or the rolling hills and lochs of the Highlands, it was Glasgow's turn to provide the youthful face of a Scotland that wants to prove itself.
The massive production of the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony, the athletic thistle mascot Clyde dotted all over the city centre and the transformation of George Square into a rainbow of Green, Blue, Orange and Red brought Glasgow crashing into the global consciousness in a burst of confetti. For those who watched the Closing Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games and saw the marginally emptier streets of the city centre today, there was a sense of finality, achievement, and for those whose daily commute has been a nightmare lately, a bit of relief too. Coinciding with the Games, there has been strong incentive to represent Glasgow through various cultural mediums, including the visual arts, as part of the Games and their legacy. So how have the arts chosen to represent Glasgow to the world?
Among the many exhibitions accompanying the Games and their legacy, the Kelvingrove museum has also chosen to portray Glasgow’s industrial triumphs in How Glasgow Flourished 1714 - 1837. Selecting a time of industrial and political pride and power, this exhibition presents the Glasgow in what many would consider its golden age. It is perhaps the most reflective of current political and economic realities and aspirations. It certainly reinforces the image of Glasgow as an economic heavy hitter with the history to prove it.
Outside of the familiar walls of the museum, Good wives and Warriors produced a mural at Parkhead for the Games commissioned by the BBC. It takes a historical but also highly contemporary approach to the city and its people. Interestingly, it depicts aspects of Glasgow that have fallen to the back of the cultural consciousness but which remain very much a part of the community, such as doomen, to the more ubiquitous but lesser tackled issues of football rivalry that never made it on to the wall. Countrywide, the Generation exhibitions are showcasing contemporary Scottish artists over the last 25 years. Included in this is Pretty Much Every Video Work from 1992 Until Now by Douglas Gordon, currently at the GoMA and a review of which can be found here on the GCA blog.
One aspect of visual arts in the Commonwealth Games that has particularly caught my attention has been the merging of the commercial and the creative in Scotland Can Make It. This initiative has given Scottish artists the opportunity to create souvenir pieces for the Games. On one hand you have the official Commonwealth Games merchandise; vibrant colours and mascot. The Scotland Can Make It souvenirs, neutral in colour, using rich locally sourced materials are starkly different. Tea cloths and exorbitantly priced picnic blankets that may not suit the pocket of the average souvenir buyer are unique and carefully considered designs. Historical and contemporary Scotland are merged in these pieces with an emphasis on the physicality of creativity, the material quality and weight of the souvenirs make just as strong a contribution to their meaning as their form.
Surely a quality of any artistic piece, you might argue. However, I think that this presents a certain nostalgia on the part of the artists for the industrial period and the national pride of a country that provided for not only itself, but was relied on by others.
Take for example the Golden Tenement by Neil McGuire and Marianne Anderson. I believe that out of all the possible ways to symbolise this city, the tenement is so painfully appropriate. This style of architecture is synonymous with UK cities and particularly for Glasgow as it is a city that has and continues to struggle to accommodate an ever-increasing population since the boom years of the industrial revolution.
The tenement is an honest symbol of modern Glasgow. For me these buildings are beautiful but more than that, they bring to mind the diversity of the people who live inside them. This more than anything is a true reflection on Glasgow and in my opinion the best representation it could have.
The truth is that there can be no singular embodiment of a city. There are too many facets and contradictions to ever sum up such a concentration of people and things. But among a positive legacy of the Games is that, for better or worse, Glasgow has come to the forefront of national and global consciousness. In concurrence with this and much more importantly, it has taken an opportunity to look at itself and all the love and traffic cones and lies and pavement slabs that make it truly unique and worth representing in every way ever possible.
By Jennifer Nyhan