The Dialectographer’s Bulletin #3: Nothing is Lost

nothing-is-lost-montage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been…a busy year! Three major projects have come to an end, another starting up, and there is of course, my Patreon campaign.

Today I’ll talk just a wee bit about the first of them – Nothing is Lost, a residency that has resulted in a book (os the same title), I co-authored with my frequent collaborators Alison Irvine and Chris Leslie. Nothing is Lost was I think, a very personal matter for all three of us who worked on it. For Alison, a writer whose research is scrupulous and dedicated to giving herself over to the stories of other people, I think it spoke to her of the importance of family to making place and sustaining city localities. Chris has been documenting city regeneration for years, in the east end in particular, so it was very much a continuation of his long term concerns with the ‘Glasgow Renaissance’ in the area where he raises his own kids.

For me, it meant initially going back to the work I had done on my own community, Glasgow’s travelling showpeople. ‘We’ form the largest minority group in the schools of Shettleston and Carntyne, and before the new housing that came to Dalmarnock, its largest group of residents. Yet this community – one that has been in Dalmarnock for forty years, and associated with the wider East End for nearly two hundred – has rarely been discussed, despite being directly in the path of Clyde Gateway’s redevelopments. As Alex James Colquhoun, the former Chair of the Showman’s Guild (based just over the river at Cambuslang) noted, not one member of the community made it into Commonwealth City the BBC Scotland documentary on the changes taking place in the Dalmarnock area. Not even the aerial shots that swept over Springfield Road, Baltic or Mordaunt Street or Dalmarnock Road itself captured a single one of the twenty or so yards that line Swanston Street, just a few yards away from all of these thoroughfares.

The work we did in Dalmarnock and on the vallies of the Cuningar Loop offered a degree of redress . The drawings I made represent distance traveled in settings familiar, unfamiliar and entirely new. They came from places I often believed I knew better than I did – Dalmarnock for instance, was a place I largely knew as the bit beyond the gates of the Showman’s Yards where I visited cousins and aunties.  The Barras is a big part of how I imagine Glasgow, but I had never gone into its back offices, nor had I sifted through the debris of neighbouring Schipka Pass (now colonised by the Barrowland Brand, via Jim Lambie). Going into the Barrowland ballroom in its off-hours, free of the sweatr and noise of a gig, revealed just how beautiful a place it is – an authentic East End pop-architectural gem. I drew whatever I could, but never quite fast enough to capture everything that was going on around me. Nothing is Lost shows the traces of a forlorn effort – but one that was immensely enriching

So what then, did the Games bring to the East End? A degree of examination and scrutiny of the city’s true historical centre did make it through the PR pickets.The  frayed edges, the  shameful statistics of poverty and conflict, the reality that the east is a part of Glasgow with a deep-seated and firmly held distrust of its city fathers -and a long list of grievances to support it – could not be hidden. Our part in that was small – collectives such as Games Monitor, and local pressure groups themselves providing the scrutiny necessary to counterbalance the happy-clappy Tunnock’s Teacakes carnival. I, like many other Glaswegians, got caught up in the atmosphere, enjoyed the walks down the Clyde to see the Hydro, sat on the Green in the sun. But I also had work to do, eyes to keep open.  We followed the Games as a much longer process; the months of preparation, the critical mass of the event itself and, most interesting to us I suspect, the aftermath. We came to this task  replete with our own conflicts and contradictions; not least that the artist’s residency was itself, supported by Glasgow Life, a major player in the organisation of the main event. That didn’t stop us speaking out – about, for example, the ludicrous proposal to demolish the Red Road Flats for the opening ceremony – but make no mistake, the ethics of being an artist in such contexts is complex. You have to take care, have to balance the desire to prevent unwelcome ties and restrictions with seizing the opportunity to actually make work, and offer comment. Even on the special preview night at the Merchant City Festival (30 July 2015) I was thinking about these contradictions, going back and forth on it. I think it’s important we do.

But the book now exists, and is easily got. We also have lots of nice stuff (and free, at that) on the Nothing is Lost website, so please do take a look. In closing though, Nothing is Lost was two years of my life where I saw parts of my city much more clearly, and met a wonderful range of people whose patience and help forms the core of our work. My thanks go out to all of them.

IN THE NEXT DIALECTOGRAPHER’S BULLETIN…

I’ll be talking once more about my other Commonwealth Games Residency, Games End, part of Collective’s All-Sided Games. Two cities, three dialectograms, one international event. Should be interesting….

The Dialectographer’s Bulletin #2: On dialectograms and Amateur Archaeology.

‘My first time’ is a pop culture cliché, of multiple applications – the first taste of alcohol, the first time you really got into an LP you bought yourself, the first time you went on a date, the first time you leaned in for a kiss… The conventions of bad TV and lazy newspaper columns would have it that we always remember these moments, enshrine them in our memories, supplicate before them. Frankly, besides the last of these, most of the above moments are pretty fuzzy for me now, or have been somewhat gussied up in my personal historical record; for example, I’d dearly like to think that the first album I sold my soul to was Talking Heads’ Sand in the Vaseline. I strongly suspect that it was actually Chris Rea’s Auberge.

That terrible revelation aside, I am much clearer on my first time as a ‘dialectographer’. Not hard really; for one, it was only about 6 years ago, and two – the term dialectographer is something I blatantly made up. So for the record – my ‘first time’ as a dialectographer could probably be pinpointed as a cold day in January 2009, when I finally solidified years of notes, impressions and thoughts about my family’s Showman’s yard in Glasgow into a drawing I called Travellerology.

For a number of reasons, this first, or ‘proto-dialectogram’ does not get shown online or publicly anymore. It’s a ‘first time’ that will remain largely private (and as embarrassing as any first fumble in the dark will be). Instead, there is A Showman’s Yard in the East End, a 2012 re-working of this earlier piece, using carefully chosen pseudonyms and in a radical departure, colour.

 

It showed in even greater detail, the way in which a group of travelling showpeople organised their living arrangements and created a place in the most unpromising of locations – the shell of an industrial facility in Glasgow. A Showman’s Yard is thus, very much a dialectogram about me – or rather, my past. The yard it shows may be VERY similar to the yard where my nearest and dearest still live. And now, it is very similar to the yard where I, and my very nearest and dearest (my wife) are going to live (again, in my case). After 14 years of tenement life in Dennistoun, we’re shifting, somewhat full circle, to a very comfortable mobile ‘chalet’ unit of the type so many Showpeople now live in.

Section of Showmans Yard dialectogram.

Coming soon to a corner of a yard very like this: us.

 

You can get them relatively cheap, they MOVE when you need them to, but largely act and behave like your average house. This means moving them is a bit more difficult than your average caravan. There is the de-stabilising process – taking out the jacks and blocks, preparing it for the trip, then the re-stablising or ‘setting process’. Then the mundane but important stuff that needs sorting out, such as drainage, water, electricity and gas supply (and that’s even before we get to the work needing done inside the bloody thing…).

So as I consider what happens next with the dialectogram, and as I plan to live in one it seems an opportune moment to look at ‘my first time’ and A Showman’s Yard, in a sketch-essay I’m going to call…

Digging

 All art is trickery; perspective trick you into a sense of depth; colour into one of light, emotion, feeling; the stretched tendons Bernini sculpted into his marble figures of flesh, blood bone and sinew moving under the surface of its ‘skin’. In their own much more minor fashion, dialectograms trick us with the notion they contain…everything. They don’t. Take a dialectogram apart, and you will find that its  arrangement of text, line and occasional colour is actually very selective, its intricacy and mess creates an idea of comprehensiveness sufficient to convince you that you are seeing life in the round.

What we are seeing is a layer of life as it can be captured in line and text. Take a look at A Showman’s Yard (and please click the link and do so – it will open in a separate window) and you can engage with the narrative, social, architectural and to a limited extent, material nature of the yard. What is does not really do, is engage with the land itself – what the wagons and trailer sit on. It stays on its surface. But as I’ve been digging a trench for a new gas pipe (see below) I’ve been consequently, taking a much closer look at what makes the yard what it is as a physical thing.

TRENCH

By ‘look’, I largely mean the brute work of digging; pick away at the dirt, clear the debris, swing again, rinse, repeat. Bit by bit, bite by bite. It’s fieldwork of a sort – is this what anthropologists such as Tim Ingold mean when they advocate getting to grips with, and working through the materials of a site? As I type this, the black dirt of Parkhead still stubbornly nestles under my fingernails and even my fingers are stiff (that’s my excuse for the quality of these drawings and by jingo, I’m sticking with it!). I reckon the materials are certainly getting to grips with me.

We had to cut through not just earth, but three courses of bricks and cobbles. When our families first came to this site some 18 years ago, the ground was very uneven and sloped from one end to the other. My uncle explained to me that he and my father re-purposed the bricks from the partially demolished foundry walls that encircle the site. They laid them out over the original cobbles in increasingly deeper courses to level the ground out and make it fit for the vehicles to come on. It was this layer we were biting through to make our own living here.

slope

With such tough bones, the ground certainly bit back– we broke two picks and a small stake hammer (of many years loyal service) trying to get through the second and third layers. It was around this point that the trench digging became somewhat archaeological. As I mentioned the yard was once a steel foundry – check out the top left quarter of the drawing and you’ll find how I dealt with this in the dialectogram. It was in much the same area of the actual yard that I made much more physical contact with these origins – such as this gigantic screw, a plate cover for some industrial fixture and large, thick steel springs.

SCREWpicks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then, more dramatically, as we started to get a good foot or more down, we knocked against what seemed to be a very large stone. Chipping around, we gradually unearthed a gas canister, heavily encrusted with hard packed earth and rust. If our pick had hit it dead on, I wouldn’t be so sore right now. In fact, I wouldn’t be anything anymore.

Canister

Such finds are hardly surprising in a post-industrial city like Glasgow, where what lies beneath is not always a question you want answered. Still, alarming as it was, I came away from this brutish, layman’s archaeology with a better sense of what my turf was made of (answer: not a lot of actual turf). Archaeology is an interest of mine I hope to pursue much more closely later in the year – Orkney is looming large in my plans. Even at centrepiece sites such as the Ness of Beodgar complex, archaeology is still founded on digging trenches- picking through layers of landscape and trying to read it. From what archaeologists such as Ingrid Shearer and Kenny Brophy have told me, this is not a neat or clear-cut process, but one of trying to perceive changes in colour and texture, getting the best impression you can.

They also told me that the dialectogram conveys exactly the sort of knowledge they are trying to reconstruct from gravel layers and potsherds. Someone like Kenny, whose period is the Neolithic, will probably never obtain the degree of narrative context found in A Showman’s Yard – he can only produce what he terms the most plausible fictions he can, in order to make the stones and post-holes speak.

Imagine it’s 3015, and you find a Crown Derby plate like that depicted in the mid-right of A Showman’s Yard, in the context of what seems to be a factory. Was this a porcelain factory? Is this where Crown Derby came from? Was this a site used by master-ceramicists?

crownderby

And how would these future archaeologists explain the courses of bricks laid out against the slope of the land? Would they know that these had been laid by cousins, sons and uncles, and what for? Was this a shoogly foundation for a ceramics factory built over a steel foundry?  In a sense, I am in the fortunate position of being able to preempt the needs of such future archaeologists. Imagine if Kenny found a dialectogram chipped into stone at Skara Brae, telling him who lived there, what the ‘dressers’ were used for, what the people called themselves – and what happened the time the hearth fire got out of control. Would that make his job easier? Would it just add confusion, if there were lots of cultural and political references he had no background? Would it even take the fun out of it?

If I did redraw A Showman’s Yard I think I would maybe do a little more to make the stones – or perhaps the bricks – speak out than they do at present. Maybe I’d go down just one more layer into the archaeological mysteries that everyday life here is built on, incorporate it into my depiction. And then maybe I’d give that depiction back to the site and bury a non-perishable version of A Showman’s Yard somewhere near our new gas pipe, inscribed on stone or resin so it had a chance of speaking to the future – if our future archaeologist’s trench went over the right spot.

This makes me think of this image, a mural discovered at the Turkish site of Çatalhöyük, a remarkably well-preserved 9,500 year-old urban settlement excavated in Turkey. It is believed that this is a map of the settlement (compare it here, to the archaeologists’ map of what this place probably looked like). The ‘map’ shows Çatalhöyük laid out as if from above. This would be a view familiar to the occupants, who did most of their everyday business on the rooftops of their mudbrick houses.

catal_huyuk_map

In the top of what is catalogued as the  Çatalhöyük Level VII mural, you can see what seems to be an elevation of the Mount Hasan volcano that dominated their horizon. This volcano was important to them because it was a source of obsidian for tool-making and trade. Its by-product was a critical component in their society.

It’s tempting to see in this mixing of elevation plan and bird’s eye view, spatial representation and deeper social information, something of a dialectogram. I think it’s what you call confirmation bias! But I do think there’s a shared purpose here – a shared concern to capture the passing event, the small detail, the connections between people and things that dirt and stone do not record on their own account. It’s what the dialectogram seems to be about, and probably always was.

The Dialectographer’s Bulletin was researched with the assistance of a Creative Scotland Artist’s Bursary

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SUPPORT YET MORE OF THIS POINTLESS WITTERING!

So, here’s the bit where I get a bit awkward as I introduce my Patreon Campaign. Dialectograms are the main way I try to make a living – while I will try to fill in the financial gaps with part time work and exploiting every possible string in my bow, they take up a lot of my professional and personal life. Works such as A Showman’s Yard, or an Overview of the Red Road Flats are not particularly ‘commercial’ – they are laborious, time consuming, difficult to distribute and take a long time to turn around. I’ve been fortunate enough to attract project funds that keep me alive. But the gaps between projects can be long, and the shortfall between fee and actual time taken steep.

And then there are the potential projects where there is no funder or commissioner to support the work a dialectogram takes – think of things like The Free Hetherington (pictured)2013-05-24 18.19.04, a dialectogram I have slotted in between project gigs that, given the contentious politics would ever support. I’d like to be more able to take on worthwhile subjects in the hidden corners of our cities, largely unseen yet as  interesting and fascinating as the likes of Meadowbank Stadium. It is after all, where the dialectogram started.

Now this is something I am generally philosophical; I chose to be an artist and in this world we live in, it is a precarious profession. Still, there is a difference between precarity and falling headlong into the abyss. I have been looking at alternative options that might help me meet at least some of my basic costs (such as my study) so that I can continue to do this work, take on more off-piste commissions, and generally, keep what’s left of my hairline. Oh, and keep much of my content free and accessible, such as the material I share on this site.

So, I’m going to give Patreon a try. This is a crowd-funding initiative based not on fundraising for big projects (like Kickstarter), but on small payments for content created on a regular basis – long, continuous trickles of creativity rather than the big tentpole productions. In Patreon, supporters can set a recurring charge on a monthly basis that pays me a little bit – as little as where, whenever I make new content, they pay some small amount – as little as about £1, depending on exchange rate – with lots of safeguards and the option to pull out (and re-join) whenever suits you.

Under this scheme, I would still make what a lot of free content – possibly more, in fact. Whereas Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer perks in exchange for support, Patreon is based on the idea of supporting an ongoing creative process (and being able to take part in an ongoing conversation on what dialectograms and the type of illustration it represents, can be. Nevertheless, gratitude is a deep well and patrons can expect early peeks at the work I’m doing, and an annual thank you for their support.

The page I’ve made up explains this all pretty well, so please take a look. If you have any further questions you’d like answered before you click the pledge button, I’ll happily answer them! Thanks for your time.

The Dialectographer’s Bulletin #1: The Long End of the Red Road…

The Dialectogram was born at the Red Road flats. It’s where I first applied the ideas I had sketched out in a 2008 exhibition to another place – one that was more complex, challenging and back then, unfamiliar. I arrived at Red Road knowing almost nothing, and left a very different person. Since then there have been many dialectograms in Glasgow, Edinburgh – hell, even England.

So it was a bit weird to come back – not physically, as much of the site is now closed off as the slow, complex demolition process does its thing, but in spirit. Just before Christmas, Glasgow Museums asked me to make for them, the ‘lost’ Red Road dialectogram, a piece we’d discussed a couple of years ago, that would provide an overview of the entire scheme and tie together the other four, much more localised images (The Concierge Station, The Nivens from S(i)even, The Mecca Bingo and The Brig). I had to be honest, thought the idea had been forgotten – I’d certainly forged ahead to other things, and leaving aside the odd encounter on the street, the occasional reminscence, or relatively quick revisitations, it had become something of a thing of the past. And then suddenly, I was ‘back there’, listening to old interviews, sketches and photographs, but also poring over material made newly available to me from Glasgow museums through their exhibitions about Red Road.

The result can be seen here (and will soon be on the Dialectogallery) but I wanted to give you a closer peek at two small comic strips that capture the nature of some of this new material. As was always the case with Red Road, that material could be gritty, funny occasionally a bit much – but never cold. I always think of Red Road as a place of warmth – or rather heat, perhaps. Always intense, never dull, interesting in every sense of the word.

 

So that’s that – the first issue of the ‘Dialectographer’s Bulletin’, a regular, entirely unasked for update on what I’m doing. Over the coming months I’ll be posting comic strips, concept art, sketchbook excerpts and essays on that stuff wot I do (and not just dialectograms – the next post will give you a peek at something entirely different…). This content is free, and I remain committed to providing free content where I can. On this site, for example you can find ‘zoomable’ versions of several dialectograms. Now – not everyone likes that particular format, so I have also released a number of dialectograms through the social media site ISSUU. You can’t get in as close on these as you can in the zoomable, but you can get a better sense of how it looks in totality. There’s a couple of dialectograms not seen on this site as yet, plus comics and articles.

And it’s at this point I’d like to mention Patreon

The work I do is slow, complex,  long in the making – the Piershill dialectogram for example, took about 8 months of research, drawing and consultation to come about. A Showman’s Yard took about 6, and the most recent Red Road dialectogram is arguably, the culmination of about 4 years of work. Project such as The Free Hetherington are still ongoing and may break all records for creative gestation… The difference between the first of these and the other three is that with Piershill, I was fortunate enough to work under the auspices of some project funding, which gave me at least some support while I did it. In the others, this was done on my own time, with some degree of compensation gained from selling the odd print or negotiating a commission fee. However – and here’s where I get to the nitty gritty – the time invested to make these works will always outstrip what even project funding can support.

Now, that’s something I more or less accept – I could have become a greetings-card guy, or learned techniques that weren’t quite so slow and cumbersome. But, I do think there’s worth in what I do (because otherwise, I really wouldn’t do it). And the people I work with seem to agree. The dialectograms I make show places that are often never seen, frequently forgotten but always, to my mind, worth paying attention to. And, in the next months, I’ve got a number of plans for making dialectograms easier to access, view – but also commission. While I will always be looking to form partnerships with commissioners for large-scale projects, there are a number of smaller, non-profit, community grassroots  outfits who would love to work with me, but don’t have the resources. Where I do get project support, I would use the additional capacity offered by Patreon to enhance, and extend that work wherever possible, or, take the chance to advance side projects and new ideas. Possibly even stumble across yet another oddball idea that spawns ill-advised neologisms and bad puns.

So I’m giving Patreon a go. For just a small monthly contribution, you could help me keep going – pay my overheads, my bills and improve what I do. The idea is that you make, a small, but ongoing investment in someone whose work you admire. You can leave the scheme at any time, or change the level to suit your budget. In return, I would keep all patrons regularly updated on new works in process, give sneak peeks and, here and there, exclusive items and content as a token of esteem, and (eternal) gratitude.

DANGER: Social Engagement in Process…

The work I make is socially engaged – it has been very much moving to that sphere for a couple of years now and I don’t think I’d work in any other fashion. However, social engagement is a difficult and challenging way to the work  – not least in terms of how it can alienate a community if done badly.

Claire Bishop and other critics of socially engaged practices point out that much socially engaged work functions as a sticking plaster, a distraction or a force of gentrification and clearance. Concern to give respect can lead artists to duck away from discussing difficult issues and controversies. Their ethics are more concerned with avoiding confrontation or disharmony, rather than confronting what could/should be confronted.

It’s not always as simple as that, but there are truths in these criticisms that should give those of us who work in this way reason to review and reconsider what we do, and have done. I tend to think that while contradictions and agonies are to be expected, perhaps even useful at times, the moment contradiction and negotiation gives over to compromise, things get sanitised, the artist is instrumentalised.

This excellent article  demonstrates how artists who are unwitting, who fail to really engage with the social and political aspects of a subject, can find themselves severely compromised. There’s an interesting critique of Catherine Yass’ commission of Didier Pasquette’s tightrope walk at Red Road as well.

 

On Simple Prospects, Red Road and Spectacular History. Part Two…

(So here’s the second part – more about the context this time. Both the entries are from impressions I jotted down on each day, and then revisited and reworked a few days later.)

bingo excerpt

SATURDAY 5th April 2014

Saturday is mostly about getting back to work – at least, that was the intention – but it is really my first chance to seriously think this all through. Chris’ argument, ever pragmatic, is that Glasgow City Council has opened up a line of inquiry they maybe didn’t intend and that this stunt (and until I see evidence to the contrary, stunt is what I will call it). will force them everyone to engage in a debate about the realities of Glasgow’s apparent Renaissance.

I agree as to the opportunity but don’t quite share the optimism. Glasgow has a difficult history with its history, in which advances it makes in coming to terms with it are frequently undone. Think of the early era of the People’s Palace and its groundbreaking engagement with social history in the 70s, and then consider how those efforts were snubbed during Glasgow 1990.

As Alison says in the blog she posts today, the spectacle undoes the legacy of the Red Road Flats Cultural Project and its ethic of care and respect. The project had to deal with considerable internal contradictions, multiple stakeholders and complex material – and to my (biased) mind, pulled a lot of it off. It feels now, that despite lip service to it by many of the players here, they are all to happy to ditch everything good and honourable in the undertaking for the sake of the wow factor.

Also – and this really is selfish of me here -I feel the Games have made a liar of me. I bargained my way into concierge stations, front rooms, North Glasgow boozers and kitchens on the promise that I would not stitch people up and show some respect.  Retrospectively, I am become the vanguard of a colonising force that has took all of this history, experience and nuance as their property, then sold it back to us as spectacle.

So just to reiterate, it’s Saturday and I am spending much more time in my own head, thinking about the words and phrases used by Cllr Matheson. ‘Bold…’ and ’So Glasgow’ stick out in particular.

Now, we could debate the conceptual emptiness of the statement ‘So Glasgow’ for some time, but let’s operate for a moment, on the principle that it might actually mean something– because, actually, in everyday parlance, there is a meaning that tends to be attached to that phrase.

And on analysis, I actually find that yes, I agree: this is both ‘bold’ and ‘So Glasgow’.

IT’S a  BOLD Symbol:

Yes, this is definitely, undoubtedly and indupitably bold. Bolder than Arial Black, Gill Sans or Helvetica racked up to 72 pts, and then put in bold. It’s just hoaching with boldness, boldery and boldicity (some of those words aren’t real by the way). Actually, this is a solid argument from the Games Organisers. Blowing up 3000 homes as part of a big party is definitely bold.

But so was Red Road, in its day. In his designs, architect Sam Bunton channelled Manhattan tower blocks in his masterplan for the Barmulloch cabbage-patch. Horribly squalid single-end tenements were swapped for bathrooms, central heating and the most remarkable, if terrifying views of the city.

Red Road was bold. And so its first, good years began. It was also costly, over-ambitious and starved of facilities and resources. Its people did a magnificent job of building a community there, several times over, but ultimately, in the end, the housing scheme failed because the boldness of the original idea was not matched or followed, by a well considered or thought out plan for what was going to happen next. The response of the landlords vacillated between neglect and sticking plaster remedies.

There are some excellent blogs and articles here, here , here and here that give plenty of context – and of course, this. But it brings me to my point about the symbolism and philosophy at play here. Do we really need more bold? Do we need the boldness of swapping the relative dignity of euthanasing the flats in a simple demolition into a glitzy public ritual execution ? Does this indicate any learning here?

It is true that there were design issues with the Red Road scheme.  But into a contemporary West End or Southside close and try if you can, to imagine the shared cludgie, or the middens, or the horrific overcrowding. We too often mistake issues for design for philosophy – and the prevalent philosophy has, in this city, been one of slash and burn, boom and bust, build and blow down. Demolition and cheap rebuild is altogether more lucrative, hence the rejected Glasgow City of Gapsites slogan (oddly, it never caught on…) Red Road has been beyond that sort of intervention for a while now, but the underlying attitude to buildings and building in this city desperately needs to be re-examined. It’s easy to blame architecture and the architect for housing problems. It works very well for every one else who deserve a share of it.

Bricks and mortar is scapegoated and social failure unexamined. Ask yourself, for example, why in Singapore or Manhattan, high-rise successfully houses thousands of people, but not here? The answer is, to put it a little crudely, infrastructure, investment and maintenance. In Singapore a tower block has its own shopping precincts (usually every few floors or so) and trains that stop in the basement. In Manhattan, you can walk out the lobby of a high-rise block and find anything you could possibly conceive of ten minutes away in any direction. And money of course, for maintenance, upgrades and improvements. There was little of that at Red Road; there were finance issues from the very start and, while the Barmulloch cabbage patch seems further away from the city than it actually is, it feels very remote. There’s just a bar, a bingo, a bookies and a smattering of shops and little else to feed or enrich the community.

Today’s urban theorists write of the need to support new housing development with ‘ecosystems’ and organic infrastructure – decent shops, parks, libraries, swimming baths. The old slums at least had this in easy reach, and you’ll find no lack of it in the West End or Southside. This element contributes to the remarkable resilience of places like Govan. Take a wander round the new schemes that replaced Red Road and you’ll find sweet bugger all for a good way, just house after house with nothing to do around them. There is of course, a Tesco near the motorway, en route to Sighthill.

To sum up, even as the blocks soared, Red Road struggled at ground level. Political, economic and social failure was the real design flaw.

Our city has been really very good at bold ideas, big, massive gestures, one after the other, reinventions, rebirths, regenerations, renaissances, rebrandings. We gesture, gesticulate and gyrate like no other. It’s a repeating pattern, an addiction to spectacular history that, if Glasgow were a person, would have put it in therapy, or jail or intensive care long ago.

We’re BOLD. And yep – that is SO GLASGOW.

There are two senses in which the Glaswegian (or other informed observer) tends to say ‘that is so Glasgow’. One is with a grin, the other a grimace. And just to dispel any suspense here, I’m saying this is so Glasgow because we’re very much not waving, but girning.

It goes back to my fears about how we are treating our history, and using it. The history of housing in Glasgow is vexed, complex and at times, not especially edifying. Sober reflection, humility, even penitence are what should accompany the Red Road demolition. Not WOOHOO BIG BANGS! Go and look at the facts, the legacy and narrative of just Red Road alone (never mind housing elsewhere) and tell me if you can, why the city fathers should get to retrieve a victory from this?

Ok, so maybe that’s a bit spiteful – hating the council and related organs is already a popular bloodsport sport in the city. But the logic of this narrative would appear to be: it’s ok to  blow down of 3000 homes that represent some of the most vulnerable, beleaguered people in our community on live TV because We Are All Better Now. Glasgow simply doesn’t make mistakes like this any more.

But here’s the thing – leaving aside some of the worrying signs apparent from their current  new builds -  has no one who sat in on those meetings looked up the dictionary definition of hubris? Even the best-informed and thoughtful among us act in the hope we are doing the right thing, rather than any certainty of it. People’s futures, and their sense of the past are at stake. This gesture fundamentally lacks the necessary humility. It does not speak well of the state of mind of those planning for the ‘what next’ after the demolition takes place.

We come then, finally, to the  question of how we construct our own histories. I hear a lot about ‘authenticity’ from supporters of the stunt, but see little evidence to support such a claim. That so many of us were reeling from the news, working out how to react on Friday does not bode well for a genuine debate over how this story will be told , and the people who could help the organisers tell it – the locals and residents – were among the last to know. They have been excluded from the debate, so it’s no wonder that when the majority of them do now get heard, their reactions are angry. Instead we have been told we should trust the organisers in their claim that the blow down will be contextualised carefully and all make sense on the night. And just to reiterate, that is all we have been told so far . Trust us, Danny Boyle’s been on the phone, it’s grand. We’ve got this.

There is altogether too much at stake to let the organisers be coy here. To hell with spoilers: we need to know what is intended for this ceremony, what is planned before and after that 15 seconds of Boldness. ‘Authenticity’ does not come from cooking up a narrative in committee, then springing it on people where they have had no time, or proportionate facility to respond. It comes from dialogue, from dealing with contradictions, from arguing about it.

And while we have plenty of responses, and arguments at the moment, they all fall short because any debate is disfigured by secrecy. To go back to that old problem of the neoliberal city – what is the plan? Is there one or are we just going to gesticulate (again), feel good for five seconds, then spend years picking up after ourselves? Furthermore, if the Games organisers really have “got this”, then surely there should be no problem in opening up what this narrative, and the tone in which it is delivered should be for wider discussion? Some of the deeper philosophical problems would remain, but it would be altogether better, altogether more respectful, than at present.

Of course, as my late night twitter debate-buddy (see part one!) astutely pointed out, once you author a narrative you don’t necessarily get to control it, how it’s interpreted, how people see the subject. I think the Glasgow 2014 folk and partners may be finding that out already, and that this triumphalism represents a very pyrrhic victory. Chris may yet prove to be right.

On Simple Prospects, Red Road and Spectacular History. Part One…

(So I finally got round to blogging my thoughts on Red Road. Too much for one post, so I’ve split it two ways. There have been a lot of very good blogs and articles summing up the wider context already, so these will be more of a personal account)

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THURSDAY 3rd APRIL 2014

Some days offer a simple prospect. i.e: painting the bedroom. Sure, you face a day of moderately hard labour, but you know how it’s going to go; get up, put your old clothes on, inhale paint fumes, swear when you go over one of the lines, despair momentarily when the stretch of wall above the dresser suddenly takes on the properties of the Forth Bridge, realise why you generally don’t listen to afternoon talk radio…(always in that order). When it’s done, you’ll be stinking of turps, light of head but the task is completed. Cue warm sense of achievement and appreciative significant other. Possibly a beer.

There’s a lot to be said for straightforward days, of simple prospects. I generally don’t get a lot of them (I think few of us do).

My Friday was supposed to be straightforward. I had something big and complicated to write, and wasn’t going to leave my desk until it had been done. I’d made my coffee, suitably cerebral music had been selected, the cursor was winking – a painful, but honest day of work beckoned.

And then, Chris Leslie emails Alison Irvine and I with the news that five of the Red Road Flats were to be demolished as part of the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony. Chris is a man of pithy expressions, and he catches our feelings perfectly with – ‘wtf?’

A spray of coffee and a flurry of emails later and we are still shaking our heads – surely, SURELY this is a late April Fools? I start to get texts, Facebook messages but I cling to this explanation (even though it was the fourth of April) in the hope I can just go back to work, until Chris posts this press release that confirms it all.

Damnit.

An hour later and, I’ve written something, but it’s a tweet:

@Dialectographer :1 Word: Crass #RedRoadFlats.

Friday as it turns out, will be all emotion, all about the gut and the wagging tongue. About taste, and lack of it.

And personal ethics – lines and limits, getting to that point where you have to speak your mind. I’d spent the best part of four years working with people at Red Road, trying to understand and transmit the complexity and nuance of that experience as part of the Red Road Cultural Project. It felt to me as if this stunt negated all of that, everything it had achieved.

Even at a superficial level, that of message, image, Pee Arr, it just seemed insane. How could Glasgow 2014 possibly think a televised act of destruction was okay in a post 9/11 world? How exactly, does the creation of a new gap site at the very moment the Games begin, support the claims  that this an event about rebuilding?

I start to hear from the Red Roaders I know. They were none of them in favour. There is bewilderment, and anger. Most poignant was in what they don’t say – perhaps can’t. Some say they are glad they are not alone in feeling this way.

Twitter explodes, as does Facebook. An online petition is raised with lightning speed. I am surprised at just how many others also seemed to feel, at the very least, profound unease about the whole thing. Even my brother seems to agree with me. Chris (always, always first to the post in the Winning City Team ) makes his response. I agree with most of it, not all.

I mull over my own response. I’ll have to make one. Alison, Chris, myself and others who worked at Red Road  made career-changing artworks on the sufferance and kindness of its people. I feel it would be unethical – cowardly – to duck out of making a comment. But I’m not quite ready to put my thoughts down yet.

I am in truth, still reeling. Crass and insensitive – those are tonal criticisms; there are I feel, deeper issues to be teased out. Beyond the emotions, it’s hard to get full clarity. Glasgow 2014 and its partners have dropped a big secret on the rest of the city, which now has to do its best to form an opinion with precious little detail as to how this event will be contextualised, or explained. Even with that pre-planned advantage, they seem to be struggling. I wonder if they were ready for such a strong reaction?

Another frequent colleague and collaborator Johnny Rodger gives me a call. He has been asked onto Radio Scotland’s Culture Programme to debate Bridget McConnell. We talk over what we both know about it, I advise him to check out the Glasgow 2014 Press release. He hasn’t had much time to prepare and his counterpart has known about this for some time – that tends to be how the cards are stacked in these affairs. Still, JR is a walking encyclopaedia on the broader history of Glasgow’s urban fabric. He’s got the ammo.

At lunchtime, in the Co-op, I meet a good friend who works for one of the partner organisations behind the decision. We talked about the reactions, I hear a little bit about it from the other side of the fence. My initial feelings remain unchanged.

I eat my lunch, listen to Johnny on the radio. He holds his own rather well. He makes the point about 9/11. Really, how did the planning committee NOT think of that?

I tweet some more, go back to work, take more phone-calls. One is from Scotland Tonight, inviting me onto that evening’s programme to debate Gordon Matheson and the comedian Robert Florence. The producer, is terribly nice; I don’t quite know how to refuse. I ring my wife hoping she’ll tell me not to be daft, and get back to work but she thinks I can and should do it.

Damnit…

So I shear the beard a bit (it’s gone a bit Walt Whitman) locate the suit and try to prepare myself for my first ever appearance on live television. I don’t tell my mam – I’m worried it might not go well.  Surely, Matheson will have been PR-prepped and deflect my irritation with ease? I nearly cancel a couple of times, but feel an odd sense of moral obligation to go ahead; I’ve been proclaiming solidarity to Red Road residents all day, in conversation. Time to do it in public…

*******

11pm and I am still at STV. My wife and I drink beers in the green room with the production staff, Robert Florence and presenter John MacKay. We’ve just been on, and are watching Cllr Matheson do it all over again, this time for Newsnight Scotland. I don’t envy him – the Beeb’s interview has much more of the bear-pit about it.

It had been the Rab and Gordy show really. Robert Florence used the opportunity somewhat cannily, as leverage, extracting promises from Mr Matheson to meet to discuss the refurbishment of the Springburn Winter Gardens.  I’d been up at Red Road the previous weekend – the area badly needs facilities and pleasant spaces, so I hope it is successful. And, well, the Games could use a PR win now…

Home, and to bed, feeling guilty about what has been unwritten and heavy of heart over the reason why. I am tired but unable to sleep. I scan twitter and fall into a debate with a user who defends the plan in the most erudite terms – Gramsci, Althusser and Barthes all make an appearance, in gobbets of 140 words an all. I enjoy the ‘conversation’ – after a day of soundbites and PR-bombshells, it’s good to get some substance, talk about the deeper themes. But I wish my brain were working better. We amicably agree to someday, finish our “conversation”, and I turn my phone off.

It has not been a straightforward day.

I’m back! We’re back! It’s all…back!

As per the title really…so I’ve been away from the blog for a long while. A lot of rather serious stuff has been happening since oooo last year… none more serious than marriage, a trip to the AOI Illustration Awards (where I won the category for Knowledge and Research and shared the overall New Talent award with Jun Cen), my work with Tara Beall and Glasgow Museums and my Commonwealth Games residencies with Collective’s All-Sided Games, and for Glasgow Life with Chris Leslie and Alison Irvine.Mitch in frames Oh, and my PhD…

 

There’s too much to fill you in on in one blog, but that, broadly, is what’s been happening. I’m going to be back soon with a report from my six weeks working at Piershill.

But for today, the big news is this new site as designed by Chris Leslie, recently encumbered with a BAFTA New Talent award. We now have better ways to see the images, more images and webcomics. Keep checking back as I’ll be adding more material over the coming weeks.

Mitch

What’s happening with DRAW DUKE STREET then?

…well, the absolute, absolute latest is that WordPress managed to cleverly interpret my desire to insert a photo into my post as deleting the said post and replacing it with the bloody photograph, so this is the second time round on writing this, as midnight approaches and tiredness sets in. Goodness knows how it will read. Anyway, this is the picture in question:

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I’ll explain what it is further down the page, because that’s how I roll. The Duke Street Diaries give a day by day account of how things are currently progressing, so they are the best place to keep track, alongside the associated Facebook page and twitter alter ego (not the same as the usual Dialectograms feed). If that’s not already way too much information, you can of course, just pop in any time between 10-6pm, Monday to Saturday over the month of November and first week in December.

But between us, how has it been so far? Challenging, it has to be said. Daunting, definitely, but I have to say, there has been a lot of goodwill and useful feedback already, from locals and passers by, but also from others in the Glasgow cultural scene. Particular thanks have to go to Victoria Evans (whose amazing show at the Briggait with Graham Lister and Stephanie Spindler can still be seen if you get down there for this Friday), filmmaker Alan Knight (check out his Buffalo Bill film project) Anna Gibb (whose work is, if you pardon the expression, just f***ing lovely) and Stuart Murray (whose blog I am happy to say, is back on the streets), all of whom have popped by or offered substantial help from afar. I’ve also been lucky enough to find an excellent team of volunteers. I’m going to talk about them in more detail in another post down the line, but they have been excellent so far.

It’s been an interesting time, especially as it has in some respects, encouraged me to look at Dennistoun almost as an outsider – fresh eyes, as the cliche goes. Stuff that was hidden from view suddenly becomes apparent, and I don’t just mean the seamy side- I had never been to a meeting of Dennistoun Community Council before and to be honest, I’d probably have never thought to if I hadn’t wanted something from them – something I’m sure the dedicated souls who sit on it month by month, year by year, are used to hearing, and probably a little weary of.

Speaking of asking for favours, if anyone reading this is a carpenter/joiner/welder with time on their hands and a cavalier attitude to remuneration (I am out of time and largely out of budget) I would love to hear from you.

Some dates though, for the diaries of those interested in seeing how it all pans out. On Wednesday 28th November I’ll be hosting Market Gallery’s Night School (6.30pm, main gallery) event on the theme of ‘exhaustion’. I didn’t pick it, but by that stage of the proceedings it’s going to be pretty apt. There’s a reprise on Saturday, at the art school union from 3pm.

And of course, there’s the small matter of the opening of the exhibited drawing itself, of which the scratchy sketch up there gives a sneak preview. That opens in Market gallery 1 at 6pm on Friday the 7th December. It will be on show for a week after that (and is free) until the 16th December. I will, with the exception of Saturday 8th, be invigilating it myself, so you will have the chance to come along and ask questions should you be so inclined.

Draw Duke Street has rather clouded the horizons of late, but there are other projects and happenings outside of the Independent Republic of Dennistoun currently on the boil, on which more soon.

At least, before Christmas, anyway…

Five months

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It’s been April – I’ll say that again – APRIL, since my last post, so I thought it was loooong past time I made an update.

Looking back on my last post I realise with some embarrassment that I was supposed to give full commentaries and background on the past two dialectograms. I’m not going to do that today, but do promise to get these up as soon as I can.

Instead, I’m going to get up to speed on what’s actually been happening these past few months. I think it is fair to say I have not been idle! As well as keeping things ticking over on the PhD, I’ve been looking into potential sites to draw, was a guest of the Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference in Edinburgh to talk about Red Road, and giving a paper at the Drawing Research Network Conference 2012 in Loughborough, where I met other researchers who like to draw, and talk about it at length. Sometimes great length.

Occasionally, I  got around to actually drawing something. So, the first major event of the last five months was in May when I joined with others to Go Tell it On The Green at the People’s Palace. I collaborated with a distinguished line-up of Peter McCaughey, Ross Sinclair, Roddy Buchanan, Johnny Rodger, Michael Mersinis, Gordy Munro and Raymond Burke. Go Tell it on the Green marked the demolition of Douglas Gordon’s 1990 artwork Proof, a hidden monument that marked, rather gnomically, Glasgow’s scurrilous and largely occluded radical history, encompassing the Weaver’s strike of 1787, the ‘Radical War’ or Scottish insurrection of 1820, female political activists during the first world war and anarchist Guy Aldred’s campaigns against the prohibition of political meetings and public use of the Green. In the same year as the artwork’s creation, widespread public anger and a sustained campaign led by Workers City defeated plans to privatise whole swathes of Britain’s oldest public space. A surfeit of symbolism, I’m sure you’ll agree – especially as its demolition (by Network Rail for Health and Safety, before a campaign could even be mounted) occurred in the same year that the Council tried to impose entertainment licences on small exhibitions and events, while simultaneously buying into the increasingly odious PR guff around the ‘Glasgow miracle’.

I’ll de-rant for now, but full details, including film of the talks by Emma Lennox can be found here. The event was also about trying to stimulate further interest and discussion in the hidden history the mural represented. My own thoughts in this direction led me to consider the surface of the Green as a giant, but somewhat impenetrable, recording device for these movements (in both senses) on the ’m not very pleased with this drawing -really just a germ infecting the germ of an idea -  but I see it as the first iteration of something  I intend to pursue much further and will hopefully, open up new possibilities for drawing in tandem with site specific work, using sound and geographical positioning, Expect to hear more, soon.

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Speaking of public outcries, it’s also worth mentioning the right stramash that took place overCreative Scotland. The ‘more-than-just-a’ funding body has been in the spotlight of late, as serious critical debate and conversation around how the arts are funded moved from Variant – where it has been consistently criticised and investigated – to centre-stage. Pun intended here – the catalyst has been from among the theatre sector and the removal of flexible funding from these organisations.  Variant has been told it will no longer receive funding from Creative Scotland – check here to get their take on it and if you feel so inclined, assist their efforts to resume publication. For in-depth, accessible, intelligent and ecumenical analysis of the situation check out Stramash Arts for a blow by blow account of this year’s events.

Of course, it’s not all been politicking this year. There was also The Wedding Game, a collaboration with fellow One Night Standee Minka Stoyanova. Glasgow Green and the People’s Palace have a magnetic attraction for me, I think. Our collaboration was  Minka’s brainchild as a contribution to Shotgun Wedding, a show by the Effort Collective. This involved drawing a dialectogram-style game environment and characters for Minka to set the events of an adventure/puzzle game premised around trying to spirit a bride, groom (and yourself) from the mother of all Glasgow weddings.  Minka is now working on the finished version, so I’ll pop up the link once it is finished.

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Then there’s SeRTES, an Information and Communication Technology Research Project involving 7 universities and a range of different disciplines. My attitude to ICT is fairly straightforward; if it works, and does the job I want it to do, I’m happy. This attitude is however, having to change with a new piece of work I’m doing with the SeRTES group to investigate how technology is used in the everyday environment – where we access it, how it blends into our current surroundings, and so forth. It is really interesting stuff, and nice to get back into drawing fully domestic situations (it’s been a while).  You can see the first of a series of sketches I’m producing to help the group with its research here, based on the ‘measurable unit’ of a weekend. The involvement has given me some excellent ideas for how I might work on a series of domestic dialectograms sometime in the future.

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One of the most exciting things to happen, work-wise, this summer was my visit to The Seminary at Cardross, courtesy of The Invisible College. I am going to be quick on this one simply because this demands a post all of its own. Geographer Hayden Lorimer kindly invited me to come along on The Invisible College’s daytrip and evening workshop to Kilmahew park, location of the ruined Cardross Seminary.

The next update will be along very soon, as I have a rather important announcement to make, but before closing, I want to point you in the direction of VAROOM!LAB and Swansea Metropolitan University’s Spatialising Illustration Symposium in Swansea, on the 24th and 25th of January 2013. I am headed to this event run by Derek Bainton, a good friend of this Blog, and Varoom! magazine.. All the information for the event is included below– the call for papers is closed (sorry Derek for not distributing this sooner!) but worth going to, to hear about recent work and research in this area.

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Red Road Dialectograms 3 and 4: The Bingo and the Brig

Many of the regular followers will probably have seen the latest two dialectograms, of the Mecca Bingo and Social Club and of The Brig Bar on the Red Road Underground website. But you will have noticed the absence of the usual whingeing, griping and picking fault with myself that customarily accompanies each post. So, now that Red Road Underground is launched, and the exhibition is open I felt it was the right time to go into more depth on these latest two drawings (probably the last two significant Red Road drawings I shall produce, save one – I’ll tell you more about that some other time…) and how they came about. We’ll start at the start, with…

THE MECCA BINGO AND SOCIAL CLUB (Red Road Dialectogram No 3)

Those of you who are familiar with Red Road Underground know the bingo’s cardinal claim to fame. It was underground, and it was massive, reportedly holding 1,000 seats . When drawing these seats, it became impossible, from the photographs, to keep track of exactly where they all were and how they were placed, not to mention keeping the right scale so in the eventuality I had to go with what I felt was right. As a result, I haven’t had the heart to count how many seats I placed in the drawing. All I know is I certainly got it wrong, so those of you so-inclined can count them and tell me just how wrong I got it, by looking at the pic below:


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No drawing – no dialectogram – can capture everything about a place, there are always mysteries, but with both the Bingo and the Brig the mysteries left something of a gaping hold. Working with Chris Leslie we tracked down a number of ex bingo punters and recorded a series of very useful interviews. But the Bingo, like theatres, cinemas, fairgrounds and so forth, consists of two communities of interest – the audience, and the ‘acts’, the backstage, the people who make it all work. Staff.

Sadly, we were unable to get in touch with any staff members, despite a few promising leads, so this element is missing. What the bingo was like to work in, what the workers called certain rooms, was unavailable – as a result, I have had to use the ‘official’ names from the architect’s plans (kindly supplied by Jonny Howes via the Mitchell Library Archives) but have no ideas what the Mecca workers themselves called the storeroom, or the plant rooms. Or the punters themselves! These things matter to me, and they were missing from the drawing.

The Mecca Bingo drawing still brings me out in a bit of a sweat, to be honest. It was such a big space, with so much happening in it I felt all I could do was skim the surface of what was there. Bingo is a mystery to me; I don’t see the thrill and, it is (don’t shout at me!) primarily a female pursuit, and the Bingo hall itself therefore a very feminine place. I wasn’t sure I had the data, or the feel for the place. What I did have was a sense of atmosphere. When our group (which consisted of GHA officials, Iseult Timmermans of Streetlevel, Crawford McGugan and colleagues, from museums, Chris Leslie and myself) entered there was a strange mixture of feelings. It felt very much desolate, abandoned, decaying. and yet, in the better-preserved places, there was a sense that time really had just stopped, been hermetically sealed up and time had shifted. Romantic tomfoolery, perhaps, but feelings are like that. In the manager’s office, (see below) for example, we found all these glimpses and hints of what the bingo was – the yellow cheques given to winners (still in good condition, many feeling rather glossy and new), a bus schedule that detailed where people came into the bingo from, and when they caught the actual buses themselves. I turned the latter into a rather convoluted diagram along the bottom of the drawing (people came from a very wide radius in north Glasgow and Lanarkshire – the bingo hall was important to a lot of people), and, in a departure from previous work, used ‘mixed media’, which is a fancy way of saying I stuck one of the cheques I recovered from the bingo on the drawing. It started to deteriorate once I started handling it afterwards, so the freshness was something of an illusion. Speaking of illusions, here’s a ghost apparently haunting a corner of the main hall -

This feeling, of switching back and forth in time, was something I decided to put in the drawing, which is why the main hall has massive lochs and puddles, piles of debris and various mysteries in some parts, but is reconstructed (see the stage) in others to fit more closely with the bingo’s initial design. This often reflected the quality of information I had. The ladies who gave us the information for the drawing were very kind, and extremely helpful, but details such as where things happened, exactly what things felt like and where, are generally casualties of memory and become vague. This is why, I think, it is essential for me to actually see a place, and ideally, see it while it is still ‘alive’. The depiction of derelict parts of the bingo are therefore an attempt to give the drawing a firmer basis on my own experience of being there, and the occasionally creepy feeling the old bingo gave me. Hopefully, you get the same sense I did – one minute you are looking at something that pretty much looks on first glance, as fresh as a daisy and well preserved. Then, you turn your head and suddenly we wind forward again, to the wrecked and ruined bingo. If the upshot is an occasionally confusing, overly dense drawing then, I apologise, but it is pretty close to what being in the place can actually feel like, with the various layers of artefacts, different types of room, facilities, functions and memories all becoming apparent.

So what’s worth point out here? This involved a much bigger group of people than earlier dialectograms. Helen McDermott, June Aird (whose Aunty Molly was a regular), Mary MacDonald, Ruth Wright and some of the folk at Alive and Kicking all gave information for this. Helen, a real Mecca bingo pilgrim, gave a lot of crucial information that can be seen mostly on the right side of the dialectogram, about the details of playing bingo, her reasons for going, and her favourite seat (I was not sure we got the correct identification from our interview, but had a stab at identifying it in any case).

Ruth Wright went to the Bingo much more casually, and tended to remember events and incidents, rather than the detailed workings of the place. One of these took place in the ladies toilets, which seemed to double as a dodgy market stall for stolen goods – I’ve tried to recreate it in the top left of the drawing

Another thing that piqued my interest was the style of the Mecca – echoes of Art Deco (Mecca-Deco) here and there, with lots of shiny surfaces – as June remembered it, ‘sparkly’. I saw lots of things that reminded me of my uncle’s travelling amusement arcade –bright colours, plastic and fibreglass moulding. The bingo would have been a noisy place.

And then…the lights and the stalactites. The bingo closed because of a fire in the shop above aroundabout 98-99. The firefighter’s hoses flooded down into the bingo, pretty much drowning it. Damp and sodden, Mecca abandoned what had always been a leaky facility, and the water gradually did its work. The combined effects of melting plastics and seeping water turned the ceiling into a mess of ragged, stalactite like shapes as the tiles fell off and left the innards of the roof exposed. And then the lights – we all thought the lights that hung from the ceiling represented a style of lampshade (similar to the sweeping curves of the doors in the bingo) but actually, it’s a pure accident. The lights were originally sunk into the ceiling tiles. As the bingo decayed, the light fixture pushed through and fell down to swing on its wires. The tile that was left attached then drooped down, creating an accidental interior design flourish.

In the end, the bingo drawing represents a lot of missed opportunities for me. There were lots of things I never found out about, and could not resolve – how did the bingo-caller work? What was the real setup on the stage? And what was the closed off area where the mini-bingo used to be? Had I known these things, I could have used layering to show changes over time, and generally been better informed. But, with time at a premium and information sketchy, I eventually just had to stop the drawing, rather than finish it. So I look at it now with rather a lot of dissatisfaction (Just like every other dialectogram I do…)

THE BRIG BAR

This drawing was completed about a week and a bit before Red Road Underground opened. Chris, a man of infinite patience, got used to my reassurances that the Brig would be finished ‘any day now’ meaning absolutely nothing (I mean, after four months of saying the exact same thing you tend to lose credibility…). Like the Bingo, the Brig was offered subterranean leisure (for your pleasure) but was rather more distinctive in style, taking the theme of the interior of a boat or galleon. This in a location that is about as far north from the Clyde you can get without leaving Glasgow. Here’s the pic below:


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The Brig was in some ways easier to do than the bingo, but presented difficulties all of its own. Being on safely masculine territory, I found I had more personal terms of reference with which to reconstruct the pub and its workings than with the Mecca.

What was particularly nice was the chance to reunite with Bob Niven (see Dialectogram No 2) and Finlay MacKay who helped me piece together the earlier days of The Brig and their experience of growing up with a nautically themed subterranean modernist pub as their yardstick for all other bars. They provided lots of useful pointers to both myself and Chris (although one of the meet-ups I arranged with Bob and Finlay ended up taking place in a pub, which resulted in some very scrawled notes (even for me) and a level of drinking which certainly separated the men from the boy (I’ll let you guess who the boy was)).

I also got in touch with Azam Khan, whose experiences at the Brig are captured in Alison Irvine’s novel, and he had me over to his place one teatime to fill me in on his experiences. As someone coming into the scheme in their rough and ready 90s, his experience of the Brig was somewhat different. Not negative, necessarily, but rather more hair raising and risky. It was an important perspective to have, giving a range from Bob (a real regular, stalwart of the darts team), to Finlay (who went there after football, and found ‘the talent’ in the Broomfield tavern more alluring) and then Azam, who came to the Red Road alone, went to the Brig alone, and eventually switched allegiance to the Broomfield as his first stop on a night out.

Nevertheless, it was hard to get folk to talk about the Brig. An ex-manager of the bar is known to all who work at Red Road, but has a policy of refusing to go on record about his times there. Other staff were unreachable or unwilling – in short, The Brig suffers from the same basic problem of the Bingo – it’s a one-sided view.

The other problem was more serious, and is the reason for many of the gaps and lacunae in the final piece. No plans of the bar survive, and I initially, only had a couple of hours to gain access to the bar and work out how the bar was shaped. I literally had to do a reconstructive sketch on site, with limited lighting and limited time. This sketch has – appallingly – gone missing, but I have kept other sketches, based on the minigrams I drew to help me get a feel for how the place was stuck together. On site it was very confusing! There were nooks and crannies that didn’t seem to belong there at all, whole sections that seemed to defy the laws of physics, and rooms that I was unable to place. The floor plan as it stands here then, is in good part imaginary, or to be more positive, an educated guess.

These problems aside, the Brig represents a more self-contained, manageable universe than its counterpart. As Bob, a regular from aged 15 noted, ‘not many people from outwith the flats went to the Brig’. The bar, or at least parts of it, was much better preserved. Though there is fire damage in places, this was from later vandalism – the bar closed, with the intention of reopening much the same time as the Bingo, so while many fixtures were taken away, a lot remained, including the distinctive compass tables.

However, there were two phases of usage that complicates depicting the Brig somewhat; the well-preserved, almost pristine bar we walked into was not the original ‘bar’. It was actually the lounge

For those of you accustomed to pubs being relatively liberal places designed for a bit of a dance, a chance to try (and fail) to pick up women/men and so forth, it should be pointed out that the traditional Scottish boozer operates according to strict rules, social protocols and hierarchies. There is ‘the bar’ and there is ‘the lounge’. The bar is primarily, a place for men, to do those manly things we men like to do, largely out of the sight of women, who are generally only seen in such places with their husband. If at all. Then there are the rules about seating, playing dominoes…too many to go into just now. Generally, a husband who takes his wife to the pub takes her to the lounge (which is where many Red Road couples reunited after the bingo closed). The lounge is also the correct place for students, visitors and any others who might not have an entirely nuanced sense of the correct behaviour and deportment traditional to the bar area.

So it was with the Brig. In fact, bar and lounge were so separate, there was no way of easily getting from one to the other. To meet your wife after an afternoon in the main bar, you would have to walk all the way round the side (very dark, as Azam Khan remembers) , turn the corner into the plaza to get to the lounge entrance, strategically placed next to the bingo. However, because (I think) parts of the underground plaza at Red Road were closed off in the early 90s, the main bar was closed off and decommissioned, leading to the lounge becoming the only bar. This meant the old bar (are we keeping track of all these bars ok?) lacked many of its features and fixtures, not least the actual bar itself, which was taken out. It took some detective work, looking at the holes on the wall and gaps in the flooring as shown on Chris’ photographs, to retrace what seems to have been its shape. I have no doubt I got it wrong, so if you remember it differently, feel free to tell me.

I had to look on the photographs for details of the bar, because at the time we entered the Brig in March 2011, I did not know this aspect of the Brig’s history and thought it was probably a function room of some sort, not noticing the tell tale marks that there had been something installed in there.. Luckily, Bob Niven has a terrifyingly accurate memory and I got a sense of what should be there, but I still got a lot wrong.

Still, I did get some pretty rich material for this one – I feel I got a better handle on the Brig than the Mecca. The distinctive style of the bar was a real attraction – drawing the compass tables (I rescued one, which now sits in my front room) really exercised my drawing muscles but was very satisfying and really anchors the drawing. I also like how the Brig links to the other Red Road drawings, as you will see noted here and there (Stuart MacMillan, who photographs bars around Glasgow and has been very helpful and supportive, suggested using hyperlinks to connect web-versions of the drawings. I might just give it a try).

There was more experimentation with mixed media here too (a fancy way of saying I stuck a beermat on the drawing) and I took a conscious decision, given the sheer bulk of testimony garnered about The Brig, to make this more ‘wordy’ than other dialectograms – it’s really one of the most dense I’ve done so far, at the cost of visualisations and explanatory diagrams. I’m not sure what I think of the effect overall, but I’m quite pleased at how I’ve used the people in this one – I’m getting better at drawing people from above, but also, I think the addition adds something important to the drawing and tells you something about the place.

When collecting artefacts for our show at New Glasgow Society we briefly returned to the Brig to find some useful objects. Of course, I had a chance to check for mistakes – and discovered more than a few! The storeroom is too large, the keg room is in the wrong place, and I have the doors to the main bar entirely wrong – there should be a double set of double doors leading in! As you can imagine, this has tortured me ever since – all I could do was make some notes on the drawing and berate myself at length

Overall then, while the Brig hangs together more as a drawing, again, I can’t help but feel all the missed opportunities. A little more time spent on the drawing could have brought out more of the relationships between different groups in the bar (though there is definitely more of that in this drawing than some of the previous Red Road Dialectograms) and shown more of the workings of the bar itself. But that actually would have meant a LOT more time in fact, and it would require actually drinking there. And that’s impossible now. I would have liked to have gotten more detail on the various bands who played at Red Road, and had the chance to show more of the drawing to the guys at various times. But, schedules being what they are, it just wasn’t possible. The drawing did confirm how complex pubs are; a whole social structure is represented within, and created within the pub, a whole way of life tied closely, irrevocably to that place, so that when the bar closes for business and last orders are called, a great deal of knowledge and understanding goes with it. The more of these types of traditional pubs close, the more we lose touch with this aspect of our past – sexist, insular, destructive and daunting as it can sometimes be, at others it can be life-affirming, fraternal, supportive, as shown on the old photographs Chris found behind the bar and noted on the drawing.

Maybe that’s why when we did go in, and saw that the Brig had deteriorated further, I felt very sad. I’d never visited The Brig in its prime, but having thought about the place, and soaked up as many stories about it as I could, I felt almost as if I had some kind of stake in it. I suppose that’s a by-product of looking so long, and hard at places. You fall into something like love with them. And that, the graphic novelist Dave Sim (Cerebus) warns us is a bad idea, as he put it ‘never fall in love with a bar.’

AND IN OTHER NEWS…

…we’ve been on the news. Red Road Underground has been on the news a lot*. First off there was a feature in the Scotsman – rather nice. Dialectograms were referred to as ‘charming sketches’. Dialectograms are charming? Well, yes, perhaps…but ‘sketches’?

I shouldn’t quibble I suppose – the press was very helpful. We also appeared on STV news.

http://news.stv.tv/scotland/west-central/296517-landmark-glasgow-flats-set-for-demolition/

Just a shame they didn’t mention where the show was! Incidentally, we are having another event for Red Road Underground this Saturday (18th) at 2pm – artists talks with Chris Leslie, Alison Irvine (This Road is Red), Crawford McGugan of Glasgow museums, and me.

Lastly (no, really) thanks to all of you who came along to the private view and opening of the exhibition – both nights were jumping and great fun. Neil Scott, a blogger and podcaster, made this record of the event. Shows a bit of the exhibition (you can see Finlay and Bob in the very first few frames, nearest the camera), gives you a flavour of how busy it was, and certainly tells you more than you ever needed to know about short women.

* thanks are due to Stuart Darroch, GHA for making a lot of the press contacts.