“The Winner takes it All” publication for Royal Standard, a-n magazine, 2009.
Janie Nicoll writes about the positive effect Capital of Culture had on artists’ networks in Glasgow & offers advice to Liverpool’s artists.
Glasgow was European City of Culture in 1990, following on from the Glasgow Garden Festival in 1988 and on the back of a successful re-branding of the city in the eighties. The Glasgow’s Miles Better campaign had seen the turn around of the “no mean city” image of Glasgow synonymous with razor gangs and football violence, to something far more positive.
The year of culture had been seen as emblematic of the cultural renaissance of the city, and for the first time statisticians could clearly evaluate the impact and the benefits of the cultural activity on the city as a whole. There was an important change in the attitude of City Councillors who, prior to this, might not have made any direct correlation between the arts and the financial benefit they might bring. It allowed the Council arts officers to make a clear case for increased arts provision within the city, for arts organisations and for the community. This in turn has had a longstanding effect on the ability of artists to earn a living and create opportunities for exhibition within the city and for international exchange.
The Year of Culture enabled the strengthening of arts organizations set up during the Eighties, such as Transmission Gallery; Street Level Photoworks, Project Ability, Glasgow Print Studio, Glasgow Independent Studios. The legacy continues in the establishment of Trongate 103 (1), a visual arts resource in King Street, incorporating all of the above organisations, opening in spring 2009. Significant for artists has been the Intermedia Gallery, currently based at CCA, but run at arms length through the City Council and the Project Room in GIS. These have allowed a consistent and less pressured alternative for artists exhibiting at a grassroots level and tend to mirror the range of low budget /no budget initiatives that spring up, often deriving from the buoyant and ever thriving Art School scene.
The Glasgow Women’s Library evolved out of Women in Profile, which was set up in 1987 to ensure the visibility of women in the programming of the City of Culture, as “We were cynical enough to think that it might not be a pluralistic cultural celebration” (2). Also established during the Y of C, Womanhouse, was setup in a Council flat in a Castlemilk Housing Scheme inspired by the installation initiated by Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro in California in 1972. Formed by a committee which included Cathy Wilkes, Claire Barclay and Julie Roberts Castlemilk’s incarnation of ‘Womanhouse’ was intended to benefit the local community as much as to represent the artists. It continued to operate for several years beyond the Year of Culture while the Women’s Library continues to go from strength to strength, and is about to relocate within the Mitchell Library.
The City of Culture gave the art scene in Glasgow an energy and impetuous that empowered individuals and organizations throughout the city, and gave the bureaucrats the confidence for the first time to put the arts high up their agendas, seeing it as a force for change, for regeneration. The new opportunities that came about from this burgeoning of the arts sector raised the city’s profile at a national and international level. It also encouraged a huge influx of creative people to the city that in itself upped the anti, and encouraged graduating art students to remain in the city, a strategy successfully adopted by Conceptual artists such as Douglas Gordon, who had just graduated from the Glasgow School of Art, and who made a conscious decision to stay in Glasgow.
Eighteen years on, the effects of the City Of Culture on Glasgow can still be felt. The grassroots art and music scenes are as vibrant and dynamically active as anywhere in the country. The appropriation and temporary use of empty spaces continues with initiatives like Market Gallery, EmergeD, the Chateau, Lowsalt and SW3 Studio Warehouse; that either evolve into stable organizations or mutate into something else. Glasgow International has also recently emerged as a biennial event in response to the vibrancy of the current visual arts scene, using the city and most arts venues to host a myriad of events and exhibitions with an international flavour. It is no coincidence that its new Director, Katrina Brown, is a former Transmission Gallery committee member from the City of Culture era.
Visiting Liverpool Biennial for the third time, it’s clear to see the effects on the city of the Capital of Culture, with the bigger scale and larger number of events and activities taking place in the city. It’s encouraging to see the arts community galvanizing, and the effects of these artistic endeavours having an impact on areas all over the city, particularly out-with the city centre in places like Garston, with genuine attempts to interact with the community.
The tricky part from now on will be to maintain levels of continuity after the culture bandwagon has rumbled on to the next location and the spotlight has shifted. Artists and organizations will need to build on the momentum that has been achieved and experience gained, to continue to make demands for the prioritizing of visual culture within the city’s cultural agenda.
It’s the knock-on effect of artists, their ideas, their energy, their inspiration and drive to have an impact, that can have the most influence in the long term, at a personal as well as a wider level, and that is something that we can all learn from. The year of Culture might be over but it should be seen as a starting point, a springboard for what could happen next and for things still to be achieved. The artists of Liverpool need to use this newfound confidence to keep on moving forwards and refuse to go back. Good luck!
Janie Nicoll is an artist based in Glasgow.
Review a-n Magazine, March Issue 2005
“A Nation Turns its Lonely Eyes to You”
Market Gallery presents six 2004 graduates
And here’s to you Market Gallery…….
There’s been a lot going on at grassroots level in Glasgow recently, with a variety of initiatives emerging through the irrepressible energies of various Art School departments and their former students, and also with the migration, to Glasgow, of many art graduates from other cities. Perhaps in response to this, Market Gallery has curated an exhibition with a remit to support very recent graduates chosen from the four Scottish Art schools, aiming to offer support and encouragement at what can often be a testing time, immediately after graduating.
Market holds a unique position within the Glasgow art scene, as an artist run space that holds its own within the community of Dennistoun, in the east end, well outside the city centre art circuit. A lot of effort has been made to create a rapport with the local community, allowing a symbiotic relationship in what might otherwise be an awkward juxtaposition of cultural extremes.
A good indicator of this seems to be the way local children feel at ease to enter the gallery, investigate the work, and at times get involved. “We work here y’ know”, I was told very convincingly by two eight year olds, as they pointed out various aspects of the work from their perspective, a refreshing change from the “walking on eggshells” feel of many galleries.
There is much about this exhibition that appeals to children, touchy feely sculptures, tanks of steaming water, theatrical sets. Using a variety of approaches the artists have plundered their surrounding culture, probing the nature of “Scottish-ness” and what it is to be an artist. The works often show a preoccupation with the processes of change and the knowledge that sometimes in order to move forward it is helpful to look to the past.
In the installation “When It’s Frosty He likes To Lick Lamposts”, Emma Pratt has created a series of small scale sculptural scenarios using a combination of materials, cast bronze, wood, and plaster to create hybrid forms and three dimensional collage. Hanging sheets of vegetable fat are carved up like precooked strudel or pushed through a garlic press to create texture (think 1960’s bathing hats). These are augmented with areas of pink and blue food dye and drawn figures added into the equation in a variety of neurotic poses, with something of a “Man about the House” feel to them.
Leon Hill uses a series of microphones, speakers, fibre optics and heat sensors to create a self-analyzing system, a tank for Frankenstein’s monster, without the monster, generating a steamy atmosphere, and an intriguing smokescreen of condensation on the windows.
Miranda Blennerhassett works directly onto the walls and floor of the gallery in grey and white paint to mirror the dimensions of the gallery space. She plays with light, shadows and reflections, and the juxtaposition of the outline of an exterior tree with more contrived interior design motifs.
In the other half of the gallery Joe Reeves has built an installation “I Love D.I.Y.” which exhibits the detritus of its construction and whose only function is to house the plans and drawings that went into the development of this construction. Fair enough.
In her video work “The Weavers” Mairi Lafferty uses two views of a female dancer to interpret the thrashing rhythm of a weavers loom. Stuart McCaffer has constructed a fireside scenario that mocks the ubiquitous “Monarch Of the Glen” image, using overused and clichéd symbols of a dusty biscuit-tin Scottish-ness that only remain for the benefit of the tourist industry.
These artists are linked by a need to place themselves within and make sense of a fast changing culture, investigating themes and ideas that are personal yet universal, relevant to us all. They too might feel the anxiety and confusion of ‘The Graduate’s’ Benjamin Braddock, trying to see where they fit in to the grand scheme of things. Ironically, despite gaining in maturity as an organisation, Market also finds itself in a continuing state of insecurity, lacking any core funding from the SAC. Nevertheless, the liveliness and diversity of its current exhibition programme is testament to the energy and perseverance of those involved, helping to create an ongoing dialogue and dynamic within this part of the city.
Coo coo ca-choo, Market Gallery
Heaven holds a place for those who pray,
hey hey hey, hey hey hey !
Janie Nicoll a-n Magazine, March 2005
Review a-n Magazine, (June Issue) 2006
“Opportunities For Girls”
Karla Black at Mary Mary, Glasgow
In this the opening exhibition at the impressive new Mary Mary gallery, Karla Black has created three new works, made in direct response to the gallery space. The first is a human-scale amorphous shape, a free-standing draped and painted cardboard structure; the second is a paper construction, suspended on thin ribbons like a hammock, containing powder and precariously balanced broken glass. The third work is a large rectangular layer of powder covering the gallery floor, emulating the dimensions of and filling the room. There is evidence of small scale interventions, areas have been patted down or rearranged, things have been embedded in the plaster, chunks of make-up have been thrown, and there are various blobs and stains of colour.
Contained within all these works are a whole range of materials not generally associated with sculptural practise, face powder, Vaseline, toilet paper, concealer stick, hair gel, nail varnish, are mixed together with more recognizable materials such as paper, paint, and plaster. There is an element of fragility about each of these works, together with a subtle use of colour, in the form of skin tones and pastel shades.
Messy girlie stuff has been going on. It seems that various ambiguous physical acts have taken place and there is the overriding sense of a performance we have missed. We are also very aware of the restraints placed on the viewer by the delicate nature of the work - like the desire to step onto an untouched carpet of snow, but within this gallery context, we know that would be wrong…. It is this push and pull inside the head of the viewer that illustrates Black’s interest in psychoanalysis and this investigative dimension is ultimately a major part of the work.
Black is interested in our human response to mess, waste and unformed matter, and how this creates a dialogue for the viewer. Her work seems to playfully allude to bad behaviour, allowing a pseudo-voyeuristic window into the intimacies of someone-else’s life. As we are bombarded by the superficial façade that is the celebrity lifestyle, the rock and roll lifestyle, or the supposed glamour of the art-world, we are also increasingly more cynical to the opposite side of that glamour – what goes on behind the scenes, the mucky side, the down side. There are certain things in life that are great levelers and maybe we are all pretty much the same in front of our bathroom mirrors.
It is the small yet subtle subversions and the scope to allow freedom of the imagination, that makes this work intriguing. Karla Black’s work is the antithesis of the macho posturings of so much art that has gone before. She is well aware of where her work sits within the art historical context of feminist performance and movements like Abstract Expressionism or Land Art. She deals unashamedly with the detritus of female routines, where flimsiness and delicateness are deliberately made a feature of, pre-empting what might previously have encouraged criticism.
Now fortunately we seem to have come full circle, where male and female artists can relax in the knowledge that there is credibility to be gained in exploring the subjective and even the feminine, and hopefully there are indeed more opportunities for girls.
Janie Nicoll, a-n Magazine Reviews, June 2006.
Mark Neville: The Jump Films 20 April – 3 June 2006
Review a-n Magazine, (July Issue 2006) “Mark Neville”, Street Level Gallery, Glasgow
Mark Neville is currently making waves as a result of a residency recently undertaken at Port Glasgow, where he spent a year documenting different aspects of life in this post-industrial West Coast town. Faced with the usual cultural dilemma of creating an artwork that was both valid and worthwhile, he produced a coffee-table-style hardback book of eighty documentary photographs. This publication was never intended to be for sale, instead the books were delivered free of charge to every household in the town, thereby redistributing his images back to the people involved in their creation. His artwork became an active subversion of the usual documentary approach to photography.
In this show Neville exhibits The Jump Films, made during the 1990s and shown for the first time in the UK. Three looped 16mm films show the artist jumping or falling in different locations, at different speeds and with ambiguous meanings. He has filmed these events with a high-speed camera, usually used for scientific research, with the result that a few seconds of footage unfolds over several minutes, leaving us overwhelmed by the passage of time and the painterly effects of the medium.
The viewer is immediately hit by the physicality of the work: the projectors are very much part of the spectacle; their whirring, creaking and clanking reminds us of the reassuringly satisfying nature of cine-film. The scratches and blotches on the film signify the preciousness of the medium and its finite lifespan. We are made aware of how we have been seduced by the slickness of digital media, and the realisation that maybe we are missing something despite the progress of technology. Sometimes that slickness equates with an insidious dulling down, and maybe a rougher low-tech approach can throw up something a bit more raw, a bit more special.
These works aim to document a scientifically unquantifiable event, and also investigate the mythology of supposedly heroic male performance artists of the 1960s and 70s; in fact one of these films is the restaging of a performance by Dutch artist Bas Yan Ader from 1970. Like many of these early actions, Neville’s main concern was in “finding a voice to express a kind of repositioning of the body”. He is interested in the way early performance works are now only accessible through documentary photographs, and also in the way that artworks are disseminated and have influence over time: as certain works are rediscovered and re-contextualised, others might seem to be less seminal or influential.
The strength of this exhibition lies in not just the mesmerising and lyrical nature of the work and its presentation, but also that it combines these more serious undercurrents. For Neville, photography is crucial as a democratic mediator between event and audience. This down-to-earth approach to the distribution and availability of the artwork and its relation to the art world as well as to wider society, is as important an issue within these earlier works as it is within the context of the Port Glasgow project.
Janie Nicoll, a-n Magazine Reviews, July 2006.
'PWDRE SER' by WIDOWS (Jim Colquhoun & Jamie McNeill)
“Widows are doing it for themselves”
‘PWDRE SER’ by WIDOWS (Jim Colquhoun & Jamie McNeill) featuring a one–off performance of “pissing on mirrors” Hamshandy Hall, Glasgow 20 - 23 December 2008
On a rainy December night in a flat in the West-end of Glasgow, Widows aka Jamie McNeil and Jim Colquhoun, presented a collaborative exhibition involving drawing, installation, performance, sound-works and text. This was a flat show in Jim Colquhoun’s new apartment, where he has recently moved with his daughter. Rooms have been cleared and display tables have been assembled with handmade books and catalogues for sale.
The drawings in the show contain amorphous cutting and pasting, fragments enlarged and bloated up. The bigger images have large gobs of dough thrown at them in what seems to have been an irascible irreverent assault. Some of the small drawings in the show are the apparent contents of sketchbooks, fragments of visceral thoughts, incoherent ponderings. In another part of the room “Witch bottles” stoppered by more lumps of dough, overlook an assembled jumble of wires, amps, microphones and assorted sound equipment, plenty of knobs to twiddle. More irreverence appears in the display of a drawing in the altar-like fireplace taking the shape of male piss against a wall.
“Lovecraftian horror, entropic landscapes, sonic topographies, asemic drawing and apophenic disarticulation.” Even in the ‘press release’ there is tongue-in-cheek impertinence, a grandiose appropriation of verbose language, which seems to cock-a-snoot at the usual promotional hoops that need to be jumped. The show resonates with a spontaneity of execution, arrangement and hanging that adds to the feeling of freedom, unshackled by the constraints of any art-world hierarchies, just the raw unfettered intention of ‘doing it for yourself’.
The opening showcased the sound performance “Pissing On Mirrors”, which involved both artists and Jim’s daughter Una in the creation of a spontaneous sonic cacophony using hand held microphones, transformed through Jamie’s mixing desk and sound gear. This related to previous performances but had a further dimension added through the domestic nature of the event, its intimacy and the inclusion of a six-year old child. Una’s obvious unselfconscious enjoyment of the experience at a fundamental and primal level, obviously uninhibited by any art preconceptions, gave this performance a genuine quality and raw power that many art performances lose, through the esoteric self-consciousness of this type of event. The spontaneous and feral nature of the performance was something to revel in, making it ultimately unique and probably difficult to recreate anywhere else.
Throughout the exhibition there is a constant referencing of the shortcomings of maleness, refracted through a feral kaleidoscope. Carnal instincts, masturbatory urges, animal actions, pissing and ejaculations, are given an extraterrestrial slant by the reference to “the rot of the stars” the Welsh translation of the exhibition title or “God’s spunk” as Widows would rather believe. All are thrown into mischievously sharp contrast by the inclusion of Una, during the performance.
Glasgow has a long history of flat shows, too many to attempt to mention here, all with different approaches, intensions and agendas; from Cathy Wilkes, ‘Dalriada’ in a St Vincent Cresent tower block; David Wilkinson and Charles Esche’s “Wish You Were Here Too” in a Hill Street tenament; “Pretty Vacant” a one off exhibition in an empty flat in Great Western Road; the pre-gallery flat shows of Switchspace, which became the commercial venture Sorcha Dallas; ‘Washington Garcia’ in the Southside; ‘Flat 0/1’ in the Westend; Alhena Katsof’s ‘A. Vermin’; to the recent high profile use of Douglas Gordon’s three story townhouse for The Common Guild events. Maybe it’s the genuine and spontaneous use of domestic spaces that work best, those that deal with a raw sense of urgency to just get the work on the walls, to show work that might not fit into the polished grooves of the recognized gallery spaces elsewhere in the city.
Whether this was a one-off event or the first of a series of shows remains to be seen, but one thing that’s for sure is that there will be other eruptions, unpredictable, short-lived, erratic, spontaneous. A blink and you’ll miss it, finger-on-the-pulse barometer of the creative energy that continues to bubble under the surface, fuelling and invigorating Glasgow’s arts-cene.
www.variant.org.uk (Variant 3 Summer 1997)
‘Your Place or Mine’ - John Beagles, Martin Vincent, Andrew Brook, Janie Nicoll, David Wilkinson.
a-n Magazine (June 2010 Issue) News feature, “AAH10”
I attended AAH10, the 36th Annual Conference and Bookfair of the Association of Art Historians hosted by Glasgow University on 15th –17th April 2010, which coincided with the launch of GI Festival and also the chaos that ensued from the volcanic ash disruptions.
The conference is a mind-bogglingly vast academic event, with more than 300 presentations grouped into over 30 sessions. Each session could have made for a conference in itself, and the range of subjects covered reflects the current breadth of Art History as a discipline. I attended The Rules of Collective Art: Social Engagement and Collaboration in Contemporary Art, hosted by Robin Baillie, Head of Education Outreach at National Galleries and Ken Neil, of GSA.
Sophie Hope began the session with an outline of her investigation into ‘socially engaged’ projects and what she regards as the lost legacy of cultural democracy. She described her projects “The Reservation’ and “Critical Friends”, finishing with an “Open letter“ to fellow practitioners.
Anthony Downey, of Sotheby’s Institute of Art presentation was concerned with the ethics of collaborative practice citing the works of Artur Zmijewski “Repetition” a reworking of the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment 2005 and “80064” where an Auschwitz survivor has his camp number tattoo “refreshed”, amongst others.
Leigh French read the presentation of Kirsten Forkert, who had unfortunately been stranded in London due to travel restrictions. Her presentation discussed The Deptford Project, the neo liberal definition of creativity, re-branding regeneration and gentrification that often results, and the fundamentally therapeutic role of ‘cultural activity with expectations’. Stefanie Tan, a research student at Glasgow School of Art outlined projects she had been undertaking in Scotland and the different approaches surrounding creative collectives seen as a desire to resurrect a convivial society. Alana Jelinek’s presentation “Activism: Stretching the Definition of Art’ explored the problems surrounding politically motivated or activist art, and different activist strategies within socially engaged art. Royce Smith discussed the differing nature of various Biennales, citing examples from Istanbul 2009; Sao Paulo 2008; the Biennale of the End of the World, Argentina; The Sidney Biennale; the Roaming Biennale of Tehran, and the Johannesburg Biennale, while outlining the need for artists and curators to engage with communities, audiences, as well as their locality, for them to work successfully. Cliff Lauson of Hayward Gallery, explored the current shift in pedagogical orientation of many socially engaged and collective practises through discussion groups, participatory workshops and free universities.
Throughout the day there were interesting question and answer sessions and varied discussion from a variety of perspectives on the nature of relational practices, on engagement and evaluation. Certain names recurred throughout the different presentations, Claire Bishop, Ivan Illich, Martha Rosler, Jacques Rancière, Nicolas Bourriaud, Pierre Bourdieu, giving plenty of food for thought. At least three of the presentations were given by practising artists, giving a refreshingly “straight from the horses mouth” feel to what might otherwise have seemed like a more academic exercise.
The discussion seemed to highlight frustrations with the teaching of art within mainstream education, and with learning structures in general, how this gap affects art’s perception within society and the practicalities encountered by practising artists within this inevitably challenging field.
It is interesting that these are echoes of very similar discussions I experienced while attending the Praktika Socially Engaged Art Practice seminar, hosted by Deveron Arts, Huntly, Aberdeenshire, in March 2008. Although discussed exclusively from a practitioner’s point of view, these same issues, frustrations and concerns appeared to be paramount.
The AAH session ended somewhat fittingly with a quote from Rosalind Krauss
“Its not about what art knows, but what art does.”
“Spontaneous Combustion” Renfrew St Social Club - Bobby Niven, Friday 5th October, Lowsalt Gallery, Glasgow.
Review a-n Interface, Renfrew Street Social Club, October 2009.
Imagine a gallery where something fresh and spontaneous happens every week, where you can come along, take part and feel involved; a gallery with an “anything goes” approach, where things happen in an apparently ad-hoc and completely unpredictable manner. Lowsalt Gallery, just down the road from the Glasgow School of Art, is currently managing to achieve this, proving to be the most vital spark in an already lively art scene. Taking over from where the now legendary “Chateau” left off, and showing up most other galleries in the city, Lowsalt’s policy is to focus on creativity and experimentation across art forms.
The current series of short lived events, over two or three days every weekend, has included “Walls” – an impromptu DIY print-workshop, with a musical theme and a “Draw or Die” drawing ‘free-for-all’ challenge event. Still to come are a show of drawings sculpture and installations by Alex Gross and Stephen Murray‘: “The Consequence” video screenings of cutting edge international video works; and “Tut Vu Vu,” an art music crossover event, illustrating the current crosspollination between the thriving Glasgow music and art scenes.
Most striking, quite literally, was the explosive event last weekend of “Bobby Niven’s Renfrew Street Social Club” which took the form of a social event complete with music provided by a local busker, real ale, and an unsuspecting public… Mid way through the proceedings the crowd was evacuated out of the bothy like club area, and a large pineapple sculpture made of silver spoons was subjected to a controlled explosion, leaving a room full of smoke and relative mayhem. The involvement of trained experts made this a far safer event than it actually sounds (“Please, don’t try this at home“), and the video footage remained in the gallery as evidence of this “Art Happening”. The results are another feather in the cap for Lowsalt Gallery, and another artist enabled to try out something fairly outrageous.
One of the trickier aspects of keeping up with what’s fresh and exciting in the grassroots art scenes in any city, is the fact that often by the time people hear about temporary and spontaneous events they are already over, burnt out due to organisers running out of steam, one way or another… Fortunately for Glasgow, Lowsalt is giving a home, even if its just a semi-permanent one, to the energy, enthusiasm and ideas of the many active artists who may not otherwise get a look-in at the majority of other galleries in the city. This kind of open-minded approach is resulting in a vibrant and lively programme of events that will no doubt be legendary further down the line. Catch it while you can!!!
Article a-n Magazine, (Feb. Issue) Import/ Export NAN event.
I was asked to write this article from the perspective of being a “NAN Veteran” having been on three of the NAN weekend trips: to Liverpool Biennial (October 2004), to Bristol and Cardiff for Quo Vadis (November 2004) and most recently to Newcastle for “Import/ Export” and also having dipped into a more local version at the Glasgow end of the Edinburgh-Glasgow weekend (July 2005).
All of these weekends have had different agendas and objectives, yet all have been linked by a desire to open up the perspectives afforded by cities whose art scenes, continue to mutate and evolve, survive and thrive within these key locations. It has been a chance to observe the different dynamics of these scenes in conjunction with the connections of wider networks created from a national and international perspective.
In the midst of all this the NAN events have given an overview, and acted as a catalyst to allow groups and individuals to see themselves within a wider context, highlighting the similarities and also the differences between locations and organisations. For me personally it has been a chance to experience these cities, in a concentrated way, to be immersed in their visual culture in a way that could not be achieved independently, even as the most conscientious of tourists. Attending these events has given me a new perspective on my own situation, allowing me to see my own practise and the city in which I live, with the fresh outlook afforded by distance.
A refreshing element of these weekends has been the organic nature of that networking, the chance for random overlaps, bumping into people from other events, meeting old friends, putting names to faces. It seems to be the possibilities arising through human contact, from arbitrary conversations, that are somehow the most significant. There is the appeal of opportunities handed out on sheets of paper, which you might never have noticed in the listings, or never have considered applying for without having met and seen the sincerity of the organiser. Making new links with people and artists groups, getting on mailing lists, having an idea of the size, scale and slant of an organisation or art gallery are all crucial factors in placing yourself and finding where your work or ideas could go.
As I look back over the past year, at the NAN events straddling many miles, many exhibitions, many presentations, there is an overriding impression of pockets of activity, of artists working hard to make things work for them in their area. There is a sense of common purpose or a purpose in common or as common as it can be between disparate elements, of people coming from different areas, ages, backgrounds, and experiences, with different approaches to what constitutes art practise and creativity. What that purpose is can sometimes seem vague; maybe it’s a rejection of seemingly normal aspirations, the nine to five, the humdrum. Maybe it’s the determination to “keep on keeping on”, and the importance of being open to possibilities. If the opportunities aren’t already there, then there is a willingness to go out and make them happen.
In this way artists are rejecting what has been ‘the norm’ for artists in the form of the prescribed residencies, commissions, and opportunities that are seen as steps up the career ladder. These are consistently being bypassed by artists keen to create opportunities that fit their own needs and interests rather than fitting in with those of someone else. It is encouraging to see this scenario occurring over and over again throughout the country. As so called ‘artists run spaces’ inevitably become the new establishment, little more than Arts Council funded gang-huts, and less and less accessible to those not already ensconced. It is refreshing that in their wake, pockets of activity spring up like mushrooms, giving vitality and vibrancy by filling in the gaps, maintaining a level of spontaneity unachievable by established organisations. In Glasgow, where I live, the grassroots scene is constantly changing and buzzing with the energy that this kind of freedom allows, throwing up initiatives like EmergeD, Cabin Exchange, Something Haptic, The Chateau, building on earlier artist run initiatives like Transmission, Dalriada, Switchspace and countless others. Each wave ultimately allows new voices a chance to be heard and without these often barely funded eruptions the art scene of this city, like anywhere else, would seem a far duller place.
An unexpected constituent of these weekends away has been the chance to connect with people from my own area, as ultimately, sharing the journey and the adventure creates its own resonances. It’s ironic perhaps, that you can travel several hundred miles, and get to know someone who lives in the next street or get a perspective on an organisation operating in your own backyard. And this might be one of the main strengths of the NAN initiative, that of the trickle down effect, creating a myriad of subtle yet far-reaching repercussions at a personal level, impossible to evaluate or quantify, but which probably have the longest lasting and most valuable impact.