Sunday 15 September 2013

A Conversation Between Archive Volunteers

The Glasgow Miracle Project has sadly come to an end. To mark the occasion during our last meeting I recorded a discussion with the other volunteers and coordinator from the project about the roles we each undertook and our experience of volunteering.

Speakers in order of appearance;

  • Jocelyn Grant: Archive Assistant responsible for cataloguing the Cordelia Oliver and George Oliver Archives. Provides the introduction to the session.
  • Carrie Skinner: The Project Coordinator
  • Nicola Stapinski: Project Archive Assistant with the CCA Films
  • Annie Crabtree: Ross Sinclair's Video Editor and Archive Assistant for the Glasgow Miracle Interviews
  • Cedric Tai: Research Volunteer for Third Eye Archive.
  • Nick Thomas: Research Volunteer for Third Eye Archive. Primarily the Moving Image Archive.
  • Collette Rayner: Project Archive Assistant with the CCA Films. Unfortunately unable to attend.

This recording is a free-flowing discussion around each volunteer's experience of this project; some interesting issues surrounding the ethics of volunteering; the realities of archiving practise and the differences in each role.

The Glasgow Miracle - Volunteer Discussion

Thursday 25 July 2013

Materials for Alternative Histories: Between Artists and Institutions

In some ways my first blog article, at the end of what is being coined the beginning of the archive project, tries to express a response or a hope to continue some of the conversations started in the blog so far and beyond that to reflect on the various talks and discussion the miracle project has thrown up. I am writing looking back over the project guided only by my personal interests in a similar way to researching the archive itself where, like the artists engaged in the exhibition at the CCA on its contents, I was invited to try and live in the chaos of the archive and to find a route through it, almost randomly, following interests where they appear as the blog seems to show my fellow researchers have also done.

Giving up?

As part of a series of talks called Giving Up The Archive Dominic Paterson introduced the project as an attempt to stay with the ‘chaos of memories’ rather than to be in possession of a body of documents. The title of the archive day held in London last month suggests this opposition to the idea of ownership that in many ways could be seen as part of what an archive is. Jacques Derrida describes the archive as both a location and a commandment, being from a Greek word used to describe the house of residence for archons who guard the documents, which, in turn, allows them to make commandments. Later on in the day Gerald Byrne also talked about ‘the capacity of text to lay claims on the world’ in relation to playboy among other things and his interest in antagonizing texts and introducing an element of instability into institutions. These associations of location and ownership that Cedric’s previous blog description also hits on so well seem a long way from the denial of ownership that the title Giving Up seems to evoke. How can giving up be reconciled with a sense that this research is just a beginning? Maybe by doing what the archive project seems to try and do which is to remember the term commencement, a double and contradictory meaning for archive, one of a ‘series of cleavages’ Derrida notes in Archive Fever. It is in commencement, this hope for and projection into the future that the archive works against itself as it remains open despite its other impulse to order and gather everything together into a unity with clear boundaries. This contradiction at the heart of archive reminds me of another that Slavoj Žižek sees in the term politics which can be split into ‘polis’, policing of boundaries and the action of ‘politics proper’, to represent missing voices. Where the archive is open, looking backwards is linked to future possibilities and in this way it seems to me to have similar politics to a manifesto which makes strategic use of the past to compel new forms in the future.

Materials for Alternative Histories

As this part of the title possibly predicts, the project has tried to acknowledge dissent from its opening chapter hopefully in a nod to the politics of missing voices. The first step in that came with Ross Sinclair’s artist interview series that could be seen to run counter to the institutional story that Cedric writes of as ‘locating the Third Eye at the heart of the Miracle story’. When Sinclair spoke of his research, which set out to work against the neat unity of sound bites through a long, loosely edited interview approach, he acknowledged a deconstruction from within described by Douglas Gordon’s process of turning the interview round to face him with the proposal that the interviews themselves were a form of self-portrait. Taking this on board Sinclair’s self conception seems to be tied up with a particular conception of an artistic community.  If it is a self-portrait I would argue it could be placed in and extend the category of social sculpture that Nick traces back to Joseph Beuys in his article on the blurred distinctions between art and society that existed in the early days of the Third Eye. What Sinclair and archive volunteer, Annie Crabtree, do in the selection of material presented at the archive conference is chart the path of the word ‘Glasgow Miracle’ from what it is implicitly associated with now – commercial and professional success within an artworld elite, a list of names and prizewinners, back to its mythical origin in the story of Hans Ulrich Obrist’s short visit to Glasgow that is extended by the persistence of a community of generosity. In a nutshell what the international curator meets in Glasgow is a sea of artists keen not to aggressively self promote but to take him round and show him other peoples work. In this light the interviews seem to be more like an anti self-portrait, telling the story of a refusal to self represent from so many different angles, that it is finally impossible to trace its origin back to any individual. It also seems close to the Social Sculpture that Sarah Lowndes book offered initially as another alternative history. By speaking as a we rather than an I this portrait begins to sound a bit like a manifesto, the missing voice of the Glasgow miracle that is not only a loud shout but an extended listening exercise that wants to do more than search for an extractable miracle formula.

What Sinclair describes in one way is similar to what artist Marysia Lewandowska sees in the world of intellectual property and copy right as a necessary paradigm shift that would involve a leap of faith; from a culture of permission to one of acknowledgement. The permission paradigm seems neatly encapsulated in her description of a recent collaborative project that looked to document one chapter in conceptual artist Michael Asher’s long engagement with institutional critique, to be what Bryne might term the unstable element. The documentation process involved engagement with two archives in order to trace a conversation between artist and a particular museum. What she was faced with however was a withdrawal of permission not from the museum archive but from Asher’s own archive. Lewandonska sees this as a fundamental part of the day-to-day practice of archives: to guard the borders and not let the public location become a ground for personal quests. In a panel discussion afterwards Francis Mckee diagnoses this as a kind of entropy in institutions towards management systems with the ideal situation for the smooth running of an institution being one without those unstable elements called people. Lewandonska’s personal quest ended with the production of the work Undoing Property a one sided correspondence that documents a failure of permission and takes its form from imitation of a library book – something Lewandonska poignantly states could soon be a thing of the past.

Do we have a model for a shift from property and permission to something more radical? Libraries could be seen as a half step in their interesting interpretation of this term location. Artifacts in a library both have a place and continuously risk loosing it by sending trails out into the world. This risk is built into the function of a library just as commencement is a part of the word archive. The risk in acknowledging this side of archives is to its own form and survival. The benefit is in becoming another model for a new paradigm: a place of radical generosity that has room for alternative futures.

The content of this article is indebted to artists Dominic Paterson, Gerald Byrne, Ross Sinclair, Douglas Gordon, Joseph Beuys, Marysia Lewandonska, Michael Asher and archivists Cedric Tai, Nick Thomas, Annie Crabtree, Carrie Skinner and Francis Mckee. As well as library books by Jacques Derrida, Slavoj Žižek and Sarah Lowndes.  

Wednesday 10 July 2013

What matter location?

In one of my previous posts I was interested in finding out how much the Third Eye Centre was trying to reach out to other countries. Tom McGrath stated that "As far as possible, within the scope of its budget, the centre will try to bring creative people to Glasgow from other parts of the world, so that everyone in the city, but particularly the artists, can have a direct experience of what is happening elsewhere."

This is a photo of some of the original folder labels containing outreach to other countries and international artists.
Correspondence from Bridget Brown, Exhibitions Officer courtesy of the CCA/Third Eye Centre Archives
Third page of correspondence from Bridget Brown, Exhibitions Officer courtesy of the CCA/Third Eye Centre Archives
This represents a series of proposals that would have set a very high standard for organizations working internationally, but it only exists as a unfinished project in an archive, a letter from one woman to another. Two years later, the Iran that Bridget Brown is addressing no longer exists.

These folders with international ambitions stick out, as I am one of many graduate students who would have stayed in Glasgow longer if the UK visa situation had not changed. The concept of location becomes more apparently strategic as it means that establishing oneself here, or not here, will look different as it will inherently be different. Will this affect the decisions of students who are considering whether to come to study here or not, will this create a new generation of de-centralized Glasgow-based artists?

--- --- ---

The culture of searching or locating has continually changed throughout this project. What was once one box after another resurfacing out of the Mitchell Library and out of private homes is now a group effort of precise cataloging, and the careful choice of key words to aid retrieval.

The etymology of "locate" is to establish oneself in a place, or to settle. There is an attempt to locate the Third Eye Centre at the core of a story, the Glasgow Miracle, but there is also a real need to establish the archive itself as something that can provide a service for the future which requires that it itself must be established, practically institutionalised.

What is it about the way the public can locate something that creates a feeling of ownership? One of the largest uses of archives in Scotland is to locate one's genealogy, and in turn it connects people to a place they never even grew up in. There are about 5 million Scots in Scotland and about 30 million scots scattered across the globe. People will travel thousands of miles to search an archive for a name and it gives hope that feeling connected to a particular culture can also be backed up by something tangible.

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Location is also pertinent to the concept of accessibility. David Buri, the Academic Liaison Librarian at the Glasgow School of Art recently sat down with the archive volunteers and described how the history of making something easy to locate is rife with politics, especially because the usual way to begin organising an archive is to defer to the most authoritative institution. But what we're finding is that the only way to really go is to create bespoke navigation that will bring up the most appropriate results. It's not about efficiency, it's about being realistic about what the archive can and can't provide. He gave great anecdotes including one in particular about Glasgow University having a well thought out Scottish literature section contrasting the Library of Congress considering to demolish Scottish literature as a genre to be subsumed into the English literature section.

In 2007 Liz Lochhead had an impassioned response: "It just seems crazy that they have assumed English means British. It is a huge piece of cultural imperialism. It must be out of ignorance, which is appalling in this day and age... The point is America is the most culturally powerful country in the world and it is hugely damaging not just to Scots but to Welsh and Northern Irish writers... Can they claim Mark Twain is an English author? Of course not."

He then transitioned to describing the difficulty of making something "easy to find" which is a very strange concept involving imagining not only how people search, but what would be useful for them to stumble upon, where just noticing the presence of a particular topic could create a far more worthwhile journey.

The way I have thought of creating blog posts is to randomly select a box and to use that scrap of information to gather how much more there is to know about Glasgow. It feels a little bit like I'm a secret shopper that is meant to test the system that's in place. It's not necessarily bad or good when you are that person that helps a library realise that a book is missing. Of course it's bad for you because now you have the disappointment of knowing that at one time you could've had the information at your fingertips, but it's good because up until that point no one knew that it was even missing.

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What this archive may want to embark upon is a thorough interactive investigation into what is missing by bringing together a diverse range of participants, (thankfully there is probably more than enough locals who just by memory can create a bigger picture). But beyond those who were once involved with the Third Eye Centre, what is also necessary is this concept of ownership for everyone else. It's a great start to suggest the possibility of establishing 'alternative histories', but just as the archive volunteers are creating a unique set of search terms and metadata, we need to be able to feel like we can approach the archive on our own terms. Then location of the user doesn't matter, nor the location of the materials. What matters is that a curiosity-based culture of accessibility creates a fulfilling level of engagement. Learning how to create access for others is unique skill set, but also having an actually accessible archive helps others to dream about what other access one can gain (that doesn't require being of a certain social class to know how to navigate all of it). It creates demands such as governmental transparency, it demands a nuanced understanding of history, and it demands that we never take ourselves too seriously as we will be humbled recognising the forward-thinking long-term ambitions of those in the past.

I get a sense that Glasgow is very supportive of artists creating their own forms of research and this sense of empowerment is something that I will take with me wherever I go from here.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Finding and forming questions about the Third Eye Centre Archives

In the Third Eye Archives, filed alongside lighthearted correspondence with Glen Baxter from 1981, there are a series of questions. Possibly these were meant for educational purposes when students would come to see Glen Baxter's show, but it also appears that it was meant to help people compare the work to an exhibition going on at the same time, Michael Kenny's work. One of the best aspects of this archive is to peer into how the educational programming of the Third Eye would have developed and used prompts such as these for the public or school groups.

Glen Baxter's exhibition contained 49 framed works, and a box of publications with a framed selection of postcards.
(Image courtesy of the CCA and the Third Eye Centre Archives)

"This first set of questions are about techniques of drawing. Write about these first, then write about the general questions on the next sheet. Base your answers in this set on no more than two or three drawings by each artist.
  • Does the artist define objects and figures by drawing an outline? 
  • Does he use the same method to draw outlines as he does to draw in surfaces and details? 
  • How does the artist distinguish between parts of the picture inside outlines and outside outlines?
  • Does this involve describing surfaces? Is the texture of surfaces related to what is in the foreground and what is behind? 
  • Do lines appear flat, or do they move forward and back, in an illusion of space, like a perspective drawing?

    In this set, use points made on the first sheet, but not necessarily with reference to the same pictures.
  • Does the artist start with a title, or does he make the drawing then title it?
  • Is the drawing of something that you can recognise, if so what?
  • Does the artist make the pictures quickly or not?"
The last page has the most ambiguous questions that would require more than a basic knowledge of art, but perhaps more than just the prompts. It veers into some speculative territory that escalates quickly away from talking about things that the audience can see. It is in these last questions that I begin to wonder whether this was put together by an educator or if this was what questionnaires looked like before educational programming became closer tied to curriculums and objectives.
  • "Which artist enjoys his work most?
  • Which artist says the most? Is the work obvious, or does it have many meaning?
  • Which seems to you the most modern?"
As random juxtapositions occur all the time in an archive, there is another folder labeled "CRITICS". In this there is a guide to a conference in 1978 from the Institute of Contemporary Art in London filled with questions under the heading "THE STATE OF BRITISH ART: A DEBATE"

These are the questions that were addressed by a paper and a panel in the various sessions:

  • Is the crisis in contemporary British art caused by the disintegration of a 250 year old fine art tradition?
  • With the decline of the private art market and the rise of institutional patronage, will a new tradition emerge? If so, would it draw recruits from past sources and perpetuate conventional skills?
  • Do artists need to go to art school?
  • Does the history of art schools indicate that these have become centres of creativity enriching our culture? Or are they turning out graduates with doubtful qualifications, without the training or skills to communicate with people outside the professional art world?
  • Is there an international style in art and if so why? Whose interests does this serve: art institutions, dealers, artists or public?
  • Why do many third world artists imitate European and American modernism? Would 'national traditions' be preferable, and is there an Englishness to English art?
  • Is art unpopular or is popular art ignored? Many modernists think an artist should be independent of the demands of the general public, but is popular art necessarily conservative, necessarily bad or corrupt? 
  • Why do many critics of art's elitism express their ideas in complex language? How does the relationship between art and its audience shape art, art education and public art policies?
  • Have 'people' disappeared from contemporary art? What has happened to portrait painting? Who is 'entitled' to be depicted in art, and in what ways do sexual, racial, class and political stereotypes intervene in these depictions? 
  • Why does the practice of studying the nude continue, and is this only conceivable in a patriarchal society? 
  • Has the representation of people in art been doomed since the emergence of abstraction and the development of photography?"
These two documents are sets of questions that are meant to foster critical thinking and perhaps to engage an audience to create their own questions in tandem. These questions are rich time-capsules in how they create a summation of where we can mine for meaning. How are we meant to answer these questions? To reflect on as a lone audience member? As a community of artists? As academics?

Comparing the depth of inquiry I would like to propose some new questions that this archive brings to mind, perhaps it too will reveal the kind of meaning that is sought:

  • Is the Third Eye Centre (and the way it is used) different or radical from a traditional archive?
  • If so, is it sustainable or is it contingent on the passion of a person of influence?
  • Does maintaining an archives require striking a balance between accessibility, care taking, and social capital?
  • Besides the responsibility of researchers (such as regarding personal data concerning living individuals) is there a limit to how an archive becomes malleable for our own ends?
  • What is the skill set of the archivist? What remains when one leaves the tangible archive? Does it change the way that one experiences reality?

    And finally,
  • Are these questions best approached through personal first-hand experience with an eye on the future or are there more ideal formats for exploring these questions?

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Social Culture and Special Unit Sculpture

The Third Eye Centre functioned not only as a space for arts events and exhibitions, but was also engaged with social issues affecting Glasgow in the '70s and '80s, a concern that manifested itself in a close relationship with Barlinnie's Special Unit, an experimental piece of penal reform that encouraged rehabilitation through creativity. In addition to this, the centre played host to numerous talks that focussed on the social or political rather than the artistic. From the material contained within the archives, it seems that the community that surrounded the Third Eye had a radical politics that largely avoided compartmentalisation; through community arts, an inclusive atmosphere and events like the Special Unit exhibition. This group show featured work from many of Barlinnie artist-inmates, including well-known figures such as Jimmy Boyle and Hugh Collins.

One of the figures who emerges from the archive in the context of the Third Eye's socially engaged ethos is American community artist Beth Shadur. Recently, fellow researcher Caroline Gausden contacted Beth regarding her time in Glasgow, with the following response;

I had been doing community murals prior to coming to Scotland. When I was awarded a huge fellowship from Brown upon graduation in 1975, I wrote to Jimmy [Boyle] at the Special Unit about coming there to do a large mural project. We corresponded several times before I came. I was working briefly in Mexico to photo document the murals there, when I heard from him that I should plan to come that summer of 1976. We did a huge mural at the Special Unit that is now documented at the People’s Palace.
The Chicago-based artist also appears in several of the Portapak videotapes held within the archives, including this extract from footage of a talk by psychiatrist Maxwell Jones and subsequent discussion, where she espouses the case for professionals working to make their roles unnecessary:

In this footage, it seems we have an arts centre functioning as a democratic, open space - in opposition to the notion of a gallery as a cloistered, exclusive and elitist environment. On the European arts centre model Beth Shadur comments:

Third Eye Centre was radical in that it not only served an arts audience, but just regular people who came in off the street. That was what always fascinated me, because in the US, arts venues tend to be populated by those already interested in the arts. In Europe, arts venues seem to understand how to welcome everyone, so that people from different socio-economic classes come in to see art and have a coffee. That doesn’t happen so much in the states.

One of the events that sought to bring together the Third Eye's inclusive ethos and its work in various communities was the Special Unit exhibition, captured in the following film. It is an interesting piece of footage because it doubles as a kind of walk-through tour of the Third Eye, culminating in shots of the co-operatively run cafe where we see people queuing for their coffees:

Like much of the filmic material in the archive, the footage sits somewhere between documentation, experimentation and film. This is actually one of the most edited of any of the tapes and, unusually, has its own soundtrack. It's a great little piece of experimental film-making that really transforms the figurative sculptures into subjects, in a way reminiscent of Chris Marker and Alain Resnais' Les Statues Meurent Aussi (Statues Also Die). This 1953 film-essay critiqued the aestheticisation and commodification of African art by Western culture, Marker's camera imbuing the pieces with a feeling of humanity perhaps denied them by their confinement to museum cabinets.

Les Statues Meurent Aussi (1953)

The relationship between the Third Eye and the Special Unit bore strange fruit. Having been brought to Scotland by Edinburgh artist and gallerist Richard Demarco (co-founder with Tom McGrath of the Traverse Theatre ), self-styled shaman and conceptual artist Joseph Beuys found in the Special Unit an example of what he termed social sculpture. Beuys also had admirers among the inmates, as Beth Shadur describes:

Jimmy Boyle was friends with Tom McGrath and Joyce Laing before I got there. He had contacted Joseph Beuys too, upon seeing the work "I Love America and America Loves Me," telling Beuys that he, Jimmy, was the coyote. 

Indeed, in a letter to McGrath, Boyle - serving a life sentence and probably the Special Unit's most infamous inmate - asserted that the piece was the only piece of contemporary art with which he felt any affinity. In an ongoing friendship, Beuys was to stand in for Boyle at an opening that the latter was unable to attend due to his incarceration. The German artist even went on hunger strike in protest at the decision to move Boyle from the Special Unit to a normal prison - an action which became known as the Jimmy Boyle Days. This relationship, forged between two figures, both of whom have taken on somewhat mythical status, seems to typify the way in which the Third Eye was a node which fostered unusual relationships and through which distinctions between art and society at large became difficult to maintain. With the Third Eye Centre providing a model for arts centres in Glasgow and elsewhere, it may be worth questioning whether the current incarnations live up to this early promise. As Beth Shadur comments:  

Now, the idea of socially engaged art has taken off as if it is a new thing! Many of the community mural artists involved since the early 1970s would “laugh at this.” [...] It is really fashionable now to do socially engaged art and this type of work in many ways is the darling of the art world.

Courtesy the Richard Demarco Archives. Copyright Richard Demarco

The 1990 TSWA Four Cities Projects in Glasgow and the proposals that never materialised

It's been a while since I randomly picked out a box to pour through its contents and so this entry will be devoted to box TE/102 which includes the last content of the archives in 1990.

The box contains logistics and correspondence for proposals for the Glasgow side of the TSWA Four Cities Project, which is an apt subject for those students who are vying for spaces for a final degree show, and both the Glasgow International Festival and the Commonwealth Games are on many people's minds.

The archives provide a look at the volume of preparation and bureaucracy that goes into getting everything ready which rely on the proposals as a form of proof that the artist will be able to deliver, especially with a lot of money on the line and the declaration that the effort is meant to redefine public art as we know it.

The mockup for signs that would have been placed around works being installed.
(Images courtesy of the CCA and the Third Eye Centre Archives)

In a letter from Euan McArthur (the Glasgow Organizer) to Mr. McInnes (The Scottish Development Dept.)

"Before describing the proposals, however, I should explain that the TSWA Four Cities Project is a visual art project involving international and British artists, the largest of its kind held to date in the U.K., which wil be staged during September and October of this year. The four cities in question are Glasgow, Derry, Newcastle, and Plymouth. In each of these cities, several artists will make temporary works for specific non-gallery places, in response to social, cultural and historical factors as well as to the formal qualities of each..."
"The proposal for John St., has been received from the artist, Cildo Meireles. He wishes to construct a 'council house' within the precinct formed by the arches, essentially to bring 'the periphery' into the centre and to articulate the complex interconnections of poverty, wealth, power and responsibility, specifically focussed on issues of housing and planning in the city. The proposal does not involve touching the fabric of the buildings, but clearly, because in part the meaning of the work lies in the contrast between the architecture of the site and of the 'house', for the period of its installation it will affect how the listed buildings are seen."

(This work ended up being blocked and Cildo Meireles' response was then published as part of the catalog)

1. Invited to make a project in Glasgow by TSWA, I made a proposal for the space between the two arches on John Street between the City Chambers and the Burgh Court. I proposed to build a council house in this space. The project was concerned with the idea of centre and periphery, and with the idea of the model and multiplicity 
2. A few weeks before the project was due to be constructed, I was informed that Glasgow District Council had refused permission for its realisation. They did not explain why. 
3. As I knew their refusal was not motivated by aesthetic reasons, I then proposed a revised project. 
A very small model of the council house was to be suspended on a golden string. Its installation would cause no damage to the adjacent buildings. It would cause no obstruction to traffic or pedestrians. It presented no technical problems. At the same time, I suggested another site for the original project. The District Council refused both proposals. Again they did not explain why. 
4. So - 
It was not refused for aesthetic reasons.
It was not refused for budgetary reasons.
It was not refused for technical reasons.
It was refused for some other "obscure" reason. 
5. The function of a work of art is to cast some light on this kind of obscurity, to try and talk through this conspiracy of silence. 
I myself consider that censuring the word censorship is the strange way that Glasgow District Council found to celebrate the freedom of expression in the Cultural Capital of Europe 1990. 
- from Cildo Meireles, Sept 7th 1990 
This is a page listing all of the spaces that the Third Eye Centre had compiled to consider and gauge the plausibility of artists working with that site.
(Images courtesy of the CCA and the Third Eye Centre Archives)

Euan McArthur's original introductory letter continues

"In the case of the Kibble Palace, the artist Richard Wilson has made a proposal which involves constructing a metal and glass framework, similar in form to the structure of the Kibble Palace itself. It will be slightly curved, to play against the curve of the Palace itself and will span the space between the ground and the ceiling. It will be approximately 10ft. across at the base and about 12 to 18 inches deep, enclosing a hollow space. Where it touches the ceiling, the existing glass will be removed and new class, cut to fit the curve, will be fitted, the top remaining open to the outside atmosphere. The glazing bars of the Palace will not be touched. At ground level, it will penetrate the soil for about three feet. This will also be glazed and any pipes etc exposed will be enclosed within glass tubes. Thus, the structure will bring 'the outside', in the form of rain, condensation and perhaps lichen growth, into the controlled interior environment of the Palace, but without any contact between the two. Neither the building nor the collection will be exposed in any way. The structure will not rely on the Palace for support, but will be made self-supporting. The artist, who has long experience of similar projects, will reinstate the interior when the Project is finished."
Richard Wilson's project also was not realised:
"The location was on a pathway inside the Kibble Palace set between two plinthed sculptures called 'Australia' and 'New Zealand'... By resting onto and digging into the architecture and its foundations, where the building's industrial roots are exposed, the work would enlist the building as an active support rather than passive container. It was this aspect that perturbed representatives of the Conservation Section of GDC Planning Dept. Although the Curator of the gardens was keen to see the project proceed, and although technical drawings had been drawn up to the satisfaction of structural engineers, on 3 July 1990 the proposal was refused permission." - Richard Wilson 
Just the top page of Richard Wilson's proposal.
(Images courtesy of the CCA and the Third Eye Centre Archives)

The other artists whose works were realised include Stuart Brisley, Fischli and Weiss, Judith Barry, Rosemary Trockel, Kevin Rowbottom and JanetteEmery, whose work can all be found beautifully documented in the book New Works for Different Places, TSWA Four Cities Project: Derry, Glasgow, Newcastle, Plymouth produced after the project. This effort took place between the Glasgow Garden Festival and the City of Culture designation at a time where public art was being solicited to bring more attention to the city, but also being critiqued as needing to stake out it's own advancement beyond community art or activist art. It is particularly interesting how many of these proposals were formed compared to Ian Hamilton's  work. All of the artists were invited, they were proposed to fit the criteria of being temporary, they were submitted on time, with budgets, an initial explanation of why that particular site and various sketches.

To see how little information was sent by Finlay it is documented here:
(That site like many others, mistakenly says that the Third Eye Centre was renamed to be the CCA)

Other reactions were written at the time by Malcolm Dickson and Andrew Dixon:

As the tradition of submitting proposals continues, tip-toeing and crossing-fingers is still required for involving particularly unusual locations for conceptual works because there is no recourse if anyone in charge of a particular site doesn't find the work appropriate. The archives prove to be an interesting resource for reading unfiltered artist proposals, especially in the realm of experimental public work, and why they were selected or not. However, the actual matter of how to make every work a reality in its ultimate form would seem to be beyond the organisers, so too, it is beyond the archive.

Sunday 14 April 2013

The National Archives of Scotland

Recently our troop paid a visit to what is now known as the National Records of Scotland (NRS) in Edinburgh; I think ‘wow’, as a description, would be an understatement. First of all, what is the NRS?

The NRS is the result of a merger between the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) and the General Register Office of Scotland (GROS). The purpose of this body is to,

", preserve and make available the national archives of Scotland… to promote growth and maintenance of proper archive provision… and to lead development of archival practice in Scotland." (

Based on the tour and talk we received at the National Archives General Register House on Princes Street, the NRS does this and more. The facilities in this building appear to be vast and quite striking. To date, us volunteers and researchers have now visited a number of archives including the GMRC (please see the previous blogpost) and the Sound Screen Archive of Scotland. While both were fascinating in their goals and scope, I would say that the facility of the NRS is unique in its beauty.

Arriving at the General Register House we entered the back of the building by going through the Adam Dome, the perfect vision of record storage. It is a large circular room, roofed with a glass dome, and with walls completely covered in records. From here, there are several other adjoining rooms that hold ever more materials, as well as areas for people to conduct research. Holding historical records of businesses, states, families and more - with over 72kms of historical records - the archive is a popular spot for genealogists and certainly a good place to start if you want to trace your family tree. Touring the building, it is hard to comprehend the number of lives the NRS touches upon, particularly considering this is only one of several that they use!

Along with the tour, our group received a talk on the aims of the organisation and the life cycle of records (see Figure 1.).
Figure 1.

The process of creating records electronically was particularly interesting. Using a Canon 800II Microfilm Scanner and Oce TCS500 Wide-Format scanner and printer (for those interested in the technology behind this), the NRS have created custom booths where employees sit and scan a surprisingly large quantity of records. Although the goal is to eventually digitise everything, the Digital Imagining Unit's (DIU) approach is lovely and practical, working through records that are requested, alongside those that are most frequently used.

Three archives later (four, if I include the Glasgow School of Art archive), the one dominant feature of these properties that I am impressed with, is that there is no dominant feature. Most archives appear to be allocated a property, an empty space that happens to be available, and are left to try and adapt to this environment. The Glasgow School of Art archive is in the basement; the Sound Screen Archive of Scotland is situated in an old industrial estate; and the NRS is in a listed building, beautiful, but a hindrance for making any changes to the property. The GMRC appears to be unique, in that it was designed with the purpose of an archive facility in mind.