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.