In our tiny pond in Edinburgh today, beautiful..
Cape Verde is a country consisting of a group of about 10 islands 300 miles West of Senegal. Boa Vista is one of the less developed islands in the archipelago, but since 2007, when the runway was made large enough to take large passenger jets, a tourist industry has boomed on the island.
Nearly all the tourists stay in the 5 large all-inclusive international hotels, which means all their needs are catered for within the hotel and they have no need to visit Sal Rei, the only significant town on the island. This is problematic as people in town are seeking to make an income from the tourists, selling crafts and restaurant services, and yet despite the fact they see 1000’s of people arriving each week in jets passing overhead, only a tiny trickle come into town. A trader told me he had not had any customer come into his shop for 4 days and he did not know how he was going to pay his rent. Another told me of a pattern of restaurants which had opened, but without sufficient customers the food went bad and they went out of business. The result of this is traders who are hungry for business: tourists who do venture into town find the traders’ efforts to entice their custom an overwhelming nuisance or hassle, dissuading them from staying for long or encouraging others to come. This is a real shame as the Boavistans are friendly people and their shops have some nice crafts and souvenirs.
I had 3 nights in March staying in the Riu Karamboa Hotel on Boa Vista, just one week after completing the Easterhouse Wrap Exhibition. From Riu Karamboa Hotel on Boa Vista in the Cape Verde Islands it is 8.5kms (according to Google maps)to walk into Sal Rei, the main town.
Not far in terms of metric distance, but a very long way apart in all other respects. Knowing that the wool I had collected from Easterhouse was in the vicinity of eight to ten kilometres long, I wondered if it would stretch across this divide. In Easterhouse the line wool was used to define a border, but here it could bridge a gulf between two communities, and make a poetic connection.
I walked the distance, unrolling the ball of wool retrieved from Easterhouse in one continous unbroken line. It reached into the town square and 100m beyond, and the last section of the journy local children finished the task for me
The following day I collected all the wool back up, apart from the last few hundred metres which had already been turned into necklaces and bracelets!
This photograph is from an artwork called Easterhouse Wrap, made for Platform, a community arts centre in Easterhouse.
Easterhouse is on the eastern preimeter of Glasgow, the final bit of the city before you meet the countryside beyond. In fact it still was open countryside until the 1950’s when the city council bought the land and built a dense housing scheme, to rehouse people from the Gorbals area of Glasgow where the tenements were very dense, with huge overcrowding and poor sanitation. The new housing was a huge improvement on what people had left behind, but unfortunately it was built using high rise blocks without local schools, shops, or employment opportunities, and over the next two decades the name Easterhouse became synonymous with drug and alcohol addiction, violence and criminal gangs. At its peak over 55,000 people lived in the scheme but over the last 30 years a huge regeneration has taken place, the population is now only 25,000, many of the original housing blocks have been demolished and replaced with mixed housing and more facilities have been developed. There are still empty blocks waiting to be demolished, and challenges to be overcome, but it is no longer the ghetto of 30 years ago. Platform is a community arts venue located in the middle of Easterhouse, inside its award winning stunning building is a theatre, music recording studios, a dance studio, a library and a swimming pool. The light streams in from all directions, it is pretty amazing.
I am interested in the subject of borders, barriers and lines which divide. Last year I made work about the experiences of asylum seekers dispersed by the UK Border Agency to Glasgow, some of whom are located in hard to let housing in Easterhouse. I have also been approaching the subject of borders from a more conceptual angle, reading various works by Doreen Massey who has written about the impact of globalisation as well as about space, place and time. Alan Sekula and Ursula Biemann. have made art works investigating transit zones occupied by migrant workers as capitalism roams the world seeking out the cheapest employees to secure the maximum profit. After these investigations of how people can be washed up in the in-between ‘non-places’ of our globalised world, the strong identity of Easterhouse as a specific place in the global melee was what interested me. I wanted to explore ideas about home and belonging, versus territorialism. An extract from my submission to make work for Platform in November 2012 is included below:
Easterhouse: Space Place
On my two visits to Platform my observations were as follows:
-the social space within the building: the famous, the infamous, and the unknown from nearby Easterhouse and from far far away coming to use all that Platform offers. Families on a trip to the pool, pensioners and teenagers in the library, celebrities coming to the auditorium.
-the ebb and flow of people with Easterhouse: with motorway and railways close by, and airplanes passing overhead on their way to Glasgow Airport. First Choice has a superstore around the corner.
-the structure of the building, interconnecting ramps, and floors that are all open so that there is a three dimensional and open airy feel to the building, with height being as dominant a sense as left and right.
-the presence of the sky. Platform is not surrounded by high buildings, trees or hills, and with the extensive use of glass in walls and ceilings, there is a sense of the sky being present throughout the building.
In this outward looking approach Platform is reflecting the multiplicity of the modern world where supermarkets sell produce from all over the world to people of equally diverse origins. Easterhouse is a place where a Muslim girl might break her fast with her friends at the end of a day during Ramadan with a Pizza and a can of Irn Bru. In her essay ‘A Global Sense of Place’ Doreen Massey writes “it is a sense of place and understanding of ‘its character’, which can only be constructed by linking that place to places beyond. … What we need is a global sense of the local, a global sense of place.”
I would like to make a work for Platform that explores these issues. Placing Platform in Easterhouse as a launch site for a journey through the world, exploring the tensions between travelling in the mind whilst being still or moving over and around the planet, and looking for similarities and connections.
This project started with a series of interviews with people who lived and/or worked in Easterhouse, asking them about how they came to be here, and where else they had been in their lives. People all talked about the good to be found in local friendships and the strong sense of community they had. Everyone had come and gone to different places, and these journeys had affected them, but there was a clear sense of belonging that came through..
A: “Well, when I come in here I come in here for a new house. Our house was old and it was taken down so we got offered the house up here; and it was a brand new house that was built and I was up here for forty years…. and then that house come down. Took that building down as well…. and they were renovating all the places….. but I got another house in another area, away from here. But because I’d been used to here I come back for each morning, for Mass or the wee club, the likes of the club to-day.…..Yes, that’s the reason I come back, you know, and I wouldn’t like anybody to say I run it down. You know, there’s a lot happening in Easterhouse but…. there’s good and bad, you know.”
B: “I feel safe in Easterhouse. When I’m out at someone else’s, maybe late at night, I feel more safe in my own home territory, I’d never leave Easterhouse. But if I won the Pools, right enough, I’d be wanting abroad. But this is it, cos you know everywhere is bad. They’ve all got their bad things that you’re feart of, you read about that much in the news of people getting’ killed abroad, you know, right enough, so…. I feel safe in Easterhouse although it gets a bad name.
One of the strange things about Easterhouse, with its huge reputation, is that it is nowhere defined on a map. Greater Easterhouse appears, a district of relevance to the Glasgow City Council elections, but this includes a much larger area with other districts. It felt wrong that a place of such history and belonging should not be located on maps or on the ground. With the help of Pauls Marsden from Platform Arts who helped with pen and map, and with an enormous quantity of wool I set about putting this right. I walked the entire perimeter of Easterhouse, where the city meets the country, the motorway, the edge, and as I walked I laid down one continuous line of brightly coloured wools, thus defining the area enclosed within.
A distance of 10.6kms, the walk was performed on 5th February 2013. I saw deer, icicles, wildlife, birds and buses, and lots of people. The wool was gathered up the following day from where wheels, wind, weather and children has rearranged it.
A video was made of the walk, whilst the accompanying audio was of the voices of people living or working inside Easterhouse and their ideas about belonging, community, and their encounters with otherness and abroad…in other words, their jouneys across the border laid down in the film.
The exhibition in Platform was titled Tilt, with the gathered up wool stretched from wall to wall and all around the installation.
From the outset I knew I wanted to respond to this story with cine film. I use Standard 8 format rather than 16mm as it has a domestic home movie quality without grandiosity of expectation, as well as the practical fact of being affordable. Working with cine is difficult in so many ways: my standard 8 cameras are unreliable, there is only one film supplier of S8 in the UK, and he lives in London, 400 miles away. He provides very slow 10 ASA black and white film which requires a bright sunny day for anything to show, or much more expensive 50 ASA colour. I develop the films in my kitchen with chemicals that make my partner nervous, and half the film doesn’t come out or is bleached, and then the projector munches the good bits of my only print. This struggle and the attendant space for chance and accident are integral to the creative process, interfering with and subverting my didacticism; it means also, that the finished piece feels almost apart from me as the projected image flickers in the darkness. There is a tangibility to the thin line of celluloid, each perforated foot trapping a small amount of time, which as I hold it in my hands, seems somehow magical.
Cine is part of my family history, my mother was a keen user of cine when we were children and nowadays I use my grandfather’s cine camera and two elderly family projectors. I have film of my mother dating back to 1936 when she was a small child.
My response to the story of Thenew seems full of internal conflict. There is anger at the suffering she endured and anger at the injustice of slow erasure carried on since then to make her disappear from history. At the same time I find myself in awe at her courage and strength and the steadfastness of her integrity in the face of violence and hardship. I wanted the films I made to reflect this duality somehow. Given that St Thenew has been silenced by history I thought early on that my silent cine needed a voice and so I asked Sharon McBrearty to write and perform new songs for this work. The words below, written jointly, describes our hopes about the work:
Woven Narrative: An Ode to Saint Thenew
Speaking truth to power;
Navigating the landscape of conditioning;
freedom to be
This collaboration with Sharon was a new venture for me and a wonderful experience. I think her words and music and the projected images worked with one another beautifully. Below is an edited version of the performance put together for people who could not be there on the night..but it’s not the same as the real thing!
Way back in September Delphine Dallison, colleague at Glasgow School of Art, invited me to join her in planning an exhibition inspired by the life story and experience of St Thenew, St who?, St Thenew, mother of St Mungo. I had never heard of her, and nor has practically anyone else when I have mentioned her name.. St who? they say.
We did put on the exhibition, on 5th March.. , more will follow on this,
but here is the information Delphine wrote for the exhibition catalogue:
The Thenew Factor
This exhibition was first inspired by Elspeth King’s concept of the ‘Thenew Factor’ which she coined after the story of St Thenew:
“St Thenew, one of the few Scottish born pre-Reformation female saints, was the mother of St Mungo, patron saint of Glasgow. She is on record as Scotland’s first recorded rape victim, battered woman and unmarried mother. In the course of history, she has had a name, sex and nationality change; her story is virtually unknown, and she is remembered only in the place-name ‘St Enoch’.”
The story of St Thenew is highly symbolic of the systematic exclusion of the role of women in Glasgow and its erasure from the history books.
If you would like to know more, the information is available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teneu with tons of onward references
And here is the first reposnse I made, after a very irritating time typing out a proposal.
I have been dreadful about keeping up to date with all I have been doing. Time to make amends.
I have been experimenting with cine film again this year… This piece was made for an exhibition in college shown in January. I have both my mother and my grandfathers elderly Bell and Howell projectors, super old machines which I can take apart and lubicate and there are no printed circuit boards anywhere in sight. My grandfather had a 40 year huff with my mother, and he would not speak or write except censoriously during that time despite my mother’s best efforts to heal the rift. Fortunately they made up a few years ago, when he was 93 and she was 70.
In this work the two projectors faced each other with a silk screen dividing the space. Each projector had a small loop of film which I had drawn on with felt pen, so the projected marks from each projector mingled conversationally on the silk between them. Someone had written Love Never Dies on the black shutters behind the work; I thought it was fitting! I have included some of the development of this work..as I think the process of making and testing is fun..