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.