Lecture: ‘In or Out? How Britain Decided’, Professor John Curtice, The Stevenson Lectures in Citizenship, University of Glasgow 28.6.16

Via, Veritas, Vita’, University of Glasgow’s Latin motto translates as ‘the Way, the Truth, the Life’. It was a fitting crest in the lecture theatre, above the head of Prof John Curtice, political analyst and Polls pundit for BBC, as he gave this lecture five days after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. The polls act as an indicator of the way people vote. Curtice’s analysis of their findings aim to give an understanding or truth on key beliefs that made people vote and, as such, captured the divisions of contemporary life in the UK. For further information Curtice’s blog can be found at here. This post represents my lecture notes of the statistics and Curtice’s interpretation.

Houses of Parliament, London, 27.6.16 Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Houses of Parliament, London, 27.6.16 Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

The Partisan Fallout’, % who voted Leave: UKIP: 96%; Conservative: 58%; Labour: 37%; SNP: 36%; Lib: 30%

Curtice stated that from looking at the percentage of Partisan Fallout it was not Jeremy Corbyn who lost the EU Referendum but David Cameron, by failing to take his party with him. Curtice placed  this loss firmly at 19 Feb 2016, when Cameron came back from renegotiation with EU. Given the figure therefore of Corbyn taking 63% with the Labour Party line, Curtice assessed that the EU Referendum was a pretext for Labour to attempt to get rid of their leader. Curtice said from the above figures that UKIP was only party to take the majority of their members with them. Intriguingly SNP did not carry all their party members with them. Curtice stated that when future politics students review the first twenty years of this century, they will see that Nigel Farage was a key player, on the terms that he was the only politician to achieve the aims of his party’s manifesto.

In the polls regarding Credibility of Main Argument’, only 17% thought it a true statement with ‘Remain‘ strapline that we would each be £4300 worse off. 70% believed it false. 47% felt it a true statement that ‘Leave‘ made that we send £350 million to EU, 39% false.

The Role of English Identity’:

This poll question on identity asked how voters – did they identify fully with an English identity or did they define themselves primarily as British? 79% strongly identified as English; 66% agreed with the statement that they were equally English and British; and 40% identified primarily as British. Curtice mentioned that Britishness has been sold as a multicultural identity, eg British Muslim, where as Englishness is a nationalist identifier. He pointed out that English and Scottish nationalists voted differently in the Referendum; with the former voting for ‘Leave‘ and the latter for ‘Remain‘.

Curtice went on to say that 53% White voted to ‘Leave‘  in comparison to 32% BAME.

Interior, Houses of Parliament 27.6.16 Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Interior, Houses of Parliament 27.6.16 Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

He stated that Education was a key factor in vote, with 70% studying to GSCE level only, voting to ‘Leave‘ whilst 32% studying to Degree level voted ‘Leave‘. Looking at other education categories the % vote to ‘Leave’ was: 50% A Level; 52% other Higher. There was a difference in perception of The Economic Consequences of Brexit: 14% of Degree educated thought the economic situation would be better if UK left EU, whilst 54% of Degree educated through it would be worse. 30% of those educated to GSCE or less thought the economic situation would be better following Brexit; whilst 24% of GSCE level or less thought the economic situation would be worse.

Age also was a key factor, with 27% of 18-24 voting ‘Leave‘ and 60% 65+ voting ‘Leave‘. This was one of the biggest social divisions.

There were also, linked to age and education, different views on EU migration. People were asked if the % of EU migration was currently too high. 46% of 18-24 vs 84% 65+ agreed with the statement; whilst 54% educated to Degree level vs 81% to GSCE level or less agreed with the statement. Curtice described this finding as clearly illustrating for the majority of 65+ or the majority of those educated to GSCE level only, that ‘this globalised world is not one where the riches are falling on them’. Curtice showed statistics of ‘The Graduate Distribution’, showing the volume of graduates geographically in UK,  with included in the range, the highest of 39% in London, 25% in Scotland down to 22% in North East.

Interior, Houses of Parliament 27.6.16 Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Interior, Houses of Parliament 27.6.16 Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Next was Perceived Consequences’, and the % that thought if they voted Leave that each factor would be better:

Control Laws: 78% thought leaving EU it would be better, hence the success of the ‘Leave‘ Campaign’s key message ‘Take Back Control‘. Immigration:70%; Fair Welfare: 57%; Terrorism:50%; Jobs:49%; Economy:47%; Influence:46%; International Investment:40%

Curtice said therefore that the  ‘Remain‘ campaign’s key message of ‘Economy‘, with only 47% was therefore not as effective as the principal card of the ‘Leave‘ campaign on ‘Immigration’ at 70%.

‘Why Leave?’: 49% Sovereignty; 33% Immigration; 13% Integration; 6% Economy.

Problems and Solutions’:

Economy ‘Remain‘: 19% believed the statement that the economy would be better to ‘Remain‘ whilst 24% thought it would get worse. Economy ‘Leave‘: 22% thought it would be better for economy if UK left, whilst 45% thought it worse. Immigration ‘Remain‘: 5% believed immigration would be better if UK voted ‘Remain‘, whilst 52% believed it would be worse.  Immigration ‘Leave‘: 49% felt immigration would be better if UK voted ‘Leave‘, whilst 8% believed immigration would be worse.

Curtice commented that the new dividing lines from this EU Referendum could be stated as ‘Social Liberals and ‘Social Conservatives, rather than previous markers of ‘Left‘ and ‘Right’. The younger voter for example, was mostly educated to higher level and was of the opinion that, on immigration “We all rub along together”.  The older voter was of the opinion that, “…this was not the country we were born into”. He also described the difference between those who had taken advantage of globalisation and those who were deeply socially uncomfortable with globalisation. There was economic division with who could take advantage of social mobility. A further division was those who enjoyed sharing diverse languages and cultures and were able to experience ‘a common culture together’; and those who experienced a diversity of “language as isolating and cultural change as a challenge”.

Interior, House of Lords, 27.6.16 Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Interior, House of Lords, 27.6.16 Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Curtice’s conclusions were:

  • Social division indicated winners and losers of globalisation
  • Social Liberalism versus Social Conservatism cut across most party support
  • David Cameron did not return with enough from Feb 2016 EU Summit and his re-negotiation of terms, so failed to take 58% of his party with him
  • Remain‘ had little more to offer than a message about ‘Economics‘ being worse off. This message, to avoid economic perils, was a message not believed by voters.
  • Leave‘ offered a more believed solution with clearer strapline on taking control of laws.
  • Role of ‘English Identity’ also a big factor.

In analysing the Polls, Curtice thought Labour has to find a different message from trying to convince members that they can still ride the benefits of Capitalism to re-distribute to all or those worse off- many Labour members felt left behind. Also conversely with international capitalism, where jobs are created people would follow, which is demonstrated by free movement, which again was proving problematic.

In Scotland, polls asked the hypothetical question How would you vote now?‘ Following the EU Referendum. In the Independence Referendum the result was 47% YES- 53% NO. In this new poll 52% YES – 48% NO. There was a modest increase in support for Scottish Independence of 4-5% increase in favour. Curtice felt that this percentage was not high enough for SNP to go quickly for IndyRef2, as whilst there had been a swing following EU vote, it was no way near the 60% SNP are looking for in favour of ‘Yes‘ to Independence.

‘Women in Art’, “Conversation Piece”, British Art Studies

“Conversation Piece” is a British Art Studies series that draws together a group of contributors to respond in 500 words to an idea, provocation or question. ‘Still Invisible?’ is a “Conversation Piece” coordinated by Patricia de Montfort (University of Glasgow) and Robyne Erica Calvert (The Glasgow School of Art) in Issue 2. It asks the question ‘Is the work of women artists on display in museums and galleries?’ The conversation in its entirety can be found here. British Art Studies is an online journal, created by Paul Mellon Centre and the Yale Center for British Art. Here is my contribution:

Guerrilla Girls, anniversary recount sticker showing numbers from 1985 and 2015

Guerrilla Girls, anniversary recount sticker showing numbers from 1985 and 2015

Women in Art

Tate Modern has announced two new Artist Rooms by Phyllida Barlow and Louise Bourgeois “in a bid to inspire girls”; Saatchi Galleries has its first “all women” show, Champagne Life, to celebrate the gallery’s 30th anniversary; Pussy Riot announced plans to open a women-only museum in Montenegro, the “New Balkan Women’s Museum . . . in an effort to address long-spanning issues with gender equality in the art world, in a space referred to as, ‘for women, by women, about women’”. Karen Archey writes in a January 2016 e-flux conversation, “Are all-female exhibitions problematic?” Is there something in the water? Are there too many women artists visible in contemporary art, or is this part of a reaction to there being too few?

Guerrilla Girls formed in New York in 1985 to fight the inherent gender and racial inequality in the fine arts, by producing posters, billboards, and actions containing key messages and statistics about institutions and their track records on showing female artists. Taking a straw poll, here are the statistics for men and women artists represented by a sample of UK commercial contemporary galleries (as listed in January 2016 on their websites). In Scotland, Edinburgh’s Ingleby Gallery is 15% women artists (4 out of 26 artists on roster). This figure increases if “project artists” are included, to 22%. In Glasgow, the Modern Institute has 33% women (13 out of 43), whilst smaller commercial gallery Mary Mary has the highest number at 43% (6 out of 14). Whilst more in number, this is still under half. Workplace Gallery, Gateshead, is 38% (8 out of 21 artists); in London, Hollybush Gardens was an exception with 62% of their total being women (8 out of 13); whilst White Cube (London, Hong Kong, São Paulo, Miami) was 28% (17 out of 60) and Hauser & Wirth, with galleries in London, New York, and Somerset, at 31% (20 out of 64). Why are the numbers of women represented by commercial galleries consistently much lower than the number of male artists? Is this because fewer women study fine art so there are fewer female artists? The statistics of female graduates from the Glasgow School of Art would contradict this. In the academic year 2014/15, 75 female to 33 male students graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art with Honours, making the ratio 69% female graduates. In 2013/14, 63 women students versus 39 male students graduated from the same course. Each year back to 2010/11 the gender split is the same, with female students always the higher number of graduates from the undergraduate Fine Art course.

Sarah McCrory, Director of Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art since 2013, and previously curator of Frieze Projects, makes the point that to alter these statistics, change can only occur through gallery programmers and, in terms of commercial galleries, the buyers, who ultimately are the market. In 2010 McCrory worked with Annika Ström for Frieze Projects. The artist’s piece saw a group of “Ten Embarrassed Men” (2010) roam the tent, ashamed by the low number of women represented at the art fair. McCrory believes that rather than explicitly brand an exhibition as “all women”, these types of curatorial decision should be implicit in programming.

Guerrilla Girls aim to stop their activism when the situation of visibility of women in contemporary art is balanced. They continue, with their show at Walker Arts Center running throughout 2016. The artist Amy Bessone wrote recently: “I’ve noticed galleries whose roster may consist of 20–30% female artists, bring a 90–100% male line-up to art fairs.”[1] Clearly, we need to do more work.

Published April 2016

Footnote

  1. Amy Bessone, “Post Woman”, Kaleidoscope 23 (Winter 2015), 82.

‘Doing Women’s Film and Television Histories III: Structures of Feeling’ Conference

Doing Women’s Film and Television Histories III: Structures of Feeling

The Third International Conference of the Women’s Film and Television History Network: UK/Ireland, 18-20 May 2016, Leicester, UK

Conference Organisers: Vicky Ball (Senior Lecturer in Cinema and Television Histories, De Montfort University), Melanie Bell (Associate Professor in Film and Media, University of Leeds), Laraine Porter (Senior Lecturer, Film Studies, De Montfort University)

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This conference was organised by the Women’s Film and Television Network (UK and Ireland) [1]. The aims of the network are to research and disseminate women’s ‘participation in screen media’ and explore the roles of women in the industry, ensure ‘that women’s work is recognised in the writing of screen histories’, to ‘encourage new approaches to film and television that are sensitive to gender, class and race’ and to have ‘an impact on the teaching of screen media in schools and colleges.’ [2]

‘Structures of Feeling’, the tagline of the conference title, refers to Raymond Williams’ work [3] around the suppressed narrative; the real, lived experience which is part of culture but not recognised in the mediated history and hegemony of that culture. With presentations referring to key statistical analysis from primary research of the AHRC-funded project, ‘Calling the Shots’  [4], including the findings that ‘in 2015, women constituted just 20% of all directors, writers, producers, exec-producers, cinematographers and editors on 203 UK films in production during 2015’ ,  [5] the conference’s exploration and assessment of diverse narratives, histories and contributions by women in a male dominated industry was both timely and necessary.  Further analysis from ‘Calling the Shots’ details that ‘74% of films with a woman director also had a woman producer’, [6] highlighting that if a woman is employed in a main role, she is likely to recruit more women to other key roles in the crew. Of those women employed in key roles,  in terms of numbers of BAME women in 2015, the report found that only ‘7% of women were of Black, Asian, or Ethnic Minority identity, making BAME women less that 1.5% of all personnel’.

callingshots

If one statistical pillar of the conference was the initial findings of ‘Calling the Shots’, the other was ‘Patterns of Discrimination Against Women in the Film and Television Industries’ (1975), a report commissioned by the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians (ACTT) Union’s Committee of Equality. The conference chose to commemorate its 40th anniversary of publication, with presentations by Frances Galt (De Montfort University, Leicester) who gave an excellent historical context to the report and Barbara Evans (York University, Toronto), an original member from the London Women’s Film Group who was key in getting ACTT to agree to the role of a paid woman researcher to conduct the research and write the report. A screening at the conference of the film, ‘The Right Place: Women in West London Film Laboratories, 1960-2000’ (Dawson, A & Holmes, SP, 2016), intriguingly uses film footage of the researcher, Sarah Benton, in a meeting with male and female workers,  the union and shop stewards, discussing the place of a crèche in the workplace to allow women to continue to work, after having families. Benton meets with resistance to the idea, both from male and female workers that are present, who believe that the ills of society are down to mothers at work and therefore away from the home, who are not having an influence on their children growing up.

'Open Door' excerpt, Barbara Evans' presentation: ‘Breaking the Pattern, The Struggle for Equality in the Film and Television Industry’

‘Open Door’ (1965) excerpt, Barbara Evans’ presentation: ‘Breaking the Pattern, The Struggle for Equality in the Film and Television Industry’

'Open Door' (1965) excerpt, (Barbara Evans Pictured, both in film clip and in person), ‘Breaking the Pattern, The Struggle for Equality in the Film and Television Industry’

‘Open Door’ (1965) excerpt, (Barbara Evans pictured, both in film clip and in person), Barbara Evans’ presentation: ‘Breaking the Pattern, The Struggle for Equality in the Film and Television Industry’

Evans in her presentation ‘Breaking the Pattern, The Struggle for Equality in the Film and Television Industry’  outlined the situation in the workplace where women were confined to the lesser skilled roles, often secretarial, lower paid jobs, which Evans described as creating ‘sexual ghettoes’. Reasons given for women not being able to enter predominantly male domains including camera or sound work, included that the equipment was too heavy for women to carry. Evans illustrated her presentation with clips from a discussion of ACTT women activists, for BBC’s ‘Open Door’ programme in 1965, including Evans herself, to tell this story: ‘Many women were doing housework on the job… often a substitute wife or mother’ for the male bosses. The action of getting a paid female researcher was key, as many women felt intimidated to speak at union meetings or assemblies without fear of heckling. One of the ‘Open Door’ excerpts was intriguingly a satirical re-enactment of the battle between women and men around equal pay in the workplace, with women playing both gender roles. This creative approach to engaging with issues of inequality was also highlighted in Rachel Fabian’s (California) paper ‘What are We Left With?: The London Women’s Film Group and the Legacies of 1970s’ Collective Media Production’, where Fabian referred to London Women’s Film Group’s ‘The Amazing Equal Pay Show’, (1974), which was a film looking at the place of working class women in a capitalist society and worked with the Women’s Street Theatre Group,  to lampoon issues of inequality through using the language of carnival, street theatre and pantomime.

Slide from Rachel Fabian's presentation: 'What Are We Left With? The London Women's Film Group and Legacies of the 1970s Collective Media Production', featuring 'The amazing Equal Pay Show' (YEAR), London Women's Film Group

Slide from Rachel Fabian’s presentation: ‘What Are We Left With? The London Women’s Film Group and Legacies of the 1970s Collective Media Production‘, featuring ‘The Amazing Equal Pay Show’ (1974), London Women’s Film Group

This is only one route through the conference, given its session structure of running up to four strands of panels to choose from. My own attendance had been thanks to association with Shona Main’s ‘Real Illuminators’ film programme, along with Dr Sarah Neely (University of Stirling), which presented eight short films [7] by early women film-makers in Scotland, predominantly in the field of documentary. Particularly resonant for this programme and area of research, was our meeting Barbara Evans, one of the first to research and write about Shetland filmmaker Jenny Gilbertson, in the Women Film Pioneers Project. Also of key interest, was the presentation by Sarah Hill (University of East Anglia), on the Women Amateur Filmmakers in Britain archive collection, digitised by East Anglian Film Archive, part of the University of East Anglia. Hill showed a selection of films from 1920s’-80s’ including animations by Sheila Graber and Joanna Fryer.

Slide from Sarah Hill's presentation: '(In)visible Women? Researching Amateur Women Filmmakers', image of 'Make-Up' (1978), Joanne Fryer

Slide from Sarah Hill’s presentation: ‘(In)visible Women? Researching Amateur Women Filmmakers’, image of ‘Make-Up’ (1978), Joanna Fryer

Slide from Sarah Hill's presentation: '(In)visible Women? Researching Amateur Women Filmmakers', image of 'Make-Up' (1978), Joanne Fryer

Slide from Sarah Hill’s presentation: ‘(In)visible Women? Researching Amateur Women Filmmakers’, image of ‘Make-Up’ (1978), Joanna Fryer

Dr Kate Dossett’s (University of Leeds) keynote, on the AHRC funded Feminist Archives, Feminist Futures’, chronicled the role of the women’s library or archive from the Fawcett Library, set up by the London Society for Women’s Service in 1926, to current day archives and libraries, including reference to Glasgow Women’s Library, and a focus on Feminist Archive North, with materials on Vera Media and Leeds Animation Workshop. June Givanni also presented on her Pan African Cinema Archive collected over her 30 years working as a curator gathering film work by women directors from Africa and the diaspora. She is currently focusing on what type of an archival space architecturally can be created for this independent archive.

Slide from Dr Kate Dossett's presentation, image 'Vera Media'

Slide from Dr Kate Dossett’s presentation, image ‘Vera Media’

Doing Women’s Film and Television Histories III: Structures of Feeling’ conference was  inspirational in its content and approach, tackling key themes from a variety of different perspectives, roles, geographies and histories. For example, the first Plenary, ‘Costume, Women, Work and History’ had a costume designer and supervisor (Lezli Everitt, Costume and Training Skills, BECTU Learning Organiser), academic (Tamar Jeffers McDonald, University of Kent) and curator (Keith Lodwick, V&A Museum) contributing, allowing the spectrum of discussion to range from the actualities of the workplace, to academic framing and then questions of exhibition. As the conference was looking at aspects of power and power holders, predominantly being ascribed in examples in favour of the male domain, a key presentation by Gina Marchetti ‘The Feminine Touch: Chinese Soft Power Politics and Hong Kong Women Filmmakers’, provided an interesting case study in the navigation of soft power by women filmmakers including Ann Hui, in securing financial backing and box office success.

The delegates and contributors were from diverse ages, points in their career and experiences which allowed for all contributions to be recognised and acknowledged as significant to the continuation of the field. And again in the sense of the ‘continuity bible’, referred to in several presentations including Lezli Everitt’s, as a trade device to track change and make note of what has occurred, the conference ephemera, notes, discussions, further reading, conversations with other delegates and presentations on key projects, will continue to have an impact on evolving lines of research investigation. It was announced that the next conference will take place at University of Southampton in 2018.

Jenny Brownrigg (May 2016)

Footnotes

[1] WFTHN is one of the results from the AHRC funded project ‘A History of Women and Work in the British Film and Television Industries 1933-1989’

[2] From delegates’ pack materials.

[3] ‘The Long Revolution’, Williams, R (1961)

[4] ‘Calling the Shots’ is led by Dr Shelley Cobb & Prof Linda Ruth Williams, University of Southamption, with partners including BFI, BECTU and Women in Film and Television UK. The project supports a Research Fellow (Dr Natalie Wreyford) with two PhD students.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] ‘Real Illuminators’ film programme, curated by Shona Main, is as follows: ‘Peat From Hillside to Home’ (1932) Jenny Gilbertson; ‘Flowers and Coffee Party at Umanak’ (1935) Isobel Wylie Hutchison; ‘Beside the Seaside’ (1935) Marion Grierson; ‘Challenge to Fascism / May Day 1938’  Helen Biggar; ‘Ceylon Calling’ (1939) Nettie McGavin; ‘They Also Serve’ (1940) Ruby Grierson; ‘A Portrait of Ga’ (1952) Margaret Tait; ‘The Aardvark or Ant Bear’ (1961) Elizabeth Balneaves.

'Real Illuminators' logo, designer Bryn Houghton, at 'Doing Women's Film and Television Histories III: Structures of Feeling' conference, Leicester, 2016

‘Real Illuminators’ logo, designer Bryn Houghton, at ‘Doing Women’s Film and Television Histories III: Structures of Feeling’ conference, Leicester, 2016

Further notes of reference from conference:

Films:

Nightcleaners, Part 1’, Berwick Street Film Collective (1975)

‘Prairie Women’, Barbara Evans (1987)

‘Women Amateur Filmmakers Trailer’, EAFA Amateur Film, www.vimeo.com/162349610

‘Daughters of the Dust’, Julie Dash (1991) (reference from June Givanni presentation)

‘A Dry White Season’, Euzhan Palcy (1989) (reference from June Givanni presentation)

Websites:

Women Film Pioneers Project http://wfpp.cdrs.columbia.edu (reference from Barbara Evans)

British Silent Cinema and the Transition to Sound 1927-1933 www.silenttosound.org.uk (reference from Sarah Neely)

The Boudica Film Fund www.boudicafilms.co.uk

Women On Boards 40:40:20 campaign www.womenonboards.net

Women 50:50 www.women5050.org campaign for at least 50% representation of women in parliament, councils and public boards

Books:

‘Gender meets genre in postwar cinemas’, Christine Gledhill, (2012)

‘Doing Women’s Film History: Reframing Cinemas Past and Future’, edited by Christine Glehill & Julia Knight (2015), University of Illinois Press.

‘Notes on Women’s Cinema’, edited by Claire Johnston (1973)

[Article], ‘The Amazing Equal Pay Show’, London Women’s Film Group 1974 / Publishers Spare Rib, Aug 1975.

‘Aftershocks of the New: Feminism and Film History’, Patrice Petro (2002), Rutgers University Press.

Publishers:

University of Illinois Press (reference from Professor Emiritus Michelle Hilmes), interested in women’s histories, in particular submission on women’s involvement in sound period.

Trade Union:

BECTU www.bectu.org.uk

Archives:

Film Archives UK

Institute of Amateur Cinematographers library, at East Anglian Film Archive, University of East Anglia

Other:

Beatriz Azurduy Palacios (1952-2003), Bolivian motion picture director (Isabel Segui, University of St Andrews presentation)

Elizabeth Haffenden (1906-1976), costume designer (reference from Tamar Jeffers McDonald presentation)

Beatrice ‘Bumble’ Dawson (1908-1976), costume designer (reference from Tamar Jeffers McDonald presentation)

Dr Heather Norris Nicholson, University of Huddersfield, archive film and changing amateur visual practice. (reference from Sarah Hill’s presentation)

‘Women and Film’ event, Edinburgh Festival, 1972

Third Eye Film Festival’ 1983 (Reference June Givanni presentation)

 

 

 

 

 

Two recent articles: Helen Biggar (with Shona Main) and Michael Barr (at RSA New Contemporaries)

‘Challenge to Fascism: Glasgow’s May Day’ (1938), Helen Biggar, by Main, S. & Brownrigg, J, 1.5.16 Map Magazine online.

Film still, Challenge to Fascism/ Glasgow's May Day (1938) by Helen Biggar. Willy Gallacher, CPGB, MP for West Fife,speaking at Glasgow Green. Photo courtesy of Billie Love Historical Collection.

Film still, Challenge to Fascism/ Glasgow’s May Day (1938) by Helen Biggar. Willy Gallacher, CPGB, MP for West Fife,speaking at Glasgow Green. Photo courtesy of Billie Love Historical Collection.

FREE CULTURE! Review of Michael Barr’s work inspired by book on Cuban culture policy, Jenny Brownrigg, April 2016, Cuba50, online

'FREE CULTURE!', Michael Barr (2016) Photo courtesy of artist

‘FREE CULTURE!’, Michael Barr (2016) Photo courtesy of artist

That which gives you pleasure (for ‘Bust Out’, Lillie Art Gallery, Glasgow International 2016)

Part 1: The caves (   )

Made by Sarah Kenchington, painted by Belinda Gilbert Scott

Made by Sarah Kenchington, painted by Belinda Gilbert Scott

The cave with its pleasures, dangers and obligations’

 [P.229, ‘Aku-Aku’, Thor Heyerdahl, Penguin Books, 1960]

In 1955 Thor Heyerdahl visited the Easter Islands, to find out the origins of the hundreds of giant statues which stood or lay around the island. Heyerdahl was keen to resolve their mysteries and to be the person who found the answers. How and why were they made?  How were these massive, carved slabs of rock moved or erected? One islander tells him, ‘They went of themselves’ [P.87, Ibid], walking or indeed wriggling, as the statues had only heads and bodies but no legs.  In his book ‘Aku-Aku’ (which has inspired this exhibition’s curator and artist, Belinda Gilbert Scott) Heyerdahl also describes in great detail all the caves on the island. There are secret caves, family caves, ‘taboo’ caves, treasure chambers or caves with specific purposes (Hyerdahl describes the virgin cave, where young women were kept from the sun for months on end, in order for their skin to whiten during their confinement). Pleasures and dangers co-exist – there is darkness, difficulty yet discovery.  What are the obligations Heyerdahl refers to? There are roles for those who tend to and those who visit the caves. There is the wisdom of local custom and belief. There are the gods who must be pleased and not angered. Should visitors be respectful? Some dwell with the statues and the caves for a period, bringing different languages and freedoms. Their acts leave traces hidden under the layers.

It strikes me as I spend time in the galleries- looking at the artworks themselves, drawing them in notational form, considering methods of their making, ascribing relationships between the works, attributing meaning in their arrangements- that the rooms in the Lillie Gallery have become like a series of interconnected caves, all with their own particular, and often peculiar, atmosphere.

The first smaller room [Gallery 2] houses the work of methodological yet intuitive minds, where materials and objects have been re-found, re-purposed and re-ordered in new rhythms of enticing colour, shape and association. The second [Gallery 3] is a mysterious parlour of signs and patterns where some of the objects try to speak to the visitor whilst others hide behind shades. The third, [Gallery 1] the largest, is a very physical space or lair, where objects have been dragged and hauled to their positions, manipulated, stretched, played with, enclosed or hung. This room is most reminiscent of the body in a strange landscape. There are innards spilling out and parts that protrude or sag, spent. There are spaces for contemplation, for pleasure or even for violent emotion. This space is the location for ritual. The fourth room, the shop, is a treasure chamber. There is a glittering new bank of gifts made by strange hands, of brightly coloured bean bags, token adornments and squeezed statuettes. The Lillie has numerous private spaces – stores, offices, toilets – that fold off from this public sequence of caves. A final artwork will shift restlessly through various locations in the building to be found or encountered on a one-to-one basis.

All caves have a threshold, an invitation to be considered by each visitor to enter or resist. What lies at the threshold of the Lillie? This gigantic, FAB erect ice lolly is a totem from an innocent age, an enticing treat to be licked and savoured (or if on a diet, or too serious an adult, scorned). It is a visual feast of simple ocular and oral pleasure. Where will you begin? What is your method of eating it? Which band of fruity colour will you bite into? Your synapses snap with the desire created by anticipation. A coldness of textural sensation, instantaneous joy and promised hundreds and thousands crunch follows.

Jenny Brownrigg

Part 2 : The offerings within (  )

Part 3: The performances and rituals (  )

These further parts will be issued during the exhibition life of ‘Bust Out’, a collaboration by a group of artists brought together by Belinda Gilbert Scott. Belinda Gilbert Scott, Rowan Mace, Valerie Norris, Pester and Rossi, Elin Anna Porisdottir. With Rae-Yen Song, Greer Pester and Sally Hackett.  Lilllie Art Gallery, Milngavie, Glasgow, 8-25 April 2016. Supported by Glasgow International.

‘The event which is in front of her eyes: 1930s’ Scottish Highlands and Islands life – the documentary photography and film of M.E.M. Donaldson, Jenny Gilbertson and Margaret Fay Shaw

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‘The event which is in front of her eyes: 1930s’ Scottish Highland and Islands life – the documentary photography and film of M.E.M. Donaldson, Jenny Gilbertson and Margaret Fay Shaw’, is my first essay to be published following Research Leave Oct-Dec 2015 from The Glasgow School of Art. The essay is published in The Drouth Winter / Spring 2016 Issue 54 ‘Interstices’, p64-82. ‘Interstices’ has been guest edited by Nina  Bacos and Ben Rush.  I am grateful to Shetland Museum & Archives, Mrs Ann Black, Canna House (National Trust for Scotland), Inverness Museum & Art Gallery and National Library of Scotland for permissions. Also to Shona Main, Dr Sarah Neely, Magdalena Sagarzazu,  Fiona Mackenzie and Lesley Junor for their support and knowledge.

The essay looks at the motivations of M.E.M. Donaldson, Jenny Gilbertson and Margaret Fay Shaw, for making the work they did; and how they represented the subject of Highland and Islands Scotland in front of their camera. Through comparison of their work and processes to their better known male contemporaries who were also documenting Scottish rural communities, I also frame their work in a wider national and international context of the documentary photography and film making of the inter-war years.

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Alan Grieve: ‘Cemetery’ (2015)

Workspace, Dunfermline, 5 December 2015

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

The public art rolls past the bus on the way from Glasgow to Dunfermline. Yellow metal gills appear on each side of the embankment along the gateway to Cumbernauld, mirrored in mint green on departure. Roundabouts, the 1980s’ plinths for stainless steel aberrations, proliferate like daisies.

One of the passengers is deep in monologue. “She shut the door of the kitchen down and knocked that wall down. See the stairs? Take that bit of the wall down – get me, right? …Naw, naw, Sandra has got a false wall back to the stairs, so then, get what I mean? Sandra’s doors at an angle and that’s right back and she’s got her kitchen door there – and then they’ve half shut the wall – do you understand where I’m coming from…. Yer still coming up the stair. The wall’s there and she’s got her door put back at an angle.”  

The woman is beginning to get exasperated. Her friend who is sitting next to her is not following the intricacies of Sandra’s door alterations that gained her extra inches in the house layout. “Oh we’re at the seaside, girls”, she says sarcastically as the bus goes over the Kincardine bridge, with Longannet Generating Station in the foreground and the chimneys of Grangemouth Refinery on the far shore. “It would look much nicer with the sunshine out. Oh there it is! Glittering on the water!” A pause and a mindful moment for all on the bus.

The woman begins again. “I mean I cannae do it any more, I ‘m tired of it! I’ve had my ceilings all lowered and it’s plastered now. I can’t take them out like Sandra has. I’m getting older, I cannae just…” We pass a bearded man in a red top standing in a lay-by. He is videoing a field with his camera arm aloft. The field doesn’t look too extraordinary. He is in his own mindful moment.

~

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

I am on a trip to see Alan Grieve and find out more about his own approach to mindfulness linked with his new work about a cemetery in Dunfermline. If mindfulness is focusing on the breath in the body, there is nothing like a graveyard to help someone keep breathing and present. Alan passes through the cemetery every day when walking his dogs or on his way to work. Like the nuanced altering of angles of Sandra’s doors, much of Alan’s work is about making small yet satisfying shifts in language, drawing and object making. The subject of the graveyard is proving to be highly conducive for moving meaning from one realm into the next. He shows me his sketchbook. A page is emblazoned in felt tip with the phrase “Who put the fun in funeral?” He explains that he has been considering this as the title for the book he is working on, but other people he had tested it out on thought it too much.

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan is an adult man who has been thinking about colouring-in of late. He is not alone, as companies have re-spun kids’ colouring-in books for ‘grown-ups’, providing nostalgia to those who grew up in the sixties and seventies’ and are now stressed in the noughties. Mindfulness, a concept not readily known to most Scottish households before the Millennium is on the increase. Using his boys’ felt tip pens, Alan has been making drawings for the last two months, in the quiet time every morning before his kids and wife gets up.

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

The drawings are multiplying- creating their own universe- and are a tour de force. A core of the work is dedicated to the graveyard operatives Raymond and Garry, with whom Alan speaks in passing every day. Bringing the two men centre stage is a key component, as this is a role which otherwise would normally fade into the background. In one drawing, Alan shows gravedigger as gladiator, riding the trailer around the huge graveyard as if it were a chariot. He also captures the more mundane moments such as the younger gravedigger nursing a Monday hangover. The veil between this life and the next is shown as the spirits stream behind the older grave digger who pushes a wheelbarrow in his council hi-vis vest.

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015) million

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

The trees, the play of light on the leaves, the animals, the stonemasonry, the unusual names and stories. It can be quite easy for the brain to slide away from the real purpose of the cemetery. Mindfulness here is mortality, so Alan ensures fresh death is never too far away in the drawings. Some feathers litter the foreground of a pastoral scene with weeping willow and gravestones. A candle is lit for all the unborn babies. Alan’s drawing skills are a joy to behold, ranging from the juvenile with an adult’s knowing (like those drawn by bad boys on the back of girls’ school jotters), to technically excellent renditions of stained glass windows in three thicknesses of pen.

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

There are some I wish I could un-see such as the skeleton locked in a carnal embrace with a human. The macabre is ever-present. A council skip overflows with dead bodies under the Pac Man motif ‘GAME OVER’. Other drawings are delightfully observational; a dignitary with a bad back uses the memorial headstone to bend down and place something on the ground. A beautiful old oak tree is captured in its glory, but look down to the right of its trunk and a Labrador is defecating. The scourge of pavements and graveyards it seems, is not picking up.

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Even the animals of the graveyard are not always nice. Whilst some are sage, offering words of wisdom to the humans, others are plain ‘raj’. ’Fuckin’ mon then!’: a bat screams as it gives a full frontal to the viewer. Epitaphs are freed from celebrity gravestones. A hawk appears next to Spike Milligan’s ‘I told you I was ill’. There is a heightened sense of awareness in some of the drawings. Caught in an awkward cycle, a naked young man kneels amongst the toadstools, reaching out with an urn in his hand to catch the shite from a bird sitting above him on a branch, whilst a rabbit looks on. In another, the moon and sun explore their senses together, nestling in to kiss with no tongues. These are hallucinogenic scenes but contain their own sense of order.

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Whilst order can also be found within the graveyard- the lines of graves and neat grass edges- there is no getting away from the disorder of death even down to the detail of who turns up at your funeral or how you get there. In one drawing, a man uses a Vauxhall Chevette estate to bring his wife’s coffin in to the cemetery. This was a story Alan heard from the gravedigger. In another, the Provost, Minister, and representatives of various community groups stand dignified at a Remembrance Day service. Alan has helpfully detailed each group with their nomenclature. In the back of the crowd one man is labelled with the title ‘random cunt’. There is definitely a contemporary gallows’ humour lurking within the work.

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

In a second strand of work, scenes of old Dunfermline depicted on old black and white postcards are helped into a trance with Alan’s bold colouring in. Frater’s Hall window panes are treated to the full range of post-it note colours of orange, green, yellow and pink. This stained glass rendering for the modern day church enthusiast is emblazoned with the colloquial epitaph of ‘windaylicker’. In another postcard, Dunfermline Abbey is cast as a version of the Emerald City with rave neon headstones.

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan gives mindfulness a reality check. The phrase, ‘I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me’, would perhaps be expected as an insight from the pages of Psychologies magazine, illustrated by a pensive blonde haired Nordic woman with her eyes on Nirvana. In Alan’s drawing however, it is accompanied by a cheerful man with a heightened fringe aided by hair product. He is denoted as a worker as he wears a high-vis jacket. I like this, for whilst being gently subversive it shifts the kind of person such a declaration could be associated with. It also firmly places philosophy in the domain of everyone, not just those that have the luxury of time. Death, as the old adage goes, is the greatest leveller.

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan’s stream of drawings are like the thoughts and feelings that occur from one moment to the next. Given the sheer exuberance and cacophony of voices that inhabit Alan’s cosmos, this mayhem could defy the calmness of mindfulness. However, to look at the drawings such as ‘Man with head in his hands’ (2015) or ‘Life Drawing’ (2015) where the pen does not come off the paper, there is the same kind of perfection of focus and concentration on the line rather than the breath. Some may quake at the foul language or perceive that some of the imagery is disrespectful in its mash-up of beliefs, but this loss of control or undermining of order cannot be ignored. It is fully present in the lives that we lead and the manner of that which awaits us. Simon Critchley’s excellent ‘The Book of Dead Philosophers’ (2008, Granta Books) details what the great philosophers wrote about death next to how they actually died. For example, Roland Barthes got run over by a laundry truck.

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

The exhibition ‘Cemetery’ and a mindful evening event were held at Workspace, a hairdressers and gallery that Alan set up with fellow hairdresser Emma McGarry in 2011, the same year as Hurricane Bawbag hit Scotland. Indeed, ‘Bawbag Memorial’ (2014-15) forms the centrepiece. It is a monument crafted from all the plastic flowers unmoored and blown amok in the Dunfermline cemetery during the winter hurricane that became an internet sensation due to its irreverent name. The plastic flowers will never die. This outsize floral tribute, reaches to the ceiling from its specially built platform. It is surrounded at its base by tea tree lights; that fragile marker of a departed soul, ubiquitous with church alters, make-shift street shrines and massage parlours. This is all set off by the saffron robe orange of the specially painted back wall and a single monochromatic collage called Deity, of Alan’s own young colleague James, who is angelic in his page boy haircut, nose ring and flesh tunnels. On the wall to the right, there is a huge mandala-like drawing completed in chunky black pen. It combines many of the images from the smaller drawings and is thoughtfully pinned up for the gallery goers to colour-in on the mindful night. Music by Dunfermline musician Dan Lyth permeates and amplifies the strange spiritual air in Workspace, encouraging the visitor to spiral into its repetitive groove.

'Cemetery', installation shot, Alan Grieve, Workspace, Dunfermline (2015)

‘Cemetery’, installation shot, Alan Grieve, Workspace, Dunfermline (2015)

The full range of doctored Dunfermline postcards hang within a grid network. Many stand out as an alternative reading of some of the town’s better known architecture. In a futile act of resistance to modernity and consumerism a Gothic turret from the city centre shouts ‘Fuck Primark!’ En masse, Dunfermline is definitely at the centre of the universe. Alan has also worked with recent curatorial graduate Kari Adams to make a wall hanging comprising of six of the postcards. With an all seeing eye at its apex, the borders of this piece have been edged with sequins and beads, and tasselled at the bottom. Fetishizing the postcards in this way as a worshipful artefact, works in this atmosphere of the retreat. Workspace is by no means the first retreat in Dunfermline. The glen that lies at the centre of town boasts Malcolm Canmore’s tower and his wife Margaret’s cave, where she took to for prayer.

'Cemetery', installation shot, Alan Grieve (2015), Workspace, Dunfermline

‘Cemetery’, installation shot, Alan Grieve (2015), Workspace, Dunfermline

'Cemetery', installation shot, Alan Grieve (with Kari Adams), Workspace, Dunfermline (2015)

‘Cemetery’, installation shot, Alan Grieve (with Kari Adams), Workspace, Dunfermline (2015)

Detail, 'Cemetery', Alan Grieve (with Kari Adams), Workspace, Dunfermline (2015)

Detail, ‘Cemetery’, Alan Grieve (with Kari Adams), Workspace, Dunfermline (2015)

Installation Shot, 'Cemetery', Alan Grieve, Workspace, Dunfermline (2015)

Installation Shot, ‘Cemetery’, Alan Grieve, Workspace, Dunfermline (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

 The most unavoidable piece in this exhibition, ‘Wee Willy  Windchimes’ (2015) is satisfyingly hung bang in front of a sewn patchwork of drawings which are enticingly detailed, thus making the viewer strain forward to view them. The obstructive positioning of these phallic windchimes makes them nigh on impossible to ignore. Their adult nature has freed them from the original reference. The historic and sad gravestone of Willie Dick lies in the cemetery and tells of a child who was killed by a shotgun mistakenly going off. These windchimes have been fashioned from a felled cherry tree from the cemetery and have been turned at a local workshop. If they had been painted pink they would have been too cartoonlike but in their unadorned state the viewer cannot but help admire the craftsmanship of the polished wood. As a piece of work it symbolizes Alan’s ability to mix both the poetic and prosaic with the profane.

'Cemetery', installation shot, Alan Grieve, Workspace, Dunfermline (2015)

‘Cemetery’, installation shot, Alan Grieve, Workspace, Dunfermline (2015)

~

I’m back on the bus on this wintery day to return to Glasgow. It is pitch black outside and rush hour. The bus crawls its way back in a slow moving queue up to the Kincardine Bridge. Reflections from the car headlights from the other unclogged lane skite across the bus interior. The pristine bobbed woman in the seat front is talking at her mother down the phone, about whether a metal or plastic carrier would be better for her cat in the event of a crash (answer is metal). I require a mindful moment as this feels like it will be a long haul. As the cars in the other lane zip past they begin to sound like waves on a shore, regular and relaxing, with the trucks as the big breakers. The lights of the power station twinkle like tea tree lights through the petrified trunks of the forest.

Jenny Brownrigg, Dec 2015

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)

Alan Grieve (2015)