This was the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA)'s second year as host venue for one of the four Early Warning Signs. In 2014, Katie Bruce, Producer Curator at GoMA, first got involved in the project by adopting the green on black sign to display in the portico outside the front of the building in Royal Exchange Square. As part of a continuing programme of exhibitions and events for Glasgow's Green Year 2015 (including Ellie Harrison's Dark Days), GoMA decided to adopt the blue on white sign. From September - December 2015 the sign also formed part of the ArtCop21 programme to coincide with the UN Climate Summit in Paris. On 16 December 2015, it continued its journey along the Clyde to the offices of The Bowling Harbour Project in West Dunbartonshire.
I am writing this report without access to the internet or shared drives (an incident with the server has rendered Glasgow City Council without access for the next week) and it is one of those points when you realise how much we use the internet for reference, for contact, but what would happen without it. As this situation references Dark Days, I decided to write the report without that access to most of this information, other than in my folders. I keep wanting to check back or reference what happened or link to a blog, but can’t so we are relying on my memory, with all its faults and mis-memories. I will add in the web links once we have access again.
The final act of hosting, the packing and sending on to the next destination, was like a rite of passage. Last year we knew a sign was coming back, so it wasn’t such a poignant moment. When I broke the news to staff that it was going, some voiced that they were going to miss it and the knowledge that it was outside of the building. The act of putting it out in the morning and bringing it back in had become part of the daily routine and an enjoyable ritual.
To write this report I re-read last year’s and, having also been to a recent, and very interesting, SCAN event as part of ArtCop21 at CCA, I am aware of unwritten commitments and ideas that we made at the end of last year about how we could raise awareness through our programme and what we could do practically on the issue of Climate Change. Lots we have done, others have slipped off the radar a bit and some I just forgot completely about! So running through the year as it happened, the following is an account of the programme that developed out of those ideas and commitments, both visible and invisible. As you will see it is not about the sign itself, but what it prompted us to do or think about.
Glasgow's Green Year 2015 has been running this year and our public programme connected to Early Warning Signs and Climate Change has connected at times with that. The programme did see Dark Days with Ellie Harrison realised 13 - 14 February 2015 when around 100 people including staff spent the night at GoMA. It was quite an unknown for us. One, it was a new event so the risk assessments had to be done and every random and possible occurrence covered and accounted for. Two, we had no idea of the participants, as Ellie did a huge amount of work to finalise the 100 participants from the 750+ that applied, none of us had thought that so many people would want the opportunity. Three, would people leave and what would we do if people stayed to occupy the space? All of those questions were floating around as we took the chance on inviting people to stay over in GoMA to explore how they would spend the night in an imagined public space in a dystopian future scenario where GoMA as a public building had been re-appropriated for shelter. There was the Camp Manual that Ellie had created with us, a sort of hand of control that nobody knew who it might be other than say the *management* and the training from Tripod. But that was all in the way of a structure.
Dark Days surprised us in a number of ways. We thought that people would come in groups or know others. Some did, but lots came as individuals. There was a real buzz and sense of unknown as people arrived and settled in. Ellie started the evening to introduce it all and Tripod started their training on consensus decision making through games and exercises to get to know each other, but also understand about listening and speaking in the process. In our timetable this was supposed to last until about 10pm. When the decision making was still going on after 11pm we were amazed that people had stuck with it, hadn’t rebelled. Once the decisions were made people set about performing, playing, building, sharing and discussing in all sorts of different ways. It had a real energy and joy about it and it was honestly a great night. It closed down slowly around 2 - 3am and people respected ‘lights out’. I slept.
In the morning we (GoMA staff and I) wondered how to wake people up. We had a sudden thought about the PA system and using music. I had some CD’s from an event in 2009 and we got them. Having no idea what would play (they were untracked) I stuck it on. It worked, the track, which now I can’t remember what it was, was perfect. A camp awoke, had breakfast, came together for one last sharing and then slowly packed up. What followed were some joyful sharing of photos and memories. People met up again. There were interesting blog posts and continued conversations elsewhere.
It was one of those events where some just had fun, but others really considered why we were there discussing in groups the themes around Climate Change, the future and how other means of decision making can inform community change. Two future events - Ellie’s talk on 6 March and a talk as part of the Green Lab Alliance event at Tramway on 14 March 2015 brought elements of that out. The short film by Lock Up Your Daughters really caught the atmosphere of the night and the energy that had been created in the room. Some thought that was it, but others felt that they had changed and their ambitions had changed by participating in the event.
Rachel Duckhouse was in Banff in January - February so missed Dark Days. Her time in Banff was a residency where she had a chance to think about her year as Associate Artist at GoMA and she came back with ideas about how to respond to that year in a tangible way. This developed into System Breakdown a series of drawings from conversations with people in and related to GoMA that Rachel had worked with. They were records of how Rachel listened to the conversations that were sparked by the questions on Climate Change and the institution.
These drawings were then printed using the recycled paper from the office, using the photocopier and a limited edition of 50 artist books were created. These were then distributed to people mentioned in the conversations, including ‘senior managers’ by internal mail. Replicating how memos and policies are circulated for attention, or to be ignored! These beautiful drawings were radically different and expressed a range of responses to the same questions and the conversation. They also highlighted personal and institutional connections or disconnections to Climate Change and created talking points about how you ask staff to respond to something they feel institutionally is disconnected from them.
In the process of making the drawings, I better understood the difficulties in addressing a community of individuals each with their own relationship to that community and ultimately to Climate Change; and I’m beginning to understand how they act as a metaphor for the challenges we all face as a global community. Rachel Duckhouse, 2015
Rachel then facilitated a Green Tease event with Creative Carbon Scotland and asked us to draw our conversations using boundaries that we set amongst ourselves. It was around the relationship of Climate Change to ourselves, the city and the world. Those drawings were incredibly interesting to share with each other and the group and our concerns and actions were personal, varied and open. GoMA also worked with Rachel and Creative Carbon Scotland on a Glasgow Museums Insight Café. These are events, primarily for Glasgow Museums’ staff but also open to others, exploring ideas that we are working with in Museums. This brought in colleagues from front of house, learning and conservation to discuss Rachel’s work but also how we are thinking and what we are doing in the service on Climate Change. Some being very practical and front of house like those through the History Hub who have been awarded the Green Tourism Award, to other conversations about how Climate Change issues might influence the refurbishment of the Burrell Collection.
The third main element of the programme this year was the screening of Clyde Reflections from art/science collaborators Ruth Brennan and Stephen Hurrel. Clyde Reflections is a meditative, cinematic experience based on the marine environment of the Firth of Clyde on the west coast of Scotland. The film opened up a space in the gallery for contemplation by reflecting the unfixed, shifting nature of relationships between people and place.
Produced by the collaborative art-science team of artist Stephen Hurrel and social ecologist Ruth Brennan, the film features underwater and microscopic footage, combined with voice recordings of people who have a close relationship with, or specialist understanding of, the Firth of Clyde. These include a retired fisherman, a marine biologist, a diver, a marine conservationist, a spiritual leader and a physical oceanographer.
By engaging with people who connect deeply with their environment, Clyde Reflections presents a multi-perspective representation of a particular marine area in order to challenge a simplistic representation of this environment. The film explores how ‘landscape’ is not a fixed entity, or separate from people, but is dynamic in terms of its socio-ecological properties as well as how it can be perceived.
Alongside the screening there was a talk with Hurrel and Brennan, as well as a symposium with some exciting speakers brought together around the work with contributions from the collaborators, Professor Andrew Patrizio and Professor Sian Sullivan and chaired by Chris Fremantle.
Finally, about the sign!
This year the sign spun far more than its predecessor. It could often be seen burling away in even the slightest breeze. It has been snapped for photographs many times and often spotted on social media, though not necessarily tagged. Online we continued to connect to and collect ideas, references and possibilities through the GoMA Pinterest Board for Early Warning Signs. Blipfoto started with Rhona MacGuire, our intern and unfortunately was never realised once she left. We concentrated instead on uploading Instagrams of the work when remembered.
There is a gap on the Portico now it is gone but, as inspired by hosting the signs and the programme it was the catalyst for as well as the SCAN event with Creative Carbon Scotland, the impetus to respond to Climate Change through the programme is not. The need to respond to Climate Change is not an option we can duck out of.
Dark Days - Ellie Harrison Associate Artist commission
System Breakdown - Rachel Duckhouse Associate Artist commission
Clyde Reflections - Sian Sullivan blog post
Clyde Reflections - film by Ruth Brennan & Stephen Hurrel
GoMA Pinterest - Early Warning Signs
GoMA Blipfoto - daily images of sign