Research Topics and Speculation about Art and Public Space by Scottish artist Matt Baker

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Round 1: Pressed Pants an a Hair Shirt

6 design proposals for an overhaul of Glasgow’s George Square have gone on public display….but (hopefully) this is just the first coy glance in a seduction full of risk and passion.

Lets get this straight from the get go – I fucking love Glasgow (with apologies to mum and partner who are both polite Embra folk). I love its ballsiness, I love its loudness and I love the fact that it has dragged itself mewling and puking into the world by taking jaw-droppingly audacious planning decisions……drive a motorway through the centre of town? Get it done. 

M8 construction Charring Cross 1971

By Anthony Stewart and Archie Birt
My Glasgow is first and foremost commercial  – global shopwindow, place of exchange, city of ideas and raging passions…all furcoat and nae knickers – a place that has built an enviable career as a festival city….festivals – the ultimate furcoat and nae knickers experience….transform yourself completely, hold it together for as long as it takes, recycle what you can, prepare for the next opportunity, grab it with both hauns.

I was genuinely excited when I heard about the George Square re-design idea…another gallous re-invention…people like Neil Baxter, David Harding and Simon Smith involved (3 generations of Glasgow creativity – people with Glasgow in their souls) – BRING IT ON!

below:Queen Elizabeth II examines design proposals for the Gorbals in early 1960s - above: same project demolished 1991
Looking at the design proposals I think we need to be realistic about what we are looking at - these designs appear like job applications to me, like they have been made by ticking off the requirements of the brief and taking politically correct soundings from public comments about ‘the statues’ etc. When designers know there is to be a public consultation they throw in a few populist moves….hopefully these are strategic designs pitched at getting to the next stage whilst keeping the fireworks dry.

George Wyllie - proposal sketch for 'Straw Locomotive' 1990

These first salvoes are not confident and gutsy design of the sort Glasgow demands and deserves – the treatment of the ‘the statues’ is a case in point…..many of the designs retain the statues but re-contextualise them eg under a slightly funky pavilion or group them around a water feature. All this does is underline that these are not remarkable artworks – they are mostly pretty standard Victorian fare – Design Option 3 attempts a new formal layout of the statues – this is a bizarre and revealing move. What these ideas serve to underline is a lack of confidence in contemporary practice. How much better could our new George Square be with work from some of our internationally acclaimed contemporary Scottish Artists?? We need a statement of Glasgow NOW – one that still has confidence and momentum…not one that is hesitant and covering all the bases ‘in case’ – make a call and then back it all the way! Like New York, Glasgow only lives through re-invention – heritage is just part of the toolkit – not the whole gameplan.

The Walter Scott column is a nettle that must be grasped also.... George Square works best as a setting for the awesomely gallus City Chambers and the truly moving Cenotaph……the Scott Column only really has any urban value in relation to Hanover St….it actually detracts from the spatial quality of the square in relation to the City Chambers. Either remove it altogether or creatively adapt it as an accessible viewing platform or the most exclusive (and smallest) hotel in town……how much of the proposed £15million pound budget will be spent shifting this vast structure 30 yards to the North?
How much better to use this opportunity to make a new story in Glaswegian lore by re-siting Walter and his column - making a much needed new people's place somewhere else in the city.
Walter Scott monument in George Square
Proposal by artist Tatzu Nishi to create a hotel room around the column and statue of Earl Grey in Newcastle (curated by LocusPlus)
So what to do? I'm sure all of the shortlisted designers are excellent candidates, any could be the right team (apart from possibly the tartan paving design – we are beyond irony, we are gallus). Maybe the project steering group could now talk to all of the shortlist again and look hard into the underlying thinking and sensitivities of the proposals – try and fathom out which team best ‘gets Glasgow’….pick this team on that basis (and that basis alone) and then encourage them (as only Weegies can) to be bold and brave and give us a city square that sets pulses racing and breaks all the rules – might be a good idea to drop a contemporary artist into the second stage design mix…..let a Nathan Coley loose, add a bit of Richard Wright, sprinkle some Karla Black or a even a dash of Susan Phillipsz?
We might then enter a phase where we have commissioned a team that is working for the city - and part of their/the steering group/our ...JOB is to keep a channel of communication alive with the city about how the thing is progressing.

Nathan Coley 'There Will Be No Miracles Here'