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Glasgow Has Built This Text and This Text Has Built Glasgow | Direct serious action is therefore necessary by Joanne Tatham & Tom O’Sullivan

Glasgow Has Built This Text and This Text Has Built Glasgow
Exists only in the future. This is not a complete thought. It leaves you asking, ‘who or what exists only in the future’?
The direct serious action proposed in the Bruce Report (1945) ensured that the outer lying Greater Glasgow – the suburbs of Drumchapel, Easterhouse, Castlemilk and Pollok – absorbed the ill-housed working classes. At the peak of its population, the city’s greatest paternalist triumph, its post-war redevelopment also generated a sense of loss, loss of the density typical of Scottish towns, a loss of social space. Following more recent refurbishments of the city’s estates and the construction of large out-of-town shopping off the M8 and M77, these public schemes have been augmented with newer speculative private housing, arranged in clusters of medieval cul-de-sacs rather than the modern grid formations of the City Centre. This newest of Glasgows is atomised, a constellation of burghs and bishoprics. The Clyde is silting up. For a substantial number of the city’s residents, this is Glasgow.
There aren’t many representations of the city’s more recent signings, of its private housing estates, its freight yards, its shopping malls, its call centres, its new motorways. Perhaps it’s not that this Glasgow isn’t represented, it’s just that only an ‘iconic’ architectural view is permissible, or what Gerry Hassan calls ‘the world of the official future’:
This is a place where the sum total of public discourse of government, public agencies, mainstream media and corporate coalesce into a relatively coherent worldview. This increasingly points in one way: towards a model of the world centered on economic growth, determinism and the primacy of competition and markets.[1]
New Glasgow lies on a strip of Finnieston along Broomielaw on the north and Kinning Park on the south bank of the Clyde running up to the confluence of the River Kelvin, where shiny destinations have been erected alongside ubiquitous cheap mock dock apartments. There’s the new screenscape of the Science Centre, the ‘needle’, the BBC, Clyde Arc, and the ‘armadillo’, all of which are intended to rival Sydney Harbour as cinematic city.
Surrounded as they are by the wastelands of the Garden Festival site that still separate them from the burgh of Govan, Glasgow’s new cityscape is more reminiscent of Gateshead’s post-industrial façade. This metal jacket is promoted as uniquely Glaswegian (keep mentioning the shipbuilding) when it’s really a one-size-fits-all plan rolled out globally for one-time industrial zones. Regeneration of these spaces always involves a mixture of cultural businesses and cheap private housing designed for a new generation of cultural workers. They are ideal for building mass capacity arenas and high-density homes and office blocks without having to take local residents concerns into consideration (there were no residents in industrial estates.) This is a part of Glasgow that can be found all over the post-industrial Anglosphere. Urbanism by implicature, this city and its people is conspicuously absent in much of the art made in Glasgow today.  While Glasgow and Glaswegians are real enough, there is no real Glasgow.
Architecturally, Tatham & O’Sullivan’s photographs can’t readily be identified with ‘old’ or ‘new’ Glasgow. Their ‘Realism’ is a rhetorical strategy, a way of generating a consensus around what’s supposedly common sense and uncomplicated, what’s true, straightforward, sincere and honest. These black and white images are placed in plywood frames that the artists have carefully made themselves. The beeswaxed frames are jerry-built and homespun in a way that gestures towards the extensive, and perhaps unnecessary, labour involved in their construction. These images hang in a neat row on the walls of the galleries of the CCA, on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow.
The Glasgows who. This is not a complete thought. When you read or hear, ‘The Glasgows who,’ it leaves you wondering, ‘What are those Glasgow doing?’ or, ‘What about those Glasgows?’
Glasgow is associated with Romanticism, the Gothic, with modernism or even with pop. Glasgow is ‘real’. In part this is encouraged by its topography. While it has many hills, it lacks open central vistas that allow theatrical perspective of the lay of the land. The Clyde Valley is, at best, glimpsed down long streets or witnessed afar from Renfrewshire or the Campsies. Central Glasgow is a dense repeating grid, a plateau that places you always in the middle. Glasgow’s Realism is also cultural. It celebrates its lack of propriety, of the propinquity that normally marks urban life, a hangover, perhaps, from Highland Diaspora. Iconoclasm, self-deprecation and schadenfreude languish from Presbyterianism. There is a marked tendency for personal space to be transgressed, for privacy to be disrupted, and unwillingness to succumb to fantasy. This ‘directness’ can be both liberating (inviting) and draining (intrusive).
Much of Glasgow’s most popular visual culture mythologised this veracity – the Glasgow Boys, Thomas Annan’s 19th century social documentary photography, the Gorbals paintings of Joan Eardley. Despite the Glasgow’s considerable riches, representations of poverty have dominated over images of affluence. The resonance of these images in the present appeals, also, to arrivistes since they give the city an ‘authentic’ ring that is still highly valued in bourgeois society. For many of its residents, Glasgow is ‘a cheap holiday in other people’s misery’. The sense of the real is socially constructed and consumed differently by people who live in the city.
Tatham & O’Sullivan have been taking photographs of Glasgow for some time. These are images of the city that they live and work in. Some appear to be almost identical, surplus to our visual requirements. They look at the underlooked, representing districts that aren’t deemed worthy of being documented or sentimentalised: an unremarkable building site in Dowanhill, a park in the East End, a council building in Castlemilk. They don’t represent iconic places or notable incidents; they generally lack a human presence or any narrative intimations that might hold our attention. They have no obvious value in a city that celebrates People’s History. They don’t appear to try too hard to impress a particular style, attitude or mythology that we are asked associate with ‘Glasgow’.
I saw Glasgow who cares. I may have wanted to write:I saw Glasgow. Who cares?’ The intended meaning can be changed, or it can be misunderstood.  Sometimes the meaning is simply incomprehensible. 
Ah’m jist a wee Glasgow pigeon
George Square is mah domain
A rent a wee hoose fae the Council
City Chambers is mah hame
Aye, Glasgow punters are jist great
They’re awfae kind tae me
Ah never ever go hungry
Cause they provide mah tea
They feed me on pie and chips
Or sometimes a loaf of bread
And I return their kindness
With a wee thank you on their head[2]
Glasgow is a deeply sentimental city, rivalled in Britain only by Liverpool. It resembles a patient in trauma. It struggles to remember, to re-examine and come to terms with its past. Glaswegian nostalgia is fuelled by the very rapid post-war destruction and much slower reconstruction of the social, economic and architectural fabric of the city. As it gradually adjusted to its future, Glasgow became an oroborous, a serpent that eats its own tail, a place that feeds off its own mythology. The built environment is central to how the inhabitants of a city construct their sense of self. The Glasgows that might have once been are again learning to share their quarters with the Glasgows of the present and the possible Glasgows of the future.
Which of these pasts are celebrated is a lottery determined by our present desires. The medieval city is marked now only by the Cathedral, the Provand’s Lordship and salvage from the Old College that made it to the new Glasgow University campus on Gilmorehill. Little of Georgian Glasgow is visible through Victorian encrustations and adjustments. But what of Greater Glasgow, of the Corporation that saw to all of its citizens needs? Who took the Greater out of Glasgow? A 1980s Heritage yarn of Victorian Glasgow towers over these earlier and more recent incarnations, with the cultural economy narrative of the ‘Merchant City’ jockeying for position.
History is not fiction, yet it takes the same form as fiction. In cryptozoology, spurious species take the forms that are comprehensible to their time. The sea horses of the medieval past are the prehistoric plesiosaurs we know of today. Similarly the art of every period is defined by a trope specific to its time and place: the café-bar, the vegetarian arts centre. The art of the past can resurface, but it will be received differently in its new surroundings. There’s the always the danger that it might not fit, that it might not mean anything to its modern audiences. Tatham & O’Sullivan recently made two large sculptures in the form of water beasts, and have now placed them in the CCA on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow. The CCA is an arts centre, built in the mid 1970s, deliberately situated on a road that has long been central to the nightlife of the city. The cryptids bob and weave through the gallery spaces, surfacing in the Victorian ‘Greek’ Thompson vestibule, the rear galleries and in a café-bar that was refurbished in the late 1990s. Tatham & O’Sullivan’s mythological kelpies are reminiscent of art works that might have looked more at home in the Third Eye Centre, CCA’s original incarnation established by former International Times editor and poet Tom McGrath.

[1] Gerry Hassan “The Dreaming City: The First Step To A Better World Is Imagining One”, in Soundings: A Journal of Politics and Culture, ‘Tales of the City’ Special Issue, Winter 2007.
[2] Alice Mulholland ‘A Wee Glasgow Bird’, in Alice’s Glasgow Again, Glasgow: GlasgowPrint, 2007, p48.

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