's article prompted me to think about my last visit to GoMA, during this year's February school break, when I was confronted with this prominent warning at the entrance to the main gallery:
Please be aware that this exhibition contains adult content and features graphic language, nudity and sexual conduct. Visitor discretion is therefore advised.
For seven months, this, one of the grandest and most imposing exhibition spaces in Scotland, was being given over to repeated, sequential screenings of five films by the 'enigmatic Scottish filmmaker' (GoMA's description), John Sansom. Begging the question of whether tying up one of the country's biggest gallery spaces for such a length of time is the best way to display any programme of films, there is the issue that Sansom's films deal with such 'challenging' subjects as tattooing, rubber fetishes, and sex and disability. I have no idea if they're any good, because standing in a big empty space is not the way I prefer to watch films, but I'm sure that they are not suitable for the many children who, in that week of the school break, were wandering around GoMA with their parents. Surely, these films would have been better served by a couple of special screenings in the Glasgow Film Theatre, setting them in a fitting context.
Heaving a sigh, I climbed the stairs to Gallery 2. Here the exhibition, 'Poppies', was showing for a staggering six months. The only introduction of any kind was brief biographies of the two artists, one from Berlin and one from London. No attempt was made to offer some kind of entrée to the work, which was colourful, inoffensive, but largely incomprehensible without some background information. On then to Gallery 3, where I was met with another minatory notice:
Works in 'Please Turn Us On' contain adult content and feature drug misuse, graphic language, nudity and sexual conduct and as a result audience discretion is advised.
At least one mother was clearly struggling to find a way of engaging her small daughter with some part of the displays, without her seeing anything that might provoke awkward questions. Here, a little more written context was offered, though as there was a glaring error in the first line (contrary to what was stated, the Third Eye Centre didn't exist in 1973), I wasn't sure how far it could be trusted. This exhibition started eight months before, and was running till an unspecified date this coming summer.
Bear in mind that GoMA is at the very heart of Glasgow's city centre, just minutes from either rail station, and with, in front of its façade, the truly iconic Weegie sight of the Duke of Wellington with traffic cone set rakishly on his head. This is, therefore, likely to be the first public building that many visitors to Glasgow will encounter, and for the best part of a year, these were the exhibitions they were being offered. Now it seems they will be offered an empty space instead. God help them.
is right to be sceptical about the purpose of the cultural strategy development process that the cabinet secretary for culture, tourism and external affairs, Fiona Hyslop, is to kick off with a 'by invitation' event in June. In reality, this is yet another in a continuum of discussions about culture in Scotland going back to the devolution settlement and early days of the Scottish parliament when the Labour government held events to discuss 'the way forward' etc. Visitors to the Scottish government's website pages on 'arts and culture' will find reference to a wealth of material about seminars on the potential contribution these activities make to 'health and well being' and to 'sustainable economy'; many of these events focussed on the role of local as well as central government.
I remember debate becoming quite heated around the issue of the 'instrumentalisation' of the arts, as compared with support for 'art for art's sake'. Readers might remember the national debates that were held around the restructuring of Creative Scotland, chaired by Richard Holloway and the Scotland-wide Creative Scotland OpenSessions, chaired by Pat Kane. All these discussions have been led by a concern to establish the relevance of public spending on arts and culture to the lives of the people of Scotland.
The language of 'accessibility','engagement' and 'empowerment' is common to government statements on culture but this interest is often belied by the process of policy development. As in the current case, discussion appears to be limited to the insider views of the cultural producers, the recipients of public funding, without any balancing input from the wider public who are the funders and the supposed beneficiaries of this spending. This is what leads to the development of inward-looking policies and a collusive approach from vested interests. I have written to the cabinet secretary suggesting that the event in June should be webcast, with opportunities for a wider public to comment and contribute.
This is feasible technically and would be a demonstration of the greater connectedness and technological savvy that the government suggests might underpin more dynamic cultural development in Scotland. It would also be a step towards bringing some much needed transparency and accountability to the process of public spending on arts and culture in Scotland. I hope that the invitees to the June event, even if they do not include Kenneth Roy, will support this proposal and encourage Fiona Hyslop to open up this discussion to make it a more effective national debate.
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