Risky Glaswegian Business
Article updated 16 Jun 2010. Paragraph two of this article was changed at the editing stage. This is an amended version that better reflects the writer's original opinions.
The one thing that creative Glaswegians really understand is that in order to make exciting art you’ve got to take risks, and you’ve got to be able to fail, occasionally. Perhaps, in part, because of the aspects of the city that might make it seem dangerous to outsiders, Glasgow has embraced a sense of itself as pioneering, slightly subversive and a touch irresponsible, leading it to breed, attract and encourage risk-taking artists.
Glasgow has become the sort of fertile and exciting place where something like Franz Ferdinand’s near-legendary Chateau space (a bit like Andy Warhol's Factory, with fewer mod cons) can bubble out of a disused warehouse in the Gorbals and nurture several now-significant Scottish bands and artists. City centre boutique Che Camille, now a celebrity-endorsed high fashion hub for local design, also started out life there, as a candlelit (when the electricity generator blew) studio.
More recently Glasgow has become the birthplace of an independent magazine dedicated to deliberately risky and experimental literature (the recent and phenomenally successful Gutter), and one of the most successful artist/fashion/DJ collectives in the UK, LuckyMe. These are just some of the biggest names. The upcoming Glasgow International festival will showcase a city whose well-supported grass roots artists have colonised every available space.
The people making this risk-taking work often rise more quickly to prominence than their Edinburgh equivalents because they’re aided and assisted by venues and producers willing to take chances on unknowns. The Arches – whose long-running Arches Live festival, and new Behaviour festival, are dedicated to homegrown performance work and who actively search out new DJing talent to play alongside their bigger names – was specifically founded as a basement arts space for ambitious, no-budget work. The huge range of big name clubs and gigs it supports today have sprung up almost incidentally, and were all made possible because Andy Arnold, who created the space, wrote the right to fail into the venue’s constitution. The result today is a venue absolutely unafraid to take risks, either in its own productions, or on new work. Those risks might not always pay off, but when they do the results are spectacular.
While Edinburgh’s Traverse has begun utilising its bar space recently, all nights are run as part of the official programme. It’s difficult to imagine them turning the whole area over to a cabaret night by completely untested performers, as the Tron does regularly with nights like To Be Confirmed and License Pending. We have our grand, Greek-pillared temple of art, just as Edinburgh does, but you’re more likely to find GoMA filled with exciting, young locally-based artists like Torsten Lauschmann or Jim Lambie than a Titian that costs a large part of Scotland’s GDP.
Ultimately it’s a strain of fearlessness running through Glasgow’s artists and art programmers that distinguishes it from the capital. That fearlessness is accompanied by a realistic acceptance of the potential for failure that, strangely, ensures it regularly produces stunning work.