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It’s been April – I’ll say that again – APRIL, since my last post, so I thought it was loooong past time I made an update.

Looking back on my last post I realise with some embarrassment that I was supposed to give full commentaries and background on the past two dialectograms. I’m not going to do that today, but do promise to get these up as soon as I can.

Instead, I’m going to get up to speed on what’s actually been happening these past few months. I think it is fair to say I have not been idle! As well as keeping things ticking over on the PhD, I’ve been looking into potential sites to draw, was a guest of the Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference in Edinburgh to talk about Red Road, and giving a paper at the Drawing Research Network Conference 2012 in Loughborough, where I met other researchers who like to draw, and talk about it at length. Sometimes great length.

Occasionally, I  got around to actually drawing something. So, the first major event of the last five months was in May when I joined with others to Go Tell it On The Green at the People’s Palace. I collaborated with a distinguished line-up of Peter McCaughey, Ross Sinclair, Roddy Buchanan, Johnny Rodger, Michael Mersinis, Gordy Munro and Raymond Burke. Go Tell it on the Green marked the demolition of Douglas Gordon’s 1990 artwork Proof, a hidden monument that marked, rather gnomically, Glasgow’s scurrilous and largely occluded radical history, encompassing the Weaver’s strike of 1787, the ‘Radical War’ or Scottish insurrection of 1820, female political activists during the first world war and anarchist Guy Aldred’s campaigns against the prohibition of political meetings and public use of the Green. In the same year as the artwork’s creation, widespread public anger and a sustained campaign led by Workers City defeated plans to privatise whole swathes of Britain’s oldest public space. A surfeit of symbolism, I’m sure you’ll agree – especially as its demolition (by Network Rail for Health and Safety, before a campaign could even be mounted) occurred in the same year that the Council tried to impose entertainment licences on small exhibitions and events, while simultaneously buying into the increasingly odious PR guff around the ‘Glasgow miracle’.

I’ll de-rant for now, but full details, including film of the talks by Emma Lennox can be found here. The event was also about trying to stimulate further interest and discussion in the hidden history the mural represented. My own thoughts in this direction led me to consider the surface of the Green as a giant, but somewhat impenetrable, recording device for these movements (in both senses) on the ’m not very pleased with this drawing -really just a germ infecting the germ of an idea –  but I see it as the first iteration of something  I intend to pursue much further and will hopefully, open up new possibilities for drawing in tandem with site specific work, using sound and geographical positioning, Expect to hear more, soon.

Speaking of public outcries, it’s also worth mentioning the right stramash that took place overCreative Scotland. The ‘more-than-just-a’ funding body has been in the spotlight of late, as serious critical debate and conversation around how the arts are funded moved from Variant – where it has been consistently criticised and investigated – to centre-stage. Pun intended here – the catalyst has been from among the theatre sector and the removal of flexible funding from these organisations.  Variant has been told it will no longer receive funding from Creative Scotland – check here to get their take on it and if you feel so inclined, assist their efforts to resume publication. For in-depth, accessible, intelligent and ecumenical analysis of the situation check out Stramash Arts for a blow by blow account of this year’s events.

Of course, it’s not all been politicking this year. There was also The Wedding Game, a collaboration with fellow One Night Standee Minka Stoyanova. Glasgow Green and the People’s Palace have a magnetic attraction for me, I think. Our collaboration was  Minka’s brainchild as a contribution to Shotgun Wedding, a show by the Effort Collective. This involved drawing a dialectogram-style game environment and characters for Minka to set the events of an adventure/puzzle game premised around trying to spirit a bride, groom (and yourself) from the mother of all Glasgow weddings.  Minka is now working on the finished version, so I’ll pop up the link once it is finished.

Then there’s SeRTES, an Information and Communication Technology Research Project involving 7 universities and a range of different disciplines. My attitude to ICT is fairly straightforward; if it works, and does the job I want it to do, I’m happy. This attitude is however, having to change with a new piece of work I’m doing with the SeRTES group to investigate how technology is used in the everyday environment – where we access it, how it blends into our current surroundings, and so forth. It is really interesting stuff, and nice to get back into drawing fully domestic situations (it’s been a while).  You can see the first of a series of sketches I’m producing to help the group with its research here, based on the ‘measurable unit’ of a weekend. The involvement has given me some excellent ideas for how I might work on a series of domestic dialectograms sometime in the future.

One of the most exciting things to happen, work-wise, this summer was my visit to The Seminary at Cardross, courtesy of The Invisible College. I am going to be quick on this one simply because this demands a post all of its own. Geographer Hayden Lorimer kindly invited me to come along on The Invisible College’s daytrip and evening workshop to Kilmahew park, location of the ruined Cardross Seminary.

The next update will be along very soon, as I have a rather important announcement to make, but before closing, I want to point you in the direction of VAROOM!LAB and Swansea Metropolitan University’s Spatialising Illustration Symposium in Swansea, on the 24th and 25th of January 2013. I am headed to this event run by Derek Bainton, a good friend of this Blog, and Varoom! magazine.. All the information for the event is included below– the call for papers is closed (sorry Derek for not distributing this sooner!) but worth going to, to hear about recent work and research in this area.

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Many of the regular followers will probably have seen the latest two dialectograms, of the Mecca Bingo and Social Club and of The Brig Bar on the Red Road Underground website. But you will have noticed the absence of the usual whingeing, griping and picking fault with myself that customarily accompanies each post.

So, now that Red Road Underground is launched, and the exhibition is open I felt it was the right time to go into more depth on these latest two drawings (probably the last two significant Red Road drawings I shall produce, save one – I’ll tell you more about that some other time…) and how they came about. We’ll start at the start, with…

THE MECCA BINGO AND SOCIAL CLUB (Red Road Dialectogram No 3)

Those of you who are familiar with Red Road Underground know the bingo’s cardinal claim to fame. It was underground, and it was massive, reportedly holding 1,000 seats . When drawing these seats, it became impossible, from the photographs, to keep track of exactly where they all were and how they were placed, not to mention keeping the right scale so in the eventuality I had to go with what I felt was right. As a result, I haven’t had the heart to count how many seats I placed in the drawing. All I know is I certainly got it wrong, so those of you so-inclined can count them and tell me just how wrong I got it, by looking at the pic below, or checking out the zoom file here

I’d recommend having one of these open (they open into another window) so that you can refer to it as you read).

No drawing – no dialectogram – can capture everything about a place, there are always mysteries, but with both the Bingo and the Brig the mysteries left something of a gaping hold. Working with Chris Leslie we tracked down a number of ex bingo punters and recorded a series of very useful interviews. But the Bingo, like theatres, cinemas, fairgrounds and so forth, consists of two communities of interest – the audience, and the ‘acts’, the backstage, the people who make it all work. Staff.

Sadly, we were unable to get in touch with any staff members, despite a few promising leads, so this element is missing. What the bingo was like to work in, what the workers called certain rooms, was unavailable – as a result, I have had to use the ‘official’ names from the architect’s plans (kindly supplied by Jonny Howes via the Mitchell Library Archives) but have no ideas what the Mecca workers themselves called the storeroom, or the plant rooms. Or the punters themselves! These things matter to me, and they were missing from the drawing.

The Mecca Bingo drawing still brings me out in a bit of a sweat, to be honest. It was such a big space, with so much happening in it I felt all I could do was skim the surface of what was there. Bingo is a mystery to me; I don’t see the thrill and, it is (don’t shout at me!) primarily a female pursuit, and the Bingo hall itself therefore a very feminine place. I wasn’t sure I had the data, or the feel for the place. What I did have was a sense of atmosphere. When our group (which consisted of GHA officials, Iseult Timmermans of Streetlevel, Crawford McGugan and colleagues, from museums, Chris Leslie and myself) entered there was a strange mixture of feelings. It felt very much desolate, abandoned, decaying. and yet, in the better-preserved places, there was a sense that time really had just stopped, been hermetically sealed up and time had shifted. Romantic tomfoolery, perhaps, but feelings are like that. In the manager’s office, (see below) for example, we found all these glimpses and hints of what the bingo was – the yellow cheques given to winners (still in good condition, many feeling rather glossy and new), a bus schedule that detailed where people came into the bingo from, and when they caught the actual buses themselves. I turned the latter into a rather convoluted diagram along the bottom of the drawing (people came from a very wide radius in north Glasgow and Lanarkshire – the bingo hall was important to a lot of people), and, in a departure from previous work, used ‘mixed media’, which is a fancy way of saying I stuck one of the cheques I recovered from the bingo on the drawing. It started to deteriorate once I started handling it afterwards, so the freshness was something of an illusion. Speaking of illusions, here’s a ghost apparently haunting a corner of the main hall –

This feeling, of switching back and forth in time, was something I decided to put in the drawing, which is why the main hall has massive lochs and puddles, piles of debris and various mysteries in some parts, but is reconstructed (see the stage) in others to fit more closely with the bingo’s initial design. This often reflected the quality of information I had. The ladies who gave us the information for the drawing were very kind, and extremely helpful, but details such as where things happened, exactly what things felt like and where, are generally casualties of memory and become vague. This is why, I think, it is essential for me to actually see a place, and ideally, see it while it is still ‘alive’. The depiction of derelict parts of the bingo are therefore an attempt to give the drawing a firmer basis on my own experience of being there, and the occasionally creepy feeling the old bingo gave me. Hopefully, you get the same sense I did – one minute you are looking at something that pretty much looks on first glance, as fresh as a daisy and well preserved. Then, you turn your head and suddenly we wind forward again, to the wrecked and ruined bingo. If the upshot is an occasionally confusing, overly dense drawing then, I apologise, but it is pretty close to what being in the place can actually feel like, with the various layers of artefacts, different types of room, facilities, functions and memories all becoming apparent.

So what’s worth point out here? This involved a much bigger group of people than earlier dialectograms. Helen McDermott, June Aird (whose Aunty Molly was a regular), Mary MacDonald, Ruth Wright and some of the folk at Alive and Kicking all gave information for this. Helen, a real Mecca bingo pilgrim, gave a lot of crucial information that can be seen mostly on the right side of the dialectogram, about the details of playing bingo, her reasons for going, and her favourite seat (I was not sure we got the correct identification from our interview, but had a stab at identifying it in any case).

Ruth Wright went to the Bingo much more casually, and tended to remember events and incidents, rather than the detailed workings of the place. One of these took place in the ladies toilets, which seemed to double as a dodgy market stall for stolen goods – I’ve tried to recreate it in the top left of the drawing

Another thing that piqued my interest was the style of the Mecca – echoes of Art Deco (Mecca-Deco) here and there, with lots of shiny surfaces – as June remembered it, ‘sparkly’. I saw lots of things that reminded me of my uncle’s travelling amusement arcade –bright colours, plastic and fibreglass moulding. The bingo would have been a noisy place.

And then…the lights and the stalactites. The bingo closed because of a fire in the shop above aroundabout 98-99. The firefighter’s hoses flooded down into the bingo, pretty much drowning it. Damp and sodden, Mecca abandoned what had always been a leaky facility, and the water gradually did its work. The combined effects of melting plastics and seeping water turned the ceiling into a mess of ragged, stalactite like shapes as the tiles fell off and left the innards of the roof exposed. And then the lights – we all thought the lights that hung from the ceiling represented a style of lampshade (similar to the sweeping curves of the doors in the bingo) but actually, it’s a pure accident. The lights were originally sunk into the ceiling tiles. As the bingo decayed, the light fixture pushed through and fell down to swing on its wires. The tile that was left attached then drooped down, creating an accidental interior design flourish.

In the end, the bingo drawing represents a lot of missed opportunities for me. There were lots of things I never found out about, and could not resolve – how did the bingo-caller work? What was the real setup on the stage? And what was the closed off area where the mini-bingo used to be? Had I known these things, I could have used layering to show changes over time, and generally been better informed. But, with time at a premium and information sketchy, I eventually just had to stop the drawing, rather than finish it. So I look at it now with rather a lot of dissatisfaction (Just like every other dialectogram I do…)

THE BRIG BAR

This drawing was completed about a week and a bit before Red Road Underground opened. Chris, a man of infinite patience, got used to my reassurances that the Brig would be finished ‘any day now’ meaning absolutely nothing (I mean, after four months of saying the exact same thing you tend to lose credibility…). Like the Bingo, the Brig was offered subterranean leisure (for your pleasure) but was rather more distinctive in style, taking the theme of the interior of a boat or galleon. This in a location that is about as far north from the Clyde you can get without leaving Glasgow. Here’s the pic, and a zoom version can be found here.

The Brig was in some ways easier to do than the bingo, but presented difficulties all of its own. Being on safely masculine territory, I found I had more personal terms of reference with which to reconstruct the pub and its workings than with the Mecca.

What was particularly nice was the chance to reunite with Bob Niven (see Dialectogram No 2) and Finlay MacKay who helped me piece together the earlier days of The Brig and their experience of growing up with a nautically themed subterranean modernist pub as their yardstick for all other bars. They provided lots of useful pointers to both myself and Chris (although one of the meet-ups I arranged with Bob and Finlay ended up taking place in a pub, which resulted in some very scrawled notes (even for me) and a level of drinking which certainly separated the men from the boy (I’ll let you guess who the boy was)).

I also got in touch with Azam Khan, whose experiences at the Brig are captured in Alison Irvine’s novel, and he had me over to his place one teatime to fill me in on his experiences. As someone coming into the scheme in their rough and ready 90s, his experience of the Brig was somewhat different. Not negative, necessarily, but rather more hair raising and risky. It was an important perspective to have, giving a range from Bob (a real regular, stalwart of the darts team), to Finlay (who went there after football, and found ‘the talent’ in the Broomfield tavern more alluring) and then Azam, who came to the Red Road alone, went to the Brig alone, and eventually switched allegiance to the Broomfield as his first stop on a night out.

Nevertheless, it was hard to get folk to talk about the Brig. An ex-manager of the bar is known to all who work at Red Road, but has a policy of refusing to go on record about his times there. Other staff were unreachable or unwilling – in short, The Brig suffers from the same basic problem of the Bingo – it’s a one-sided view.

The other problem was more serious, and is the reason for many of the gaps and lacunae in the final piece. No plans of the bar survive, and I initially, only had a couple of hours to gain access to the bar and work out how the bar was shaped. I literally had to do a reconstructive sketch on site, with limited lighting and limited time. This sketch has – appallingly – gone missing, but I have kept other sketches, based on the minigrams I drew to help me get a feel for how the place was stuck together. On site it was very confusing! There were nooks and crannies that didn’t seem to belong there at all, whole sections that seemed to defy the laws of physics, and rooms that I was unable to place. The floor plan as it stands here then, is in good part imaginary, or to be more positive, an educated guess.

These problems aside, the Brig represents a more self-contained, manageable universe than its counterpart. As Bob, a regular from aged 15 noted, ‘not many people from outwith the flats went to the Brig’. The bar, or at least parts of it, was much better preserved. Though there is fire damage in places, this was from later vandalism – the bar closed, with the intention of reopening much the same time as the Bingo, so while many fixtures were taken away, a lot remained, including the distinctive compass tables.

However, there were two phases of usage that complicates depicting the Brig somewhat; the well-preserved, almost pristine bar we walked into was not the original ‘bar’. It was actually the lounge

For those of you accustomed to pubs being relatively liberal places designed for a bit of a dance, a chance to try (and fail) to pick up women/men and so forth, it should be pointed out that the traditional Scottish boozer operates according to strict rules, social protocols and hierarchies. There is ‘the bar’ and there is ‘the lounge’. The bar is primarily, a place for men, to do those manly things we men like to do, largely out of the sight of women, who are generally only seen in such places with their husband. If at all. Then there are the rules about seating, playing dominoes…too many to go into just now. Generally, a husband who takes his wife to the pub takes her to the lounge (which is where many Red Road couples reunited after the bingo closed). The lounge is also the correct place for students, visitors and any others who might not have an entirely nuanced sense of the correct behaviour and deportment traditional to the bar area.

So it was with the Brig. In fact, bar and lounge were so separate, there was no way of easily getting from one to the other. To meet your wife after an afternoon in the main bar, you would have to walk all the way round the side (very dark, as Azam Khan remembers) , turn the corner into the plaza to get to the lounge entrance, strategically placed next to the bingo. However, because (I think) parts of the underground plaza at Red Road were closed off in the early 90s, the main bar was closed off and decommissioned, leading to the lounge becoming the only bar. This meant the old bar (are we keeping track of all these bars ok?) lacked many of its features and fixtures, not least the actual bar itself, which was taken out. It took some detective work, looking at the holes on the wall and gaps in the flooring as shown on Chris’ photographs, to retrace what seems to have been its shape. I have no doubt I got it wrong, so if you remember it differently, feel free to tell me.

I had to look on the photographs for details of the bar, because at the time we entered the Brig in March 2011, I did not know this aspect of the Brig’s history and thought it was probably a function room of some sort, not noticing the tell tale marks that there had been something installed in there.. Luckily, Bob Niven has a terrifyingly accurate memory and I got a sense of what should be there, but I still got a lot wrong.

Still, I did get some pretty rich material for this one – I feel I got a better handle on the Brig than the Mecca. The distinctive style of the bar was a real attraction – drawing the compass tables (I rescued one, which now sits in my front room) really exercised my drawing muscles but was very satisfying and really anchors the drawing. I also like how the Brig links to the other Red Road drawings, as you will see noted here and there (Stuart MacMillan, who photographs bars around Glasgow and has been very helpful and supportive, suggested using hyperlinks to connect web-versions of the drawings. I might just give it a try).

There was more experimentation with mixed media here too (a fancy way of saying I stuck a beermat on the drawing) and I took a conscious decision, given the sheer bulk of testimony garnered about The Brig, to make this more ‘wordy’ than other dialectograms – it’s really one of the most dense I’ve done so far, at the cost of visualisations and explanatory diagrams. I’m not sure what I think of the effect overall, but I’m quite pleased at how I’ve used the people in this one – I’m getting better at drawing people from above, but also, I think the addition adds something important to the drawing and tells you something about the place.

When collecting artefacts for our show at New Glasgow Society we briefly returned to the Brig to find some useful objects. Of course, I had a chance to check for mistakes – and discovered more than a few! The storeroom is too large, the keg room is in the wrong place, and I have the doors to the main bar entirely wrong – there should be a double set of double doors leading in! As you can imagine, this has tortured me ever since – all I could do was make some notes on the drawing and berate myself at length

Overall then, while the Brig hangs together more as a drawing, again, I can’t help but feel all the missed opportunities. A little more time spent on the drawing could have brought out more of the relationships between different groups in the bar (though there is definitely more of that in this drawing than some of the previous Red Road Dialectograms) and shown more of the workings of the bar itself. But that actually would have meant a LOT more time in fact, and it would require actually drinking there. And that’s impossible now. I would have liked to have gotten more detail on the various bands who played at Red Road, and had the chance to show more of the drawing to the guys at various times. But, schedules being what they are, it just wasn’t possible. The drawing did confirm how complex pubs are; a whole social structure is represented within, and created within the pub, a whole way of life tied closely, irrevocably to that place, so that when the bar closes for business and last orders are called, a great deal of knowledge and understanding goes with it. The more of these types of traditional pubs close, the more we lose touch with this aspect of our past – sexist, insular, destructive and daunting as it can sometimes be, at others it can be life-affirming, fraternal, supportive, as shown on the old photographs Chris found behind the bar and noted on the drawing.

Maybe that’s why when we did go in, and saw that the Brig had deteriorated further, I felt very sad. I’d never visited The Brig in its prime, but having thought about the place, and soaked up as many stories about it as I could, I felt almost as if I had some kind of stake in it. I suppose that’s a by-product of looking so long, and hard at places. You fall into something like love with them. And that, the graphic novelist Dave Sim (Cerebus) warns us is a bad idea, as he put it ‘never fall in love with a bar.’

AND IN OTHER NEWS…

…we’ve been on the news. Red Road Underground has been on the news a lot*. First off there was a feature in the Scotsman – rather nice. Dialectograms were referred to as ‘charming sketches’. Dialectograms are charming? Well, yes, perhaps…but ‘sketches’?

I shouldn’t quibble I suppose – the press was very helpful. We also appeared on STV news.

http://news.stv.tv/scotland/west-central/296517-landmark-glasgow-flats-set-for-demolition/

Just a shame they didn’t mention where the show was! Incidentally, we are having another event for Red Road Underground this Saturday (18th) at 2pm – artists talks with Chris Leslie, Alison Irvine (This Road is Red), Crawford McGugan of Glasgow museums, and me.

Lastly (no, really) thanks to all of you who came along to the private view and opening of the exhibition – both nights were jumping and great fun. Neil Scott, a blogger and podcaster, made this record of the event. Shows a bit of the exhibition (you can see Finlay and Bob in the very first few frames, nearest the camera), gives you a flavour of how busy it was, and certainly tells you more than you ever needed to know about short women.

* thanks are due to Stuart Darroch, GHA for making a lot of the press contacts.


(Image courtesy of Chris Leslie, ©Chris Leslie 2012)

Red Road Underground is the culmination of several years of work by artists Chris Leslie and Mitch Miller in documenting the final days of the Red Road housing scheme in Glasgow.

Through photography, film and illustration their work examines the lives of those who lived in the city’s most striking modern housing development. Based on in-depth interviews with current and ex-residents, and exclusive access to sites now closed off to the public, their work offers a unique take on the legacy of the flats. We have been invited to exhibit at the recently revamped New Glasgow Society gallery in February 2012, to coincide with the demolition of the first two slab blocks in Spring 2012. The show Red Road Underground will show previously unseen material concerned primarily (but not exclusively) with the underground leisure complexes built at Red Road. This included a massive underground bingo hall and a nautically themed bar called The Brig. Both of these sites have been closed since the 1990’s.

Exhibition runs from February 1st to March 2nd at the New Glasgow Society, 1307 Argyle St, Glasgow G3 8TL. Opening hours 11 – 5 (Closed Sundays)

EXHIBITION OPENING NIGHT RECEPTION
This Friday the 3rd February at 7pm – 10 pm. Come along for a wee shandy…

Other Events this month:

Saturday 18th February, 2-5pm
(PUBLIC EVENT, FREE) Red Road Beneath the Surface: Artists Talks with Chris Leslie, Mitch Miller and Alison Irvine, author of This Road is Red.

Artists Chris Leslie and Mitch Miller welcome novelist Alison Irvine, author of This Road is Red.  Working through their respective disciplines of photography, illustration and the novel, all three artists have responded to the challenge of depicting the complex and rich history of the Red Road Flats. Here they will discuss how they approached the subject matter, the challenges (and opportunities) of working in such an environment and how the finished work reflects their experiences. There will also be an opportunity to buy copies of This Road is Red and have them signed by the author.

Friday 2nd March, 6.30-8.30pm
(PUBLIC EVENT, FREE) The Roots of Red Road: Discussing the wider legacy of the Red Road Flats.

Join Johnny Rodger, lecturer in History + Theory at the Mackintosh School of Architecture (GSA) and special guests Dr Miles Glendinning (University of Edinburgh) and Dr Florian Urban (Mackintosh School of Architecture) for debate and discussion on the wider cultural and political legacy of the Red Road Flats. When architect Sam Bunton dreamed of American style tower-blocks in 1960s Barmulloch he both identified with and distinguished himself amongst a pan-European trend for Modernist high rise residential developments. Now regarded by many as a wrong turn in urban planning and housing policy, the legacy of High Rise continues to provoke strong feelings and lively debate. A chance to hear from the experts on how Glasgow fits into the wider history of modernist architecture, and put your own questions to the panel.

Thanks to the kind support and assistance of friends, supporters, colleagues – and many of you – Chris Leslie and I shall be going to the ball. Or rather, we shall be going to the New Glasgow Society, to exhibit our work for Red Road Underground.

Red Road Underground will show previously unseen material concerned primarily (but not exclusively) with the underground leisure complexes built at Red Road.

The show is open from 1st February 2nd March, and open Monday to Saturday 11-5pm, but we also have some very special events planned throughout the run of the show, and we’d love to see you there! There is a private view for supporters (which include blog readers) at NGS on the 2nd February from 7pm. The other events are open to all:

Red Road Beneath the Surface: Artists Talks with Chris Leslie, Mitch Miller and Alison Irvine, Saturday 18th February, 2-5pm, (PUBLIC EVENT, FREE)

Artists Chris Leslie and Mitch Miller welcome novelist Alison Irvine, author of This Road is Red. Working through their respective disciplines of photography, illustration and the novel, all three artists have responded to the challenge of depicting the complex and rich history of the Red Road Flats. Here they will discuss how they approached the subject matter, the challenges (and opportunities) of working in such an environment and how the finished work reflects their experiences. There will also be an opportunity to buy copies of This Road is Red and have them signed by the author.

The Roots of Red Road: Discussing the wider legacy of the Red Road Flats, Friday 2nd March, 6.30-8.30pm (PUBLIC EVENT, FREE)

When architect Sam Bunton dreamed of American style tower-blocks in 1960s Barmulloch he both identified with and distinguished himself amongst a pan-European trend for Modernist high rise residential developments. Now regarded by many as a wrong turn in urban planning and housing policy, the legacy of High Rise continues to provoke strong feelings and lively debate. Join Johnny Rodger and Dr Florian Urban of the History + Theory at the Mackintosh School of Architecture (GSA) and Dr Miles Glendinning Dr of the Scottish School of Conversation Studies, Edinburgh College of Art for debate and discussion on the wider cultural and political legacy of the Red Road Flats.

For more information on the project and the show, visit www.redroadunderground.co.uk

Sort of. There are exactly twelve days to go until the end of the campaign to fund the Red Road Underground exhibition. The show will be held at the New Glasgow Society gallery in Partick in February this year, and is a joint collaboration with the filmmaker and photographer Chris Leslie.

All the funds we raise go directly to the cost of making prints, flyers and admin for the exhibition at the gallery run by New Glasgow Society in Patrick. The NGS is a charity that promotes public interest in and care for the history and character of Glasgow, and did a great deal to prevent the demolition of many historic tenements during the demolition-happy days of the 70s and 80s. We’re delighted to have been asked to exhibit, but as a voluntary (if distinguished) organisation, their resources are limited. So unfortunately, are ours. We are taking no fees or funds for this show – we just want the chance to show the public what we’ve been doing at Red Road these past couple of years, in a really great exhibition space that will allow us to show the artworks off at their best.

So far we have raised $755 dollars, which will help somewhat, but still falls far short of what we need to cover at least the minimal costs.

So, I’m not in the habit of making appeals, but if any of you have enjoyed this blog so far, and have a spare 6 or 7 quid or so (which I do understand is often not the case in January) then I’d be very grateful if you’d consider a visit to our campaign site and looking at how you can donate, and the gifts that we’ll give you in return for that. By gifts I mean receiving exclusive art prints, films and DVD souvenirs, all limited edition. You will also be listed as a patron and sponsor of the show, and be offered our firstborn to do with as you please (only two of those three perks are actually true…)

To get a sense of what you will see at the exhibition (and to finally see the latest dialectogram of The Bingo at Red Road!) visit www.redroadunderground.co.uk, and if that should inspire you, then here’s the link to indiegogo again – www.indiegogo.com/Red-Road-Underground-Exhibition .

For those who don’t like Indiegogo/want to stay anonymous, please do feel free to contact me directly on the ‘Get Involved’ page of this site  – I can still hook you up with a nice thank you gift from either myself or Chris!

In any case, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all of you who have read the blog, contributed comments and offered up ideas and words of support over the past year. A Happy New Year and all the best for 2012 – here’s a ‘minigram’ of the Brig for your pains!

Mitch

Firstly, I have to pass on the bad news that my recently completed drawings of the undergound Bingo and Brig Bar will not be available on this site…yet. I have been collaborating with Chris Leslie on Red Road Underground, a major part of which consists of a website. I have been asked to hold back on publishing my drawings here, until that is officially launched. Once it is, I will put full commentaries and notes up on here immediately, so do please keep checking!

In the meantime, we could use your help… to tie in with Red Road Undergound we have an exhibition of our work scheduled for February 2012 at the New Glasgow Society. We will be showing our latest pieces, based on our work at the  underground Bingo and the Brig Bar, and are still raising funds to aid with printing and staff cover.

So if you have some Christmas presents to buy, and would like to help us out, click on the image below to go to our IndieGogo campaign and donate! We have a range of prints and artworks available for high quality download in return for your assistance, as well as films and explanatory literature.We need to raise about £3000 to do the exhibition properly, but every little helps, so whatever you can manage would be gratefully received, and guarantee you a credit as an exhibition patron!

Last week I met Stuart MacMillan, keen student of Glasgow’s pubs (not in the sense that usually implies, mind you…). I’ll tell you more about my meeting with him, and what that portends soon, but for now, I shall reveal that Stuart is a dab hand with digital software and digital imaging and has, very kindly, provided me with this zoomable version of the Niven’s drawing. It’s dead simple and intuitive, and will hopefully be applied to other Dialectograms soon. Just click on the drawing to be taken to the new version.

 

Well, it’s been a while. Hopefully I will be more regular from now on, but I think I always say that every time I resume posting after yet another hiatus.

So what’s been happening? The first –major – bit of news is that I have the means and support to continue dialectograms for at least three years. This is thanks to the Glasgow School of Art who have accepted me for a practice-based PhD at the Art School, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council for giving me a grant to do so. That is, I get to spend the best part of three years mooching round the city drawing, and ‘all’ I have to do is write a thesis at the end!

Well, of course, it’s more complex than this, but it is a golden opportunity to expand the range and reach of dialectograms into other parts of the city, and really experiment with the style and method. I am therefore, very much in the market for ideas and suggestions for places to draw. Do you know somewhere, some people, who would make a good drawing? As with the Red Road drawings, the finished drawings will be offered to Glasgow Museums to become part of their collection. As one of the hardest parts of the process is gaining access to sites, I would also appreciate any thoughts on useful contacts and groups that I could introduce myself to. Please contact me if you have some ideas.

In other news, I have posted for your delectation, a recent dialectogram, of sorts, based on James Kelman’s novel The Busconductor Hines. It is included in the book The Red Cockatoo: James Kelman and the art of commitment which looks at the writer’s political background and activities, which I co-authored with Johnny Rodger. We’ll be launching it at the Edinburgh Independent Radical Book Fair on the 29th October at 1pm, so if you’re that end of the M8, come along.

Lastly, check out the work of London-based artist Helen Scalway. We recently met at Central Station to discuss the similarities in our work and found we had plenty in common. Helen uses type and computer generated imagery to create drawings very similar to dialectograms. Now, you’d think I’d be wary of an apparent rival but Helen’s work offers a different enough take on what you could call mythogeography. It is also nice to know there is someone else out there who is tackling similar problems. Helen is apparently starting a blog soon, so I will let you know when she gets that started. Speaking of blogs, Stuart Murray continues to do some great work over at his gaff.

Speaking of mythogeography, check this place out for some thought provoking articles and perspectives – it has certainly given me plenty to think about.

THE GENERAL NEWS ROUND UP BIT

It’s been a while – a long while – since the last update, so I do apologise to my long-suffering followers. It’s been a busy time, mostly spent teaching at Edinburgh College of Art, so I have only just had a chance to get back to matters dialectographical.

Before I go on to unveil the second Red Road dialectogram, I wanted to give a quick news update. Derek Bainton, who has said many kind things about this blog and the drawings on it, wrote an excellent article in Varoom! Magazine, in which dialectograms featured. There is some great work featured there, including that of Stuart Murray, who has been mentioned here before.

Secondly, I can also announce that Glasgow museums are buying, on a piece by piece basis, the originals of the Red Road drawings  for the collection of the People’s Palace museum. The fee for each, while giving me some useful food token money, can also go to having high quality prints of the original made for the people who so kindly assisted me in putting the drawing together. These are generally much nicer than the original itself, which is pretty grotty after I’ve been pawing at it for weeks. The original will sit in the collection along with a digital copy for display and reproduction purposes, and will of course, be freely available for the public to see, which is very fitting, given how much the public contribute to their making.

Not quite lastly, I have been supporting Alison Irvine, author of This Road is Red on a library tour in North Glasgow. There are still 3 dates to come – the 2nd of June at Milton Library, 3rd of June at People’s Palace, and 16th June at Royston. Check the libraries website for more details.

Lastly, I am now a twit(terer) – you can follow me @Dialectographer

THE DIALECTOGRAM

So, another Red Road dialectogram is finished; The Nivens from S(i)even was put together with the kind help and assistance of  the Niven family, residents of the scheme for 40 years. The Nivens moved out in 2008, and their flat is long gone but, with the aid of Bob Niven, whose memory is somewhat encyclopaedic, I was able to reconstruct his family home as best I could. Here is the result:

This was possibly the toughest drawing to date, largely because I had almost nothing to go on in concrete terms – just memories, glimpses in photographs and a general knowledge of what the likely groundplan. However, even this proved tricky, as finding the exact layout of the flat depended on what position it would have on a landing  – not all the flats can be traced in the surviving floorplans.

As far as memories go, it can get even more tricky. People tend to be vague in their recollection once they are at a remove. Recall is impressionistic, usually seizing on a particular, individual thing an forgetting or blotting out other day to day details that for some reason have not become so fixed in their heads. Whereas the Concierge Station was fairly scientific, in that I could observe for myself and ask questions about the details, the Nivens drawing was really about using their flat as the hook for a twisting, turning narrative of their time there – it’s an exercise in storytelling. The timeline at the bottom certainly contributes to the more linear nature of the drawing, as do the episodes taken from my interviews. In the concierge drawing these episodes- such as the Asylums strip, or the blow by blow account of evicting a family of troublemakers –  were intended as representative of workings in the scheme overall.

Whereas elements of the Nivens’ drawing shared some of these characteristics, most seemed to be about very personal experiences; Bob’s perception of the veranda as a ‘garden’, Anne’s horrific encounter on the local train or the recollection of old Florence who sat on the low wall outside the block.

Having said that, there is still anthropology aplenty; asbestos and its dangers, the military manoeuvres of the local gangs and the draughtiness of life 7 stories up echo experiences gleaned from elsewhere in the scheme.

It is a much denser drawing, overall – not as much white space here, to be sure! So far it makes for an interesting comparison with the first Red Road dialectogram, indicating I think, that no two are going to be the same. There have been some nice surprises I’d like to explore a little more thoroughly down the line. Foremost is the entertainment centre cutaway. A group of GSA students who looked at my work noted how it is almost a graph, or chart of life in the flat, something I’d wished I’d developed further. True enough, a scan around the unit does condense and ‘crosstab’ a lot of detail about the family, but I could have got more I think, if I’d tackled this deliberately from the inception of the drawing. The lockers in the Concierge drawing also perform a similar function  – in fact, they look very like a bar-chart.

I showed Bob his drawing a few weeks ago – he went very quiet, but nodded a lot, which I am taking as a good sign. Next week, I will take him up a swanky art print of the original for him and his family, and see if his parents feel the same. Overall though, there’s not much time to pause and be pleased with myself – the Brig and the Bingo will not draw themselves (however much I may wish it was so).

In spring a not-as-young-as-he-was-man’s fancy turns to blog. It’s about sweet time it did, in fact, for, as blog-follower Derek Bainton pointed out in a recent email, dialectograms have been quiet of late. You might have been forgiven for wondering if I had imploded under the weight of tasks at hand.

Not so far, though it’s been a close call at times.

The silence is due to a very busy period. Firstly, novelist Alison Irvine has completed This Road is Red and I, doing my part, the inside illustrations and cover design. I fretted over the cover for ages, and only really got to like it a couple of weeks ago – after I had to submit it! – and now rather like it. As there are no longer any innocent to protect, please find below a selection of the earlier versions, leading up to the finished article, as well as the groundplan dialectogram specially commissioned for the book.

And here’s the finished version.

And here’s the groundplan that was reproduced in the novel.

The book was launched at the Aye Write festival in my library (the Mitchell, that is…) with what must have been around a couple of hundred people in attendance and appearances from a number of those involved in all things Red Road – Iseult Timmermans showed some of her pinhole photography and portraits of the flats, Chris Leslie screened a film and slideshow made from trips we had made to the Red Road Bingo and the Brig Bar (see below) and I was also drafted in to give a five minute primer on the dialectographic process. I also showed, for the first time, the new dialectogram tables, as designed by Euan Elliot, a very talented carpenter and sculptor whose genius first became apparent when I saw a combination chair and cello he had made just to see if he could. His design of triangular tables was ingenious yet simple, and you can see here Emma modelling the Concierge table (and simultaneously standing in for the steel rod that supports it at an angle, which has not been fitted yet). The tops of the tables were made from prints done at the Glasgow Print Studio which I must say, were beautiful. Anyway, I love my tables and can’t wait to see them set up in other venues –and while I’m at it, if any of you need some carpentry of an unusual nature, let me know and I’ll put you and Euan in touch.

Alison and others read from the novel, and although she confessed she was nervous as hell, she looked every inch the relaxed author at large by the end. Having read the novel I can certainly recommend it; the authorial voice has a clinical honesty to it, and she handles her characters, each derived from real life with real sensitivity. I see great things in Alison’s future (and just hope she lets me grab a coat-tail or two as she goes) and feel I owe her a great debt; it was she who first suggested me to the Red Road project and who got me involved in the whole thing after a chance meeting at a wedding. It pays to be lucky.

That’s not all that’s been happening either. I appeared alongside artists Chris Leslie and Nicky Bird at High Rise: The Future in the Past, an event organised by The Drouth, sponsored by Glasgow School of Art Urban Labs and held at the CCA in Glasgow. The three of us spoke to our work inspired by multi-storey living to a packed Cinema 4 in CCA. It’s funny how the subject of high-rise is of such wide interest. The other day I spoke with four architecture students from Glasgow School of Art who were doing a project on Red Road and what I was doing there. Fiona and the rest of her group had some excellent questions that helped me refine some of my thinking.  On Friday, after Aye Write (and quite a lot of celebratory beers) Emma and I went for a meal near the Mitchell Library, where our copy of the novel took pride of place on the table. It was spotted by some guys who had just sat at the table next to us, and the Red Road association was immediately picked up by one of them had worked in the scheme. Like most Glasgow people he had strong opinions about the flats and a lot of questions about the novel and the whole cultural project. It was a friendly chat though – while the novel (and my illustrations, I noted) was perused carefully I suddenly had to field a load of questions about the scheme, what people like me were doing there, the current situation and other things I can’t remember now. I think I got at least a couple of potential buyers for the novel, in the process.

The other event I should mention was a special group exhibition ‘Telling Stories’ at Market Gallery, where the Concierge Station was asked to make an appearance. The show celebrated narrative and illustrative traditions in Scottish culture with a line up that was frankly, intimidating, including David Shrigley and Frank Quitely, whose ‘The Greens’ parody of a well known Scottish comic strip family is still one of my favourite independent strips. Stuart Murray, a good friend of this blog also had a selection of drawings on show. As per usual I was ill on the opening night and felt distinctly spaced out by the whole affair. Frank Quitely was in the room and I, being terrible at approaching people I admire out of the blue, failed in every conceivable way to just say hello to Frank (or is it Mr Quitely?) despite the urgings of Emma and a nice chap with a compendious knowledge of comics who showed no such shyness. Mr Q cast a brief eye over the Concierge Station and I’m not sure he was that impressed actually, so probably as well that I kept to my part of the room in the end – could have been embarrassing for both of us. Overall though, a fascinating show and a real honour to be a part of it – beyond the star turns mentioned above I’d especially recommend tracking down the work of two other Millers, John and Rob, Innes Smith and Sorcha Edward’s stuff. I also premiered the Red Road Chapbook, which seemed to be getting snapped up pretty quickly on the night.

Lastly, in terms of glittering celebrity ‘look at me’ announcements, Stuart Murray and I are to appear in an upcoming issue of Varoom! feature on illustrators and the urban environment by Derek Bainton. Don’t know more than that for now, but looking forward to seeing it.

But beyond all this attention seeking, have I done any actual work, you ask? Well yes. Firstly, I have been donning a hard hat and venturing underneath Red Road into the fabled bingo hall and Brig Bar. We had been told there was not much to see in these spaces since flood and fire closed them forever, but that is very much a matter of opinion; these places are a treasure trove and will be the basis of my third and fourth drawings. The bingo is well underway and I sketched out the brig on site, resulting in a very confusing – and intimidating groundplan in embryo.

Astute observers will have noticed that I mentioned the third and fourth dialectograms – what about the second? The answer is it is very nearly, almost done. The pics below shows, in process, the Nivens from Seven, a reconstruction of the home belonging to Bob Niven’s family at 63 Petershill Drive. It will be finished very imminently, after which I will move onto finishing the bingo and starting on the brig.

Hopefully all of that is as good an excuse as any for the blog-neglect! I should have a further update on the Nivens drawing, and more on what I found in the bingo, coming up soon. Thanks to all who have been following so far – I shall try and be more regular in future!

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