Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Is it possible to isolate any particular qualities, or their relationship to each other, that define a performance as Glaswegian?

The idea that Glasgow has a unique identity within Scotland is not unfamiliar. Dr Sarah Lowdnes’ Social Sculpture examines the interconnectedness of the city’s visual art and musical scenes, and postulates that their shared aesthetic have been a dynamic force behind Glasgow’s success in exporting its art around the world. Glasgow City Council has used the slogan ‘Glasgow: Scotland with Style’ and talk of ‘the Glasgow miracle’ (the rejuvenation of the city after its time as City of Culture in 1990) is commonplace in discussions of the impact of art on urban renewal.

When Hans Ulrich Obrist, curator at London’s Serpentine Gallery coined the phrase ‘Glasgow Miracle’ in 1996, he was reflecting on the remarkable vibrancy of an art scene that would eventually come to dominate the Turner Prize during the late 2000s: Social Sculpture takes a detailed look at the way communities around the Glasgow School of Art provided a support structure for artists, while the CCA's recent project The Glasgow Miracle: Materials for Alternative Histories suggest that the art explosion was the product of 'a gradual accumulation... its roots in the early 70s... and the growth of a DIY exhibition culture across the city.' All of these analyses, however, share the belief that Glasgow art has been defined by the city’s social and educational communities.

However, whether this identity extends to performance has rarely been considered: the examination of cultural identity within performance has generally concentrated on wider areas: the collection of essays in Scottish Theatre looks at a national rather than local continuity, and in the years before the birth of The National Theatre of Scotland, books like The Modern Scottish Theatre (David Hutchinson, 1977) tried to make a case for a distinctive Caledonian theatre.

At the other extreme, companies and individual theatres have been the subject of study: The Theatre Royal has a handsome hardback dedicated to its evolution, and The Citizens, especially during the Giles Havergal years (1969 - 2003), has been the subject of considerable critical appraisal - mostly enthusiastic, as in Cordelia Oliver’s Magic in The Gorbals, which concludes that ‘Havergal and his team’ have wrought a miracle by bringing new audiences into the theatre. Dr David Overend used a series of performances to explore the history of The Arches, while the internet has allowed companies as diverse as Vanishing Point, Untitled Projects and Cryptic to archive their own histories in the public domain.

Inspired by Social Sculpture’s ambition, excited by the many performances that are being staged across the year in various venues, and recognising that much of the Scottish theatre that is being acknowledged internationally comes from artists either trained or based in Glasgow, the question of whether it is possible to isolate or identify certain qualities in a performance as related to any Glasgow aesthetic operates as both a speculative investigation into the continuity  of performance arts in the city, and as a platform for a survey of Glasgow’s current theatre communities.

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