Florence, Paris, London, New York (Glasgow)
6th December 2017
“Then think of Florence, Paris, London, New York. Nobody visiting them for the first time is a stranger because he’s already visited them in paintings, novels, history books and films. But if a city hasn’t been used by an artist not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively. What is Glasgow to most of us? A house, the place we work, a football park of golf course, some pubs and connecting streets. That’s all. No, I’m wrong, there’s also the cinema and the library. And when our imagination needs exercise we use these to visit London, Paris, Rome under the Caesars, the American West at the turn of the century, anywhere but here and now. Imaginatively Glasgow exists as a music-hall song and a few bad novels. That’s all we’ve given to the world outside. It’s all we’ve given to ourselves.”
~ Alasdair Gray, Lanark (1981)
I’m delighted to have been invited to take on Bella Caledonia as guest editor for a day and I’ve commissioned some fine writers who explore the themes of community and imagination, through their work and writing on arts, activism, and the environment. What do we imagine when we think of Scotland’s future, beyond the constitutional? Are we providing the conditions right here to encourage imagination and create the new? Beyond monocultural cliche, is our understanding of the communities we live in as nuanced, inquisitive and collaborative as it could be?
“My conversations have so far taken me from the Foot of the Walk in Leith, to Aristotelous Square in Thessaloniki and Placa Catalunya in Barcelona- meeting with ordinary people living through extraordinary constitutional times in their own small places closest to home.”
– Jemma Neville shares some of what she’s learned while undertaking the unique project of documenting the Leith street she lives on, and the blend of culture, language and perspective to be found in Scotland’s capital city (‘Setting out on a constitutional‘).
“How a country or individual approaches the politics of energy is perhaps one of the most significant bellwethers for party and personal politics there is.”
– Magnus Jamieson compares Westminster’s environmental approach to Holyrood’s, and wonders how rural communities will fare when dirty energy is swapped for clean. Who is, at least, asking the right questions to get a better understanding of how to overhaul the system? (‘Energy Democracy‘)
“Storytelling lies both at the heart of the arts, and at the heart of social justice movements. And to create social justice change, then we need to be creating space for and supporting people from communities wider than our own to tell their own stories in their own ways, and on their own terms.”
Via Bronte and Bollywood, Nadine Aisha Jassat describes how encouraging people to be true to themselves in their self expression helps marginalised communities find a sense of place, belonging, and aspiration (‘Representation & Storytelling – Arts for Social Change’) here.
“It’s oppressive, not just regime-wise, also on a social level it’s quite conservative, but the conservatism is really particular, really paradoxical, constantly contradicting itself in what is and isn’t allowed.”
Collaborative playwrights Henry Bell and Sara Shaawari discuss how Scottish theatre could avoid a talent drain, and taking the risk to perform Haneen, their stage adaptation of Alisdair Gray’s 1982, Janine, in Cairo.
“I’m embarrassed by how little Scottish literature I know… but I know so many little shortcuts and little holes in walls you can get through… off the beaten track things.” / “You never know what you’re going to find in Glasgow. I like a little meander…” (see ‘Exit Stage: Henry Bell and Sara Shaarawi on Scottish Theatre’)
And as a special treat, I invited two Glasgow musicians, Leo Condie of WHITE and Sarah Martin of Belle and Sebastian to get together in conversation about music and their city, which you’ll hear on an exclusive podcast filled with band chat and local tidbits, ending with a tune (‘On Glasgow’s Music and Soul’).
[image London Road between Templeton’s Carpet Factory and Monaco Bar (end of Arcadia St III), 1977 © Alasdair Gray]