Harrison reflects on The Glasgow Effect for this new text commissioned to launch a-n‘s year-long research project with AirSpace Gallery: Artists Make Change (May 2020 – May 2021). It is published alongside a new text by Dave Beech reflecting on the history of political art, to provoke discussion about artists’ roles in affecting social change. (Word count: 1,540)
I was first approached to write this text for a-n’s Artists Council on 22 July 2019. I was in the final week of an epic year-long project to write my first book, The Glasgow Effect: A Tale of Class, Capitalism & Carbon Footprint, inspired by the controversy surrounding my 2016 ‘durational performance’ The Glasgow Effect (for which I refused to leave Glasgow’s city limits, or use any vehicles except my bike for a whole calendar year). The UK was at the start of a heatwave which would see the hottest temperature ever recorded on our island – 38.7°C in Cambridge – and result in hundreds of deaths.
The original brief, was for a new project about ‘making artists activate!’ Looking at ‘how artists can also sit around board room tables or negotiate with councils etc.’ Despite being up-to-my-eyeballs with proofreading, tweaking typesetting, endnotes and illustrations for the book – trying my best to focus amidst the haze of heat – this invitation immediately grabbed my attention. The whole driving force behind The Glasgow Effect project was to attempt to live what I called a ‘low-carbon lifestyle of the future’ – where I would reject the demands of a globalised ‘knowledge economy’ to travel excessively for work, and instead see what I could make happen if I invested all my time, energy and ideas in the city where I live.
Once I emerged from the social media shitstorm sparked by the project (largely because of the £15k public funding I received from Creative Scotland to undertake it), I began to make myself a familiar visitor (if not to say an irritant) at many public bodies around the city. As well as meeting and attending seminars with researchers from Glasgow Centre for Population Health who were investigating the so-called ‘Glasgow Effect’ (a term they’d coined to describe Glasgow’s mysteriously poor public health compared to similar post-industrial cities in England such as Liverpool and Manchester), I was also in-and-out of the Glasgow City Chambers most weeks. First, I wrote to the head of the Council, then Frank McAveety, to ask for a meeting. He was ‘too busy’ but put me onto his deputy Archie Graham. I met with him and Jill Miller, the Director of Cultural Services at the Council’s ALEO Glasgow Life on 3rd May. They thought I wanted to talk about ‘art’, but actually I wanted to talk about piloting new economic models, challenging car-centric culture and improving public transport to the poorest parts of the city – all the stuff that had been concerning and frustrating me since I moved to the city seven-and-a-half years before, but which I hadn’t previously had the time or resources to address…