An installation / event completely contingent on the result of the Referendum on Scottish Independence on 18 September 2014. The four large confetti cannons installed inside Talbot Rice’s Georgian Gallery would only be detonated in the event of a ‘yes’ vote.
In February 2014, Harrison was invited by Pat Fisher, Principal Curator at Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh to create a new work for their summer exhibition exploring the social role and function of art: Counterpoint (1 August – 18 October 2014).
When thinking about what to contribute, Harrison noticed that the exhibition’s dates spanned the much-anticipated Referendum on Scottish Independence on 18 September 2014. The whole atmosphere in the country had transformed in the year running-up to the Referendum, with so much discussion and debate about possible futures. Harrison wanted to create an artwork which was capable of mirroring the sense of anticipation, excitement and anxiety about uncertainty, which permeated Scottish society at that time. So she devised artwork the form of which would be completely contingent on the result of the vote. Developing earlier works, such as Vending Machine and Toytown – which aimed to respond instantaneously to political and economic events happening in the wider world – she hired four large confetti cannons from a stage effects company and installed them in Talbot Rice’s ornate Georgian gallery. Rigged up to a denotation unit, the cannons would only be activated in the event of a ‘yes’ vote. If a ‘no’ vote was declared, they would remain dormant for the entire duration of the exhibition and the audience would never be able to witness what might have been.
The Counterpoint exhibition formed part of the 2014 Edinburgh Art Festival and Generation – the nationwide survey of contemporary art in Scotland delivered by the National Galleries of Scotland, Glasgow Life and Creative Scotland as part of Culture 2014, the Glasgow 2014 Cultural Programme. It exhibition featured newly commissioned works by Ross Birrell, Keith Farquhar, Alec Finlay, Michelle Hannah, Ellie Harrison, Shona Macnaughton, Andrew Miller and Craig Mulholland. With the work of Michelle Hannah, Ellie Harrison, Shona Macnaughton co-commissioned with Edinburgh Art Festival and supported through the Scottish Government’s Edinburgh Festivals Expo fund.
As a result of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Referendum on Scottish Independence, there was a lot of interest in Scottish culture over the summer of 2014. Summerhall TV made a short film about Harrison’s work (above) and it was featured and reviewed widely, including in The Times, The List, The Herald, The Scotsman, Le Monde (France), a-n, Scotland on Sunday, Channel 4 News, The Spectator, The Guardian and Espace (Canada).
On the evening of 18 September 2014, Harrison staged an all-night Referendum Results Party in the gallery, where a small group of people gathered to watch the results, poised ready to detonate the cannons if and when necessary. Echoing her 2010 ‘endurance performance’ General Election Drinking Game, which sought to provide an ‘alternative commentary on the results’ live as they came in on election night, the Referendum Results Party was webcast live from the gallery from 23:00 – 7.00am.
Shortly after the webcast concluded, Summerhall TV returned to make another short film (below) to capture the atmosphere in the gallery ‘the morning after’. This event was also reviewed in The Student Newspaper. Harrison discussed the ideas behind the work in detail in an interview with Talbot Rice Gallery (below) published in the Gallery Guide, in conversation with activist Ewa Jasiewicz in the gallery on 11 August 2014, and with art writer Moira Jeffrey in an interview for the Generation website.
Talbot Rice Gallery
Interview with Ellie Harrison
Do art and culture have the power to elicit political change?
I don’t think art has much power in eliciting political change. That is why I split my time between direct activism (mainly campaigning for the public ownership of our public transport system with Bring Back British Rail, which I founded in 2009), and creating frivolous artworld spectacles that simply draw attention to my areas of concern in playful and engaging ways.
This latter role provides an essential release from the soul destroying slog of trying to change the world for the better, and ameliorate all the damage caused by free-market capitalism. Artists, unlike politicians, are allowed to make fools of themselves, to be silly and fail. They can be ambiguous and pose questions rather than have all the solutions meticulously planned out. That’s why I keep coming back to it!
After the Revolution, Who Will Clean Up the Mess? – my new installation / event for Counterpoint, expands on my interest in exploring the role of the artist as commentator on current affairs (as well as agent for social change). It is an artwork completely contingent on the result of the Referendum on Scottish Independence on 18 September 2014. The four large confetti cannons installed inside Talbot Rice Gallery’s ornate Georgian Gallery will only be detonated in the event of a YES vote. If a NO vote is declared, the cannons will remain dormant for the entire duration of the exhibition and we will never witness what might have been.
Just like the nation of Scotland at this historic crossroads, After the Revolution… has two distinct possible futures that could have dramatic impact on its surroundings. Creating its own aura of uncertainty, anticipation, excitement (and potential anti-climax) within the confines of the gallery space, the artwork aims to replicate the atmosphere being felt across society in the run up to the Referendum and to visualise the possibilities and consequences of radical political change.
The artwork takes its title from early feminist artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s Maintenance Art Manifesto (1969), who poses the question, “after the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?”, knowing that it will be the women. After the Revolution… is also inspired by conversations I have had with my mum about the mess that will be made by a YES vote, all the bureaucratic ‘decoupling’ between England and Scotland’s institutions, which could go on and on for years.
But ultimately After the Revolution… is an anti-art gesture exploring the artist’s relationship with and respect for the conventions of the gallery space. The installation creates a system which could result in the temporary destruction and defacement of the gallery and the artworks in it. However, responsibility over whether or not it is activated is put completely beyond my control. The will of the nation shall decide.