On 8 January 2017, just one week after completing her year-long ‘durational performance’ The Glasgow Effect, for which she refused to travel beyond Glasgow’s city limits, or use any vehicles except her bike, for the whole of 2016, Harrison gave a talk about the work at the Glasgow Film Theatre. On 4 November 2019, she published a book providing the complete context for her thinking and action.
Film by Stuart Platt
Q&A chaired by Peter McCaughey
Thanks to Peter McCaughey, Michelle Emery-Barker, Janie Nicoll & Jenny Brownrigg
Ushering by Margaret McInnes, Sheena Maclean, Katherine Matthews & Ellie Harrison
Ellie Harrison: Hello everyone. Thanks so much for coming along today. It’s amazing to see so many people bright and early on a Sunday morning. Welcome to my cinema! I’ve been a volunteer usher here for the last… oh, since 2010, so more than six years. And last year alone I worked 36 shifts, contributed 180 hours… of ‘volunteer labour’ to the running of this fine Glaswegian establishment. But who’s counting eh? Who’s counting? [audience laughs]
Ellie Harrison: So this is one of the many ‘hats’ that I wear with varying degrees of power in this city and beyond. So this venue was actually only picked really because it had quite a big capacity and was fairly central and… we could fit as many people in as possible. But it’s relevant because it’s one of the buildings that I’ve spent most time in last year and it’s also relevant because it’s the second time, that I’ve ever done a talk in a… cinema.
Before I moved to Glasgow in 2008, I was an usher in at a cinema in Nottingham where I used to live for eight years. A cinema called Broadway cinema. They actually used to pay ushers back in those days, so that’s a sign of how times have changed. But after working in that cinema for five years, in 2007, I was invited to do a commission for the cinema based on my experience of being ‘undercover artist in residence’ in the cinema and then to come and give a talk about my work.
So that’s a little bit of context. This talk as we all know is about the The Glasgow Effect. It’s about an epic project, which as I’m sure you all know, was funded to the tune of £15,000 by Creative Scotland. It has taken a whole year of my life to complete, where there has been absolutely no escape literally or metaphorically. This project has been my life and my life has been this project.
In its simplest terms, it was just a personal challenge, to see what would happen if I refused to leave the city where I’ve lived since 2008 for a whole calendar year. From the 1st of January to the 31st of December 2016. On top of that, I decided that in order to reduce my carbon footprint to the absolute bare minimum, and also to reduce my expenses to the bare minimum, I wouldn’t go in any vehicles at all for that whole time. And… I did it! I did do it. [audience applause]
On New Year’s Day… I used the data that had been collected on the GPS tracking device that I wore on me every single day for the whole year, which was actually programmed to send a text message to Creative Scotland if I went outside ‘the zone’ [audience laughts] I used that data to make this heatmap showing every single place that I went…
So I travelled 3,753 kilometres which as I’ve worked out is as far as travelling to London and back three times (apparently I’ve got a laser pointer on here which is quite exciting. I don’t know if you can see the details of this?) I travelled from, OK, out in the west (hang on a minute), somewhere round here – the western extremity… Gartnavel, Maryhill, Milton, Robroyston, Parkhead, Langside, Nitshill and Priesthill to Whiteinch and Govan. And on those travels… well as a result of not going in any vehicles I saved 3.48 tonnes of carbon based on this analysis that I did based on everywhere that I travelled in 2015.
So regardless of what you think of The Glasgow Effect as an artwork, this sort of reduction is something that should be valued in its own right. Given the fact that the Scottish Government has signed us up to eighty percent cuts in carbon emissions by 2050 [corrected: Harrison accidentally said ‘2020’].
So just one of the many issues that I wanted to highlight in doing this project is that the value systems and the incentive structures promoted by our society are not always geared up to acknowledge that less is sometimes better: for individuals… for society and for the environment. So this is how the project ended on the 31st of December 2016 in perhaps, quite appropriately, a fairly low-key way. Quite a contrast from how it began. Let’s rewind back to January 2016 – when the chips hit the fan – as I like to call it. [audience laughs]
And actually, I know I’ve been taking your tickets as you’ve been coming in and looking every single one of you in the eye, but I was kind of interested to know how many of you here today were absolutely pure raging at me this time last year? Could you just put a little show of hands?
There’s only one! I fail to believe that. [audience laughs] Come on! Let’s do it again, let’s be honest. How many? How many of you? Just two? Look this is not representative. Two? Four? OK, six…
Audience Member: Maybe not ‘pure’ raging. [audience laughs]
Ellie Harrison: OK, and how many are still?
Audience Member: The criticism isn’t of you, it’s of the project. You’re framing this in the wrong way.
Ellie Harrison: OK. I just wanted to get an idea, because I didn’t sleep very well last night. And I had this vision of being egged. [audience laughs]
Ellie Harrison: I had this horrible vision and I just thought I would pre-empt it. And I would like to say please bear with me. I’ve actually got so much material. Like, this has been preoccupying my brain for more than a year. I’ve got so much material. But we are hopefully going to save quite a lot of time for a Q&A at the end. So I would say ‘don’t heckle’, ‘don’t heckle’. But then some people will know I’ve done my own fair share of heckling this year… last year at events that I’ve attended. I’m looking at Gemma there from the Youth Climate Summit, because I attended that on the 26 November and I heckled one of the Scottish Government ministers who was stood at the lectern giving a big speech about how great the Scottish Government was in terms of its carbon reduction targets having just voted to expand Heathrow Airport, when the SNP mysteriously got a big donation from Heathrow to fund their conference. So I gave that man a heckle. So you’ve gotta call out hypocrisy when you see it, so if you think at any point it’s necessary, you go for it, because I’ve got tough skin now. Trust me, I’ve got tough skin!
So this project was founded on contradictions, so in hindsight, it’s little wonder to me that it combusted in the way that it did. I devised it specifically to highlight and challenge the contradictions in the lifestyle that I had ended up living as a 36 year old in Glasgow, in order to illustrate the wider social and economic forces at play.
So, why the hell was I living here? What the hell was I doing in this city? When my day job – teaching at the university, was in Dundee. When my parents who are now, both getting on a bit are down in London and I feel like I should be down there looking after them a bit, being a good daughter. When my sister, my niece and nephew live in Norwich. When most of the work I was getting offered was in cities in other parts of the UK and abroad. When most of my friends here, the ones I’d met when I was at art school had either left to go elsewhere or were just too bloody ‘busy’ – as I normally am – to be able to meet up. So I was getting increasingly socially isolated, which is a massive problem for lots of people here in Glasgow. And I would get back to an empty flat every night and just think why, why, why? There must be a better way.
And then there was the question of the money. So when I began my teaching job in 2012, I was so happy I’d found a ‘good job’, where I could help contribute to society and that I could use all the knowledge and experience that I’d acquired through my work to help improve young people’s lives… There’s a few of my students in the house today. There’s Tanith. Oh, I don’t want to point you out, sorry. She’s right in the middle… anyway… And the best thing about it is that I could earn enough from working part-time as a Lecturer to subsidise all my other activity. So I could subsidise my art work, I could subsidise my campaigning work, specifically running the… Bring Back British Rail campaign to re-nationalise our railways, which I’ve been doing since 2009. And I could subsidise my volunteering work here, without having to worry about any of that activity being profitable.
It seemed to me then totally absurd that, having finally got into this position where ‘I did not need the money’, that I was having pressure put on me to instrumentalise my art practice in order to raise money. And I would have stomached this, if the money for this so-called ‘research’ was keeping our university going and was actually improving the students’ quality of life, but all the evidence that I got was that it wasn’t even covering its costs and it was taking staff away from teaching. So I wanted to illustrate the absurdity of this situation. So the project was an intended ‘unintended consequence’ of a system, which places unnecessary demands on its staff.
Writer Jon Ronson, who some of you might know, who I actually met last year on the 4th of February when he came to do a talk in the… [Royal Concert Hall]. Jon Ronson who wrote a book called So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, says that people are ‘publicly shamed’ when they are seen to have abused their privilege. That was a hit I was prepared to take, because I wanted to illustrate how people in privileged positions are more likely to get opportunities and rewards in our society, which only exacerbates inequality. And I also wanted to illustrate that it is privileged people, who are the ones causing climate change. It’s the global elites with their extravagant carbon-intensive lifestyles who are causing all the problems in the world. The richest ten percent of humanity causes nearly half of all our carbon emissions. Which includes nearly all of us here in Scotland. Where in Scotland we are using three times more… than our fair share of the world’s resources to fund our carbon-intensive lifestyles.
It is not the billions of people around the world of people living in absolute poverty on less than $2 a day, who are causing climate change. I mean their carbon footprints are completely negligible. And if we’re serious about tackling inequality and climate change, then it is privileged people who are gonna have to take a hit. Our living standards are going to have to be reduced. We are going to have to radically transform our economic system to find way of valuing… this sort of trajectory [downward trajectory]. This sort of trajectory.
So as an artwork, The Glasgow Effect was a symbolic act of resistance. It was a wild-cat strike. It was a protest against the forces of globalisation, perhaps in tune with the other global events of 2016, from Brexit to Donald Trump. It was a protest against the market forces which force so many of us to move so far away from the places where we are born, far away from our natural family support structures in search of work. It was a protest against those same market forces, which simultaneously, deny so many other people such an opportunity for escape.
So as an artwork The Glasgow Effect follows in a tradition of the works by artists I really admire. Artists who resist the commodification of their work and artists who really push the boundaries of what art can be. So to give you a few examples: there’s Lee Lozano, who was actually shown in an exhibition at Transmission gallery last year quite by coincidence. She did a piece called ‘General Strike Piece’ in… 1969, where she gradually and determinedly removed herself from the artworld over the course of a year. And then her most famous ‘Drop out Piece’, which was ‘the hardest work she has ever done’ (something I empathise with), where she totally disappeared and was never seen again, from 1970 onwards.
And then artists like Tehching Hsieh, who some of you might have heard of, who’s done a series of year-long performances. This is his most famous one from 1980, where he photographed himself on the hour, every hour, for a whole year. He didn’t sleep for more than an hour for a whole year. He did another one where he lived outside for a whole year, he didn’t go under any shelter at all. And this is probably the most extreme, where he built a cage in his own studio and locked himself in it without any books, radio entertainment, anything for a whole year.
And Gustav Metzger’s Art Strike. The first artist to call an ‘art strike’. He’s a German artist who’s been living in London since the Second World War. And he called an ‘art strike’ in order to bring down the ‘art system’, which he believed was corrupted by the commercial values of the art market and by publicly-funded artists who were being used as puppets for the state. Go Gustav! I’ve actually met Gustav and he is quite an amazing man.
So what differentiates The Glasgow Effect from these works, of course, is the fact that it was publicly-funded, to the tune of £15,000, as we all know. I did what I was told to do. I filled out the form and I played by the rules. But perhaps the one line in the funding application which could now be seen as slightly untrue… was this one: ‘All the while reflecting positively on the original site of its making: Glasgow, Scotland, as a centre for cultural activity’.
Even while I was writing and submitting this application, under the benign sounding name ‘Think Global, Act Local’ in summer 2015, I knew that I was actually going to call my project ‘The Glasgow Effect’. I knew I wanted to draw attention to the story of this city which the Council and the Government’s PR strategists would much prefer was kept ‘out of sight and out of mind’. That is that this city has the worst health inequalities in Western Europe. And by ‘health inequalities’ they mean the difference in health or mortality rates of people on the lowest incomes compared to the people on the biggest incomes. And that premature deaths are thirty percent higher in Glasgow than they are in comparable post-industrial cities in England, like Liverpool and Manchester.
And like Loki, himself, said at our Glasgow Effect discussion event at the Glad Cafe on the 2nd of February 2016: ‘If you’re gonna do a year-long project in this city and it’s not about poverty, then that’s the scandal’… Yet you wouldn’t think that if you were to look at the work this city’s prestigious art galleries choose to spotlight, and the story of ‘the Glasgow miracle’, which they choose to promote. The fact that I only first heard the phrase ‘the Glasgow effect’ in 2013 [corrected: Harrison accidentally said ‘2015’], after I’d already been living here for five years and existing largely in an ‘artworld bubble’. To me it was all the testament you need of what a hugely divided city this is, where inequalities in wealth and the inequalities in health which result from that are rife.
So last year, this guy Morgan Quaintance, who’s a writer whose work I really like, asked this question: ‘why is there not more politically-engaged art in these turbulent times?’ And he found it really remarkable that in the most prominent exhibitions in 2016 – including Glasgow International – that political activity was largely absent from what he considered to be totally ‘risk adverse and strangely inconsequential curatorial frameworks’ (that’s a quote). And he says that it is because of growing inequalities that the artworld is becoming increasingly dominated by people from wealthy backgrounds.
So had it not been for the funding it received, this project would not have provoked the debate that it did, helping to demystify how these funding bodies and institutions work. Nor would it have succeeded in reaching out to an audience way beyond the ‘artworld bubble’ in the way that it did. So the Facebook event itself appeared in the newsfeed of more than one million people (which you can see there), which is kind of crazy. With more than 8,800 writing comments. And that’s gone up quite a lot actually in the last few days. It seems to have been rekindled somewhat.
So in February 2016… I decided to use this broad demographic to conduct my own ‘Public Survey’ asking ‘does more money = better art?’ And most people agreed with me, that no it doesn’t. That actually art can often get worse and more meaningless, the more money that is pumped it into it. But there was one interesting comment in favour from a guy called Barry Hale. He said that: ‘more money can mean that unheard voices can be given a forum through which to be heard’.
And that’s exactly what The Glasgow Effect did. And more than that… it was predominantly young people that it reached. It reached the people who are suffering the most and whose lives are far often overlooked by the culture that this city promotes. This is an image from a talk by Harry Burns, who is… Professor of Public Health at Strathclyde University, which I went to on the 3rd of May last year [corrected: Harrison accidentally said ‘the 8th of May’]. And as you can see, it’s the so-called ‘psychosocial’ problems: alcohol, drugs, violence and suicide caused by poor mental health, which are the main causes of premature mortality in Scotland.
So these are times of extreme crisis indeed. These are times of social crisis. They are times of economic crisis. This is a graph taken from that same session on the 3rd of May, which shows how inequalities in income have grown over the course of the last century in America. But this is a trend which is largely being echoed all around the world, in the UK and in Scotland. These are the people… these top ten percent. These are the people that we should be channelling our anger at. But what we seem to be doing instead is… giving these people even more power and voting them into the highest offices in the world.
But of course these are also times of environmental crisis. These images are from a film that I made in 2013 called The Other Forecast, where I attempt to predict what sort of world we are heading towards based on our current trends. So increasing energy consumption (this is all real data I used). Increasing levels of obesity, and the Glasgow Centre for Population Health do acknowledge that the period from 2010 onwards is going to be dominated by obesity and the issues it causes. Growing levels of social isolation. And growing CO2 emissions and the temperature increase that results from that.
So in 2016, while all of this was unfolding and people found ridiculous things to distract themselves with, like deciding whether or not to leave the European Union, global temperatures were increasing to record levels. 2016 was the hottest year on record and the third of record breaking heat in a row. 2016 was 1.2ºC hotter than the 1990 levels. And that is not good news, given that Paris Agreement, which was also ratified last year… is attempting to limit global temperatures to 1.5ºC in order to preserve a climate where our species can actually continue to survive, and we’re nearly almost there already.
So when we’re faced with such… harsh realities, I agree, it is quite hard to justify making any art at all. And this is a question that I wrestled with when I was first arrived in Glasgow in 2008. But I came to the conclusion that it would be difficult quit altogether, because having a creative outlet is essential for a person’s mental health. For processing all the shit that’s happening in the world, and of finding a way to giving your life meaning.
But I did decide that I would try to find ways of creating art. Whether that was events, performances, talks, social media shitstorms, which would not require adding any more unnecessary objects to the world. So when I wrote my dissertation at the end my two years studying which was called How to Reconcile the Careerist Mentality with Our Impending Doom, I concluded that artists – with the skills and the qualities that they have acquired through their education and upbringing – could be huge force for social change if only they could re-channel just a small amount of that time and energy away from self-indulgent art into direct political campaigning or community organising instead. And these skills include their confidence, their arrogance, which writer Hans Abbing notes, can often come from the fact that they are often from ‘above average social backgrounds’. It’s also their ability to switch between those different ‘hats’, to be adaptive and resourceful. It’s also their persistence and their dogged determination to complete something that they set out to do despite all odds.
So by framing The Glasgow Effect as a ‘durational performance’, which I could have completed if I’d have done nothing. If I had done what a lot of people think that I was doing and just sit on my arse, in my flat… living the high-life [audience laughs]. I could have still completed my performance. I didn’t actually have to do anything. So what I did in framing it in this way, was free-up a whole year of my time – where I didn’t have to worry about money – and that I could invest that time in a full spectrum of… critical and creative activity, from art to activism.
I would finally have the time to be an ‘active citizen’, to start to hold our public institutions and our politicians to account. I had a hunch back then when I wrote that application that this activity would actually be a win-win situation. Not only could it potentially help improve my mental health – we can discuss this later [audience laughs] – by enabling me to start meeting and working with people here and increase my sense of ‘belonging’ – a much ridiculed word which I used in my funding application, which it turns is actually one of the three key things [alongside ‘Sense of Social Connection’ and ‘Empowerment’] people in Glasgow and beyond crave in the communities where they live so much. This [slide] comes from a presentation by Pete Seaman who’s the head of Glasgow Centre for Population Health, which I went to on the 23rd of November last year based on research that they carried out in Dennistoun.
But I also thought that this ‘active citizenry’ which I hoped to carry out would have lasting positive impact on the city where we live, starting to tackle these crises head on.
And quite by coincidence, Glasgow Centre for Population Health published their report last year in May – I didn’t know this was coming – but it essentially solves the mysterious ‘Glasgow Effect’. And it is a very complex issue which I’ll touch on later, but one of the many causes of the social isolation and poorer mental health which contributes to excess mortality in Glasgow, is our city’s relative lack of community participation – that activism or volunteering, compared to cities in England, like Liverpool and Manchester. So in this CommonSpace summary of the report, they write:
‘Political activism, as a quite intense form of mental stimulation, can therefore play a double role in terms of public health: it can stave off the damaging effects of social isolation and exclusion by establishing deep ties and bonds within communities, while at the same time having a tangible impact on government, and therefore improving public health via more socially just legislation.’
So if you don’t think that Creative Scotland should be funding this sort of work, then that’s exactly the sort of debate I want to start. It’s not that we want less people getting the opportunity to ‘actively engage’ in the city where we live, helping to make it a better place, we need more! We need everyone! Particularly those suffering the most in the poorest parts of the city. This is part of the solution to our public health crisis, so how are we going to fund it?
All the public attention at the start of the year… exposed for me another core tension in the project. That is in having this dual role as artist and activist, which I sometimes see as completely oppositional. So in the newsletter that I wrote on the 11th of March 2016, I kind of acknowledged the irony of the situation, that is: ‘to do meaningful, successful ‘community’ work of any sort, you [need to] put aside your ego and work in a collaborative, low-key way.’
So as a reaction to the public attention… my year in Glasgow became the perfect opportunity for me to attempt live the ‘plan of action’ which I outlined in the essay that I wrote in 2010. I’m just going to run through these, because I re-read this essay last year and I was struck by some of the things that I had written six years before. This is kind of illustrating how I believe the role of the artist needs to evolve in order to start to investigate, expose and challenge the multiple crises that we face.
- stand back and view the world objectively
- offer an external critique of the system
- develop ways of working outside institutions
- escape solipsism (now this word me and Peter thought was pretty academic, but basically… stop being such a narcissist… or that’s maybe another one! Stop being such a… megalomaniac!) and work with and not against peers
- reject ego and embrace anonymity
- create free ideas, not objects for sale
- abandon the trajectory; find motivation in… immediacy, not legacy
This is a quote from what I wrote:
‘Heavy on words such as ‘abandon’, ‘reject’, ‘stand back’, ‘disengage’, the ‘plan of action’ calls us to make radical changes. It demands that we shift our goals away from the fantasy status of the ‘successful’ artist. It all makes our new role seem far less glamorous than our dreams may have envisaged – insisting that we renounce our vanity, abandon our egos, move towards collectivism and anonymity; in short, commit ‘career suicide’.’
[audience laughs at animated GIF of kitten asking: ‘what the fuck you doing?’]
So, quite a lot of my adoring fans on Facebook… have been politely getting in touch. Just dropping me the odd line and saying ‘oh Ellie, my good friend, pray tell what is it you’ve been up to this year?’. And this is one of my favourites. [audience laughs]
I know I’ve not given them the answers that they’ve wanted. I’ve tried to balance the time that I’ve had between these three things: education, action and reflection. A virtuous circle of activity which I believe every human being should be allowed the time to do. That is: researching and learning about the world, taking action to address the problems that you see, and then reflecting and adapting your behaviour and actions, and then researching and learning more about the world, and so on. But in reality… most of my time was spent in the hard graft of organising, which it seems slightly absurd to try to document. It would probably take as long to document as it takes to do. It largely involves: writing vast amounts of emails, newsletters, Facebook posts for each of the individual projects and campaigns I’ve been involved in.
In 2016 I sent 6,443 emails, to 2,665 individual people. I worked all of this out on New Year’s Day. I had a fun New Year’s Day [audience laughs]. I sent 16 newsletters (on the various email lists that I manage) to 74,236 individual people. I stuffed 1,129 envelopes (that’s largely for the Bring Back British Rail campaign and that is not abnormal actually, it’s just an annual occurrence). I did countless Facebook Posts, which go out to more than 107,677 ‘followers’ of the various pages that I help manage. I had 176 meetings – this is true and by the way, I have got a massive spreadsheet with all of this in – I had 176 meetings with 134 individual people and three different working groups that I was a member of. I organised six demonstrations, I attended fourteen demonstrations. I helped to organise three public events, I spoke at eight public events and I spoke at six events via Skype. I organised two public screenings in my flat, which was something that I said I was gonna do in the original application, or that I ‘might do’ in the original application, and I did this as part of the Scalarama and… Radical Film Festivals… not wanting to put my address on a public forum, they were advertised as a ‘secret location’. Was anybody at those? Anybody here? [audience raise hands] Oh, we’ve got one. Oh yeah, a couple…
See, it did happen. All this shit happened. I’m not joking. And I also attended 221 public events. 221… which is loads – talk, discussions, films, performances and exhibitions. Sometimes I asked questions, sometimes I heckled, sometimes I just sat quietly and behaved myself. I have met and worked with many people through the projects and campaigns I’ve invested my time in, and hopefully there are a good few of you in here today. It think it would be unethical to identify anyone who does not want to be… and there are literally thousands of people who, whether they are aware of it or not, will have in some way benefited from my labour last year…
Millions of people in fact if you include all of the media coverage… discount[ing] the media coverage from The Glasgow Effect – just the media coverage of the campaigns that I’m involved in running – millions of people. But I don’t actually want to dwell too much on any of the individual projects or campaigns that I’ve worked on here today. Because… they’re too important and I don’t want to risk any of them becoming any less successful or effective for being associated with the ‘toxic Ellie Harrison brand’. Nor do I want them to be mistaken for ‘artworks’ as the artworld may have a tendency to do, because… a lot of them quite simply are not. And for political campaigns, I believe that it can undermine the campaign’s effectiveness is it’s understood in that way.
How are we doing for time Peter? Oh, OK. I have to admit that I was actually still working on this talk this morning… that’s because I got so much material, I’ve got so much material – it was a whole year. So according to my notes here I’m about two thirds of the way through. So maybe, I’ll just carry on with this final section, which is a sort of roughly chronological romp through my year’s research and activity outlining how my thinking developed. And it might get even more rantier from this point on. Because I have haven’t quite had enough chance to edit it, but here goes. So, in January 2016 – a year ago – the first few months of the project were marked by, or fraught by, not only because the public attention, but also the deliberate conflict that I’d created with the people and institutions I had commitments to outside the city.
It demonstrated to the impossibility of severing all your ties overnight and the fantasy of being able to make a totally ‘fresh start’. So from January to March, I was half-in and half-out of the university where I work and I kind of deliberately kept ties with them because I wanted to outline the issues that I was addressing with the project. So, I gave a Skype presentation to the Centre for Environmental Change & Human Resilience conference last February, which looked at the motivations behind the ‘internationalisation’ agenda in Higher Education and beyond and the negative consequences I believe it has in terms of creating more transient and disconnected communities and also obviously increasing carbon emissions.
I then wrote this essay and printed fifty copies of it to send to all the senior management at the university and also donated one to the university library and to Glasgow School of Art, if you want to check it out, it’s also available free online. But it’s based on research by a psychologist Tim Kasser on universal human values… I wanted to show how the values that we claimed we had, particularly: ‘valuing people’, ‘working together’ and ‘integrity’, were complete at odds with the demands that were being placed upon people.
Tim Kasser’s online. But it’s based on research is based on this diagram, which is called the Circumplex, and it shows the basic human goals which are found to recur in more than fifteen different cultures across the world. So the goals on the left are what are called the ‘extrinsic values’, such as popularity, image and financial success – read ‘league tables’, ‘research grants’. And the ‘intrinsic values’ such as self-acceptance, community and affiliation. And this is a quote from Tim Kasser:
‘Dozens of studies now… make it clear that people who prioritise extrinsic values experience lower levels of well-being and higher levels of distress. If … money, image and status rise in importance, people experience less happiness and life satisfaction, fewer pleasant emotions (like joy and contentment), and more unpleasant emotions (like anger and anxiety)… Placing higher importance on intrinsic values (and [most importantly] be able to successfully pursuing those values) is, in contrast, consistently associated with being happier and healthier.’
The evidence also demonstrates that when a person prioritises the values on the left-hand side, that the values on the right-hand side become suppressed. So if you care more about your own self-acceptance, and community for example, then you’re less likely to care about making money or being famous, and you’re more likely to act in a… less-selfish, more environmentally conscious way and have increased levels of well-being.
So individual action may seem… quite futile in the face of global forces… like globalisation, but it is essential. Individual action is essential for a person to be able to retain their integrity. And it’s only through retaining your integrity that you’re able to act instinctively in accordance with your values in time of stress or pressure.
So The Glasgow Effect, for me, became about what happens when a person attempts to live intrinsic values and to operate with integrity, in a system, in a society and in a city, which is totally set-up to encourage the opposite. For starters, money is an extrinsic goal [corrected: Harrison accidentally said ‘intrinsic’]. And I had to spend the first few months… of last year thinking about money quite a lot. Because after it transpired that I couldn’t ‘donate’ the money to the university as they’d suggested, I had to work out what the hell I was going to spend it on. And I was aware that I might not get any public funding for a long time after this, so I wanted to make sure it would go as far as possible. So I spent a few months analysing my living expenses from previous years, in order to work out the bare minimum I would need.
[at this point there was a technical hitch: the projector went black and took fifteen minutes to fix. A full unedited version of the event is available in the archive of the live stream]
So I did this by analysing my living expenses from previous years to work out the bare minimum that I would need to live off: £8,400. So after all… my bills and housing costs were paid (and my housing costs are cheaper than a lot of people’s because I own my own flat), I had £80 a week for my food and other living costs. So it’s much, much more than asylum seekers get… more than Job Seekers Allowance, but still a relatively modest sum. Certainly enough to live on: if you live close to where you work and need to go, close enough to be able to cycle… that you’re fit and healthy enough to be able to walk or ride a bike, and certainly enough if you don’t have to pay the extortionate bus fares on the horrific rip-off privatised buses in this city. It’s enough, if you have the time and you’ve got the knowledge to be able to cook cheap and healthy food and, it’s enough, if you’ve got that creative outlet, that way of giving your life meaning, without having to spend money on unnecessary consumer goods. Something that is incredibly difficult in a city which prides itself on being… ‘the top retail destination in the United Kingdom outside of London’.
On the 30th June last year, I attended another Glasgow Centre for Population Health seminar. I always saw Mark at them actually, I’m shadowing Mark… I shouldn’t embarrass anyone in the audience, sorry, I said I wasn’t going to do that, but yeah… I was at an event called ‘the secret lives of low income households’, which was very interesting. I mean, I discovered then that I was a ‘low income household’ and even actually on my salary that I normally get, which is £18,884, that’s still only slightly over the threshold, which is £18,500. So I was a hell of lot less under that [last year]. And the presentation was based on research that was… carried out in America on people in ‘low income households’, and they did a survey saying: what would you choose ‘Financial stability’ or an ‘increased income’? And as you can see a vast, vast majority of people chose ‘financial stability’ [93%]. So our economic system may be set up to tell us that we want more, more, more all the time, but that actually goes against our human nature. And the only reason people keep grabbing and hoarding more, more, more is because we have created a system which makes them feel so much insecurity in their lives. We never know what’s going to happen next.
So it was at this event that I found out that they were going to do a similar study into ‘the secret lives of low income households’, which was about to start in Glasgow. And one of the things that happened to me at the beginning of the year, because I’ve got quite obsessive tendencies anyway – I consider myself to be a ‘recovering data collector’, in that I don’t collect data about my life anymore, but it’s difficult when you’re under so much public scrutiny. So I did keep a receipt for every single thing I bought this year. I had a massive pile of these receipts and a huge spreadsheet – it’s all been type into a spreadsheet – and I didn’t know what the hell to do with that. Like, do I really want to make that public? I’m all for transparency and accountability and public ownership… of institutions because it makes them more transparent and accountable, but it goes slightly too far when it’s just one individual. But I wanted to do something with these receipts, so I discovered that I could actually use them in some way, where it would have some social good, by signing up to this study.
And the study aims to look at ‘the relationship between how people manage their finances and how they manage their health’. So for the last six months of 2016, I was having a monthly meeting with my researcher at Caledonian University and we were discussing all of these things. The results will be published… this summer, 2017. And the study is called FinWell, which stands for ‘Financial Well-being’. Apparently, I’m quite an anomaly in the study. Maybe because I have actively chosen this low income rather than having to survive on it, but also because, all of the detailed analysis that I did at the beginning of the year on how much I would need, enabled me to distribute the money through a BACs payment, so that I knew that I was going to get this regular monthly allowance, so that I wouldn’t have to think about money too much for the rest of the year and risk that suppressing my intrinsic values. So the aim was that I wanted to get to the point, rather than people asking me whether I was getting paid for different activities that I was doing – what was voluntary and what wasn’t – I wanted to get to the point where I was just doing the activities that I was doing because I really believed in them, and I really cared about them. Isn’t that a situation that we want to create for everybody?
So, OK this is where it gets really ranty actually – these last few pages, because I did just write this this morning. But it’s quite fun [audience laughs]. It’ll probably get me into even more trouble. But… it was about March time 2016, I started to get my confidence back a bit and emerge out into the city after everything that had happened with the social media shitstorm, and the one person that I was really angry was the head of Glasgow City Council. How could this man, who takes a salary of £60,000 of public money every year and whose party has presided over the making of Glasgow’s public health crisis since the 1950s. How could this man take a pop at me?
The Glasgow Centre for Population Health report… I’ve got it down there and I recommend that you all read it, it’s brilliant. But they acknowledge in the report that one of the causes of poor mental health in Glasgow in the period from 1980 to 2010 has been the hypocrisy of the council. And this is a direct quote:
‘…In the 1980s the Council actively experimented and innovated with neoliberal policy measures guided by the maxim that ‘what’s good for business is good for Glasgow’. These were seen as quite ‘astonishing’ developments in such a ‘solidly Labour City’, and were soon to lead to the identification of Glasgow as a so-called ‘dual city’ with ‘dual urban policy’. On the one hand high budget, high profile retail and property development in the city centre led by… a ‘growth coalition’… [and] on the other hand much lower resourced and very limited mitigation and management of poverty, and an intensifying social crisis in the city’s poorest areas, principally in the peripheral estates.’
So on the 23rd March, I sent the leader of the council an email. I said I wanted to get together to discuss this… He was a bit ‘too busy’ to see me, but he arrange a meeting with his deputy and the head of Glasgow Life on the 3rd May 2016. I wanted to challenge them on their record, and also, to work with them in order to bring a different type of economic thinking – that is economics which puts human well-being and the environment first, instead of this idea of ‘growth at all costs’. So this led to several meetings with council officials and a public event, which I help to organise which we held at the City Chambers on the 30th of November 2016 – which aimed was to bring New Economics Foundation (who are my gurus, if you don’t know the New Economics Foundation do check them out); to bring their thinking… about economics as though people and the planet mattered; to bring those ideas into the belly of the council beast. The one line that sticks in my mind most in that Glasgow Centre for Population Health report, is this one, that ‘economic policy matter for population health’.
On the 24th May, I met up with another councillor who had actually been a former member of the SPT board. For those who don’t know me, public transport is my passion and SPT – the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport is the publicly-owned body which is meant to oversee this city’s entire public transport network. And like many other people in power in this city, this was a man who clearly did not have to rely on public transport himself. I asked him if he had a car and he took the question as though it was an insult: ‘of course I’ve got a car!’ The one bit of useful information this man gave me though, which I’m grateful for, is that he told me that the SPT board meetings, which happen every month, are open to the public.
So I began my unofficial residency at SPT and I attended six of their board meetings there over the course of the year. With this t-shirt [saying F**k First Buses: Public Ownership Now!] on I might add [audience laughs and applauds]. And I was always there… I was nearly always the only member of the public who was there: watching them, holding them to account and finding out exactly why Glasgow’s public transport network is so much worse than in other cities. Other cities like Edinburgh, where they still have a publicly-owned bus company: Lothian Buses. And for those who have been to Edinburgh (I’ve not been for a while) [audience laughs]. But the buses are much cheaper and have a comprehensive cover over the whole city.
Audience Member: And we have trams!
Ellie Harrison: And you have trams. And cities like London, where publicly-owned Transport for London has supreme control over the entire transport network. And in doing that… it can bring in charges like congestion charging to disincentivise car use at the same time as reinvesting and building the public transport network. And London’s the only city in the whole of the UK where bus usage has actually grown over the last ten years.
On the 7th of June 2016… I submitted a FOI – a Freedom of Information request to SPT. I wanted to know how many of the board members had cars themselves. Anyway, they wouldn’t give me this information, but I suspect it’s quite a high majority. And to me that is the scandal – that the people who are making decisions about our public transport are not actually the ones who have to rely on it themselves.
So, as I learnt more about Glasgow’s history throughout the year, I discovered more about the damage that had been inflicted on its citizens in the massive urban re-developments of the 1950 to the 1970s… Developments which have served to create the far less equal and a far less sustainable city. Massive social injustices have been done to create the situation that we have now.
This map is from the 1930s, which shows a world-class, fully-integrated, publicly-owned public transport network. A hundred miles of tramlines reaching everyone in all parts of the city, that everyone could access. And this was all ripped up in 1962 and replaced by this [picture of the M8 motorway] – something which only the privileged minority in this city can use. So this is a paragraph that I wrote on the 30th of September 2016, which sums up all of my thinking on this:
‘Glasgow is the city with the lowest car ownership in Scotland (49% of households compared to 86% in Aberdeen), yet our cityscape is completely dominated by the sight, noise and smell of motorways. This car-centric infrastructure, has created a divided city of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ – those who own cars and can glide over the epic flyovers and experience their spectacular views and those who have to negotiate the underworld of underpasses and endure the noise and air pollution which filters down from above. But increasing car ownership is not the answer to inequality. Glasgow Centre for Population Health research shows that the sedentary lifestyle, which car use encourages, is actually even more hazardous to health than smoking. Instead, we need to radically re-think our cities so that everyone can get around easily and live happy and healthy lives without need or aspiration to own a car.’
This disastrous planning of the 1950s to 1970s has created a situation where, car ownership is now used as a measure of deprivation. I found out about this at the Public Health Information Network seminar that I went to in September 2016. You are deprived indeed, because you cannot access vast swathes of the city’s infrastructure and you have to make do with a shambolic bus network instead. And it’s the stigmatisation that comes with this, which has such a profound impact on mental health and explains why that councillor probably wore his… car like a badge of his ‘success’.
It was Margaret Thatcher, of course, who de-regulated the buses in 1986, which paved the way for mess that we have in Glasgow now. And then, quite cruelly, she supposedly said this (this is not totally attributed to her), but she said: ‘you should consider yourself a failure if you’re still on the bus at an age of thirty’. But bus regulation has been a devolved matter in Scotland since the Parliament was sent up in 1999. And successive Labour and SNP governments have failed to address this as an urgent priority, which totally undermines their claim to ‘poverty proof’ their policies.
At a presentation that I went to on the 6th October 2016. It was actually an activists training day run by Friends of the Earth about air pollution. Somebody from Cycling UK presented the details of one of their campaigns, which is based around this idea that a third of all journeys made by car are under five kilometres. So what they aim to do is to shift all of those journeys onto biking or walking instead to drastically cut air pollution and carbon emissions.
So, going back to my heatmap from 2016. That’s a… five kilometre radius, and as you can see I rarely went outside of the distance that they’re trying to encourage people to cycle – as what’s seen as being about as much as people could reasonably be expected to do in a commute. The fact that Glasgow’s peripheral housing estates, which I mentioned earlier, are all way beyond that five kilometre radius, just shows the extent to which the re-development… from the 1950 to the 1970s has not only created not only created a spatially divided city – with ‘the Glasgow miracle’ largely taking place within easy reach of the city centre, whilst everybody else is stuck outside. But also the urban sprawl, which was actively encouraged… not just in the peripheral housing estates, but also in the New Towns which are even further away and were spread across the whole West Central Scotland conurbation. This is exactly the opposite of what you need to build a sustainable city, where people can easily walk or cycle to where they need to go. 300,000 people [now] drive into Glasgow every day. 150,000 people every day from Lanarkshire as a result.
Now you get to see this fun GIF, which I made between the 24th of March and the 23rd of May 2016. It’s the very from my studio which looks over the M8 and up to Royston. And it shows, what Chris Leslie – who’s somebody that I met quite a lot last year – has documented as ‘Disappearing Glasgow’. The fact that a third of the high rises that were built in 1960s have disappeared in the last ten years. Whether it’s a good idea to smash up and relocate these communities yet again, remains to be seen, but it does at least show that radical change in this city is more than possible.
Last year, Nicholas Stern, who published… the famous Stern Report on the impact of climate change in 2006, spoke about the urgency of this period in time, in terms of the infrastructure that we choose to build. Because the infrastructure that we choose to build, if it’s high-carbon infrastructure, like roads and airport expansion, then we are ‘locking in’ high-carbon lifestyles for decades to come. So some of the mistakes of the past are being rectified, others are just simply being repeated – doing exactly the opposite of what we need to promote a more equal and sustainable city. We’re spending yet more money on another city centre redevelopment plan, when all the evidence shows that we need to be redistributing wealth to the periphery of the city, not creating even more polarisation between the two.
We have £60 million being spent on a new motorway in the East End of Glasgow, which is actually continuing the flawed plan… which was dreamed up in the 1950s before they knew the impact of car use on air pollution and climate change and the massive health risks caused by the physical inactivity that that encourages. But the council have agreed to build the final leg of the so-called ‘East End Regeneration Route’, right through the heart of the East End where… 57% of people don’t have access to cars. And from just before Christmas, this is the Scottish Government budget, which shows how motorways and trunk roads have the biggest increase in spending.
Oh maybe I should skip this bit, because this is when I go into a rant about electric cars. But this is the Blythswood Hotel. To me this is inequality on wheels. This is what happens when you waste lots of public money on the richest and most privileged people in society who do not want to give up… any of those privileges. They like to believe that they can continue driving. And the reason I want to show this, is because it evidences the need to address social, environmental and economic problems at once.
I want to end with a note of optimism. Very important. Activism works! If people are allowed the time and resources, and are empowered enough to hold our leaders to account, then change can happen. Especially in a small country like Scotland, where the Parliament is relatively close by.
And on the 20th of December 2016, we submitted a petition to the Scottish Parliament petitions committee with 1,705 signatures demanding the re-regulation of our country’s buses. And on the 5th of January 2017 (just three days ago), we held a public meeting with passengers, unions and other campaign groups to demand the public ownership of ScotRail… If these campaigns are successful, as I hope they will be, then it will be the beginning of the urgent process to re-build a world-class, fully-integrated, publicly-owned public transport network for everyone in our city. And if any of the other projects and campaigns that I’ve been working on, and which I will continue to work, are successful, then I hope that it will be in some way down to the time and energy I was allowed to invest this year.
So, I came here as an ‘economic migrant’ in 2008 – in search of ‘the Glasgow miracle’. We are the most loathed of all human beings I believe – I didn’t realise quite how much, of course, until last year. But the ‘outsider’s view’ can offer a useful perspective on a city, based on their experiences of having lived in places elsewhere. So, I’ll just finish-up with the two things that most shocked me most on my first night in Glasgow in 2008.
It was when I bought a portion of chips and I discovered that all the chip shops in Glasgow used saturated animal fat to cook the chips in, which is totally the opposite from Nottingham where all the chips are cooked in unsaturated vegetable oil, which was such a shock and it also meant that I couldn’t really eat them seeing that I’m a vegetarian. But then there was the motorway. I just could not believe my eyes that you had to cross a six-lane motorway just to get home. And Glasgow’s the only city in the whole of the UK that has to put up with that. It is not the norm. And the fact that it’s not even mentioned in that Glasgow Centre for Population Health report, I think is a massive oversight, given the profound social and environmental damage that it does.
Ellie Harrison: So now… we’re going to hand over to Peter who is going to chair a discussion. And Peter I met in 2009… at the art school, when he… got us to read a book called Why Are Artist’s Poor? which I thought was actually a very interesting book, and it’s actually where I first heard about those extrinsic and intrinsic values. And he now kind of works in an anonymous and collaborative way as part of an organisation called Wave Particle, where the ‘wave’ being inside the system and the ‘particle’ being outside the system and he’s interested in the tension between the two. So I find all that fascinating. So please come up and join me Peter. [audience applause]
Peter McCaughey: OK, so… I think we’ve a good wee bit of time just now. I’ll just ask Janie and Michelle to quickly introduce their selves. And I think what we’ll do is… a wee bit of Q&A with Ellie, but I think what we’re most interested in and what Ellie’s most interested in is questions from the room. So what I’ll propose we’ll do is there’s some questions we’d like to ask, but we’ll privilege the room first of all. We’ll take your questions in threes. We’ve got an usher on either side, if people could really wait get until they get the microphone to speak and ask the questions. We’ll take your questions in threes. We’ll then put those to Ellie and we’ll try and get a conversation going. If there’s any gaps we’ll get to ask our questions… we’ve probably got half an hour if we push our luck with the GFT, just to draw out the most interesting thoughts that you’ve got. OK, so do you want to quickly introduce yourselves?
Michelle Emery-Barker: Hi, I’m Michelle Emery-Barker and I’m a curator for WASPS Studios. Ellie has her studio in our organisation.
Janie Nicoll: Hi there, my name’s Janie Nicoll and I’m the president of Scottish Artists Union, which is the main campaigning body in Scotland representing visual artists and craftspeople.
Peter McCaughey: So once again, could we just start with a wee thank you. We’ll thank Ellie in her time, but can we thank the volunteer ushers, who are going to be rushing up and down now trying to bring you a wee mic. Thank you very much the volunteer ushers [audience applause]. So could we take the first three questions please? So the deal is if I see a hand up, I’m gonna point at you and I’m going try and get you a mic. Could we start with the gentleman at the back? Could we get him a microphone please? We’ll take your question. Guys can you note the questions? And then we’ll take the next one.
Audience Member: Hi Ellie. I think one of the criticisms or the lack of understanding early in the project was very many people in the public see artists as people who make things: a picture or a thing that you could hold or possibly buy. What is the closest to a thing that you could say you’ve made this year, that you could point to people and say ‘that’s the thing I did’?
Peter McCaughey: OK brilliant, thank you very much. So it’s that idea of artists are seen and understood to be object makers, and asking that question back to Ellie and if there is a kind of tangible, physical thing or maybe she’s already touch on that? Thank you very much. OK if you feel like you’d like to identify an organisation that you represent or anything else, please do that. If not that’s also perfectly cool. Could we take a question here from this gentleman with his hand up? Thank you very much.
Audience Member: Hi guys, thanks that was an amazing talk. I just want to… find out your opinions on… because it sounds like you’ve have an amazing chance to do something which I think everyone should have a chance to do, which is like a Citizen’s Basic Income. You basically had an income that’s allowed you to explore whatever the hell you want to explore and it sounds like you’ve done like amazing things with it man. So I’d love to hear what you guys all think, from your activism and your artistic opinions and political opinions on a Citizen’s Basic Income.
Peter McCaughey: Brilliant, OK thank you very much. Basic Income, as people will probably have seen, is now being discussed as Glasgow being a trial city for a Basic Income. And very exciting I think in relation to many of the things that Ellie’s interested in. A very topical question. So Basic Income, thanks very much. And maybe one question from the front here. We’ll try and get to everybody’s questions if we can.
Audience Member: David Jamieson a journalist from the CommonSpace news website. Is it not a limitation of your project that it didn’t explore the relationship between poverty and wage labour? We now know from statistics that most people in poverty, work. Now I know you worked in the project, but you weren’t receiving a wage for your work, which is obviously part of the history of poverty and the contemporary reality of poverty in Glasgow.
Peter McCaughey: So the question being you know then, tensions between poverty, wage labour and is it a failing of the project not to maybe get its teeth directly into that more than the project did. OK thank you for the first three questions. So I’ll ask you please to hold onto your questions. Ellie do you want to choose which one to take first?
Ellie Harrison: Yeah I guess, maybe the last one first. Yeah, I mean it was a completely unnatural situation that I was in. Yes, so I think it links onto your question, in that maybe the way that I was living was a sort of prototype for how we hope other people, everyone will get the chance to live in the future.
Michelle Emery-Barker: Did you think you should have done more on the relationship between low income and people who are working, so low rates of pay and poverty?
Ellie Harrison: Yeah… I’m mean actually I will say more about this. Sorry I’m a bit tired because I couldn’t really sleep last night. But, the thing I want to say about this and I’m actually speaking at the… Universal Basic Income event in February, they’re doing… monthly events and I will be at the next one in February and I’ll go into this in a bit more detail. But, I guess one of the things that concerns me the most is the way that the cost of living has exploded out of control since all of our basic services and industries were privatised in the 80s and 90s. And actually, that’s where I think the fight should be, to reclaim all of the things that we all need in the world to be able to live: our energy, our housing, our transport. We need to reclaim those things – they’re our things, they should never have been taken away – to bring down the cost of living. People don’t need to get paid as much as they get paid. So that’s where I think the fight should be, so then we all don’t need to have so much money. Like, that’s the ideal situation, in my view.
Michelle Emery-Barker: The other question I guess that you haven’t really touched on is this kind of understanding of what artists do, artists are people that make things. And I guess what’s the closest thing that you’ve done this year to an object or a thing?
Ellie Harrison: I think, I was talking to Peter about this last night and I think… everything that I’ve been through has been quite intense, but it feels to me like maybe a bit of a birthing pang to enable other artists to be able to work in this way in the future. More artists to be able to work in this way in the future, because I understand that people don’t understand what I’m doing. Somebody wrote me a comment the other day on Facebook saying that they’d done a shit that was more talented than me, which I thought was rather nice [audience laughs]. Um, but… I’m probably going to get loads more now. Um, but… I believe that this is the way that we need to be investing critical and creative skills… I hope I outlined, that this is a crisis time in terms of this infrastructure that we’re choosing to invest our money in. So, I mean I have made things. I’ve made t-shirts, I’ve made pamphlets all sorts of stuff, but like I said, I don’t really want any of those things to be seen as artworks… I feel like this process, all of it. It’s amazing to have made something so big, with no physical form.
Peter McCaughey: Could I just ask Ellie, I was interested in asking the question how many people in the room would classify themselves as an artist? Just out of interest. And therefore could I ask, how many people in the room would not class themselves as an artist, by a show of hands? OK, a good number, great. You’d say two-thirds artists, one-third not. I think that’s a really interesting part of the project. OK, we’re sitting on a few questions, but I’d like to take another three questions if we could. Could I just go through the same process again? Could I get the mic to this lady with her hand up here?
Audience Member: Hi, thanks for that Ellie. You keep going back to the point that you don’t want to talk about what you’ve made, or what art was produced. And the talk was interesting, but maybe a little meandering and it feels like this year is too much to fit into an hour and you’ve discovered so many things by, maybe the reaction in January last year that put you in a position where you just wanted to learn, learn, learn, read, read, read, discover and you keep saying you’re knackered. Would you say exhaustion from actually emerging yourself in this is an outcome? And maybe as an artistic thing, that referencing the artist you talk about that inspired year-long projects. Like you must be exhausted. I’d love you to talk about that and how you emotionally feel, and, um, what are you going to do next?
Peter McCaughey: Nice question.
Audience Member: Sorry, that was a really long Q&A one, but yeah.
Peter McCaughey: So a nice question about exhaustion and can I just also clarify the point about meandering, which is quite interesting in terms of what you said about the contradictions that the project began with and continued with. I think when you deal with complex situations and how you present those… Roland Barthes said that ‘the speaker who tries to acknowledge the complexity of language’, if they try and acknowledge that while speaking they look like they’re a meandering idiot. And I think that’s really interesting sometimes to think how can we represent complexities, and how do we deal with contradictions as well? So, and what comes next? OK, two more questions please? Lady in red, when you wear red you’re unavoidable so?
Audience Member: Thank you for the talk, that was really inspiring. I’m just wondering, talking about, you spoke about intrinsic values. I work with young people and I was wondering what your thoughts are on creating the conditions for people to express their intrinsic values and to know them?
Peter McCaughey: Thank you very much. And I’m staying with this side of the room for the moment, before we get to you guys over here in a second. And the person there.
Audience Member: Thanks very much. Hi Ellie. I actually read your funding proposal. The sentence that stood out for me was, that I found very interesting was when you write: ‘that it’s the role of the artist… to take the extreme lifestyle choices, which would not be possible for an ordinary and less privileged person’. And I found that quite interesting. So what I want to ask you is the meat of this project was the commitment not to leave Glasgow for a year and as has come through your talk, you seem to acknowledge that the life you were living was in many respects more privileged in terms of financial stability and so on, than say an unemployed person or an asylum seeker. So I really want to explore, why do you consider not leaving Glasgow for a year, to be an example of an ‘extreme lifestyle choice’, which only the artist is in a position to take?
Peter McCaughey: So… maybe that’s a good one to respond with and say is that how you’d define it and if so how does it become extreme?
Ellie Harrison: Yeah, I mean I think that the reason this was so extreme was because of the fact that I had so many commitments outside the city. I mean it was specific to my life. And that that created all sorts of tensions that I had to sort of embody all year. And actually, like embodying all of those contradictions, channelling… and like I said at the very, very beginning of the talk, which seems so long ago now [laughs] I’m so sorry, was that that there was no escape for me from this project. Because I’d set this framework, that even when I was awake in the night worrying about my family that was part of it, that anxiety. Channelling that was all part of it. So, it was extreme, for me and I think like, in terms of how maybe the mental health problems that I got as a result of the project would be less like somebody who hasn’t been able to leave the city for socio-economic reasons and more like a migrant who couldn’t leave for however many reasons, who was thinking always about somewhere else, somewhere else in the world. And the anxiety of not being able to go there if you need to. So that was what was kind of extreme for me…
So maybe that feeds into the first question. I mean it has been the most exhausting thing and actually, I didn’t put this in my talk, it would have made it even longer, but I think that… in the first few months I was trying to do more things like, social things and sort of having a ‘normal life’, but just the sheer amount of pressure, I just got to the point where I just couldn’t take any time off. Like I just could not have any days off. So, I counted twelve days off that I had, five were at Christmas, but then I realised that I was actually working on two of those days over Christmas anyway so it’s less than twelve. And those were only when people came to visit me and sort of forced me to stop, because I just could not stop. There were so many things that I wanted to achieve before the end of the year, and that I just felt so much… pressure to do that and that was incredibly unhealthy. And like even like last night, when I couldn’t sleep in bed again and I was just thinking even since the 27th of December, which is when I started working after Christmas, like I’ve just worked flat out since then, and that’s even like more than ten days in a row like. That’s not normal, but that is just a snapshot of what my year’s been like. So, it’s yeah. It’s not sustainable [laughs].
Peter McCaughey: So let me just take the tail end of your question, which was to say and what comes next? Maybe I could add a wee question to that, which is just to say Ellie, in light of what you’ve said and also in response to what the gentleman said about ‘how do we define this as extreme’, I think it’s clear to anybody listening to you that you have put yourself through, with a great deal of rigour, through a really hard time. And yet at the same time, you want us to embrace the possibility that the ‘creative outlook’ [Harrison actually said ‘creative outlet’] gifts something to the activist. So if we’re trying to pitch that to the activist going forward, what advice are you kind of giving yourself about how you’re good to yourself, or how you take on what you’ve learned from this? How do you endure with what’s good about what you’ve done and set aside what has… pushed you to an edge?
Ellie Harrison: Um yeah, something that was… I think all of the conflicts that I felt… well all the things about my commitments to people outside the city, but it was also… this tension between art and activism which I highlighted. And actually… old school socialists in the 19th century… talked about a time when art itself as a category would wither away, and it would wither away because everyone in society is able to have a creative outlet. You don’t need to point the finger and say that person’s an artist and that person isn’t… and actually the fact that we do that creates division. It creates a specialisation. It creates a lack of understanding. It creates all sorts of problems, which have been played out over the last year. So that’s something that I’m really profoundly interested in, and I’m interested in how something a Citizen’s Basic Income may enable some of those divisions to start to wither away.
Peter McCaughey: Again, this brings us nicely to the… second question from our lady in red, which I think again brings us to another contradiction in an education system and a society which privileges numeracy and literacy, how do we encourage in our children to embrace their creative side, their kind of intrinsic value system. Is that a fair?
Audience Member: Yeah, thank you for wording it so nicely.
Peter McCaughey: Thank you, so that contradiction again is perhaps. How do we, beyond mechanisms like the Universal Basic Income, how do we within our education system, or how in other ways, how in the bringing up of our children do we support the intrinsic values that you were talking about?
Ellie Harrison: I would say not on Facebook [audience laughs]. I think social media is… I think people treat people differently in real life. I mean that is a fact. You see how many people put their hands up to say they hated me in this room, but people quite happily will write every single day how much they hate me on Facebook. And I think the thing I hate about… and I’ve had a very much a hate-like relationship with social media for quite a long time, and the thing that I think we need to acknowledge is that these people are all on their own engaging with a screen. It’s not social in the slightest. And the moment that screen is switched off, you’re on your own again. And you might feel like that’s a connection with a real human being for a momentary flash, but it’s not. So I think we need to create situations, as many situation as possible, where people come together in real life… that’s why I organised the talk today, was exactly for that reason. And that’s probably also why these questions that I’m getting on the web feed are probably going to be a hell of a lot more hostile… oh they’re good ones? We’ll try to get onto them [audience laughs]. So… one of the things that I… thought last year was that actually social media is only useful for arranging instances of meeting up in real life. But I mean it’s a beast out of control. It’s totally a beast out of control. So… I think that’s the number one thing really: meeting people in real life.
Peter McCaughey: And I understand that and thanks Kevin for the questions that we’ve just received and we are live streaming and it’s great that we are also receiving questions from the live stream, so Ellie I’m going to hand those to you to pick one. And could I ask for three more questions from the room please? If there are three more questions? If we could get a microphone to the lady dead centre here? And at the back?
Audience Member: First of all, I want to apologise, Ellie, as a Glaswegian if you’re feeling that you don’t belong to Glasgow, because I hope that you do and I hope in the last year that you’ve felt that. I can understand why some people responded to what you posted initially, but we don’t need to go over all that again, because I’m sure you’ve spent enough time on that. But what I was curious about, was that you spent a lot of time focussing on transport, and that’s obviously a passion of yours and something that you’re an activist in and that’s great. Glasgow has many issues and we need activists to deal with a lot of those issues. And one of the things that stood out for me that you talked about was car owners, you seeing that as a privilege, yet you’re a homeowner, and that cars are so cheap. You know, much cheaper that either a mortgage for people to hire… I just, I think perception is everything, so I’m curious to know from activist to another, why for instance housing isn’t something that you wanted to get involved in, but public transport is? And personally I use public transport every day and I’m a car owner. And I come all the way from Drumchapel right into the city centre of Glasgow and I’ve not problem with the public transport. I’ve no problem with the public transport in Glasgow.
Peter McCaughey: OK, thank you very much. And as we well know, as is often cited in other parts of Europe, there’s not such an obsession with the need to buy a house. And that idea that you’re talking about hoarding and collecting and how culture can really… makes something impossible almost to deny, that we have to get on the ladder, that we have to get a mortgage and all the rest. In other parts of Europe, it’s simply isn’t the case. So maybe it’s a particular UK-wide obsession. So thanks for that question. Can I have two more questions, are there any? There’s a question right at the front here.
Audience Member: I’ve got two questions, but I wrote them both down, so you can choose which one you wanna take [hands slip of paper to Ellie Harrison].
Peter McCaughey: Thank you very much. Do you want to call both of them out? OK, and can I take one more question? And then I’m going to ask you both for a wee question as well. Is there one more question in the room? It’s good, were getting through them, and I felt like I was under the cosh. Sorry at the very back there, that gentleman with the hat I think?
Audience Member: Hi, this relates to a question earlier regarding making objects. Given that you as an artist, and there are other artists in the room that I presume are also non-makers per se, and they’d made the choice to be non-makers in order not to engage with the capitalist system within the art world… how would you frame your stance on an artist not engaging in the… capitalist art system. Perhaps you would like to frame it in relation to Suhail Malik’s Art’s Exit from Contemporary Art?
Peter McCaughey: Brilliant, thank you very much. So a question about the potential kinda ‘career suicide’ exit from the artworld question. So… Ellie’s now facing six questions. We thought this was a good idea to ask questions this way, without realising that you’re now facing six questions. So which one would you like to take first? We can remind you which they are. We have three from the internet, two more handed over on paper, and two from the floor, so that’s actually seven.
Ellie Harrison: Oh my goodness. The one I can remember most, is probably your one in the middle about… I mean as I mentioned before about the fact that all of the things that were privatised from the 80s onwards… and the basic things that we need to live in the world: housing, with all the council houses that were sold off, energy, transport, the list goes on and… another project we haven’t even had time to talk about at all… I think I focussed on transport because I guess that is the thing that links environmental justice specifically with social justice and um, I also have another renewable energy project which I’ve been working on this year which we haven’t have time to talk about. But, absolutely, all these issues we need to look at. But I think it goes back to just thinking about what it is we need to live and how we can best provide those things for everybody in our society. And, when I bought my flat, I was exactly thinking what Peter has outlined, that I want to get to this point where I don’t have to worry about money so much. Like I want to get to this point where, I’ve got a stable situation so that I can do crazy things like this I suppose [laughs]. So absolutely, I was thinking very selfishly about what I need to live in the world and that’s the way that we’re all programmed to do in our contemporary society. It’s very much about ‘how can I get what I need’ without thinking about, how can we provide what everybody needs in a fairer way.
Peter McCaughey: Whereas where… maybe we have quite a good situation in Scotland, where we have stable housing provided by Housing Associations, where long-term tenure is feasible and rent increases aren’t horrific… the price of rent is reasonable. Those things as they are in other parts of Europe are maybe not possible… Would you like to nominate another question? From that group? And did you have a choice of your internet questions… maybe we’ll take an internet question from this list here.
Ellie Harrison: These are amazing questions. I just want to say thanks to ‘nuffnuff’ and ‘dougie’ for these questions.
Peter McCaughey: I’ll ask the question. Which one do you want?
Ellie Harrison: Oh my word, they’re all quite difficult. That one.
Peter McCaughey: OK. The questions I have here is: ‘Give the preponderance of white, fat, middle-class men with cars on Quangos, how can you get better planning for all, revolution or evolution?’
Ellie Harrison: I think that’s a brilliant question. I mean it’s one of the things that I’ve totally witnessed this year. And it’s something that we really, really need to challenge. And I think… this is why we get such bad decisions being made.
Peter McCaughey: Can I see this one? This was a questions from Anne I think: ‘Would you consider yourself a member of the mainstream media / a journalist?’
Ellie Harrison: I think that’s interesting. I was looking at some of the coverage. I shouldn’t have been actually, just yesterday. Yesterday there was an article in The Herald and it really tried to make me out as an ogre. And I was thinking… actually when I did this interview on the radio on Friday. And I think a lot of people are scared… are really terrified of me now. And actually one of the things that I wrote down quite a lot last year was: ‘there’s nothing more dangerous than a woman with nothing to lose’ [audience laughs]. And, I feel like I kind of broke through that threshold to the point where I can say the unsayable now and I will. And… a lot of people are very, very terrified by that, especially people who what to protect their privilege. And that is why I think the media are continuing to make me into this ogre and probably will continue to make me into an ogre. So, no, I don’t consider myself to be part of it, I consider myself to be challenging it.
Michelle Emery-Barker: Um, someone at the back asked about artists that are non-makers, as a stance to not engage with the capitalist system, and how would you frame your stance on that? I guess, tied in with some of the things that I might have been interested in asking you as well. And I guess what I’m interested in a lot of what you’re doing is not what we expect an artist to do, but you are, you know. As an artist, what do you think you bring to this? Particularly being an active citizen or activist? And also, how can you encourage more artists to think that that’s a viable practice. That that’s a good way to work? What needs to be done to make that happen?
Ellie Harrison: Good questions. I’m mean it does… the project that I didn’t really mention is the one that I’ve spent quite a lot of time on this year. I did have to edit down all the material that I had. But I’m trying to set up a new funding scheme, which will specifically encourage radical art and activism. In order to not only make that sort of way of working more visible, but also provide some sort of support structure, for that to happen and to continue to grow, especially in Scotland.
Peter McCaughey: And sorry, so just to say, that support structure is a renewable engine that generates?
Ellie Harrison: Yeah I guess the idea is based on… redistributing wealth from the proceeds of selling energy. So redistributing that through grants. We don’t know exactly how the grant scheme will work at the moment, but there’s been a lot of meetings this year to work out what the aims and values of the organisation would be and we have got to the point where we’re now setting up as a Community Benefit Society, which is a form of co-operative that is constituted so that it can only redistribute its wealth in a certain way. So slow progress has been made on that, but it is epic. But you know, I think this is a life-long project, another life-long project, that I‘ve got and it’s going to take that long to get it to… take over the world [laughs].
Janie Nicoll: I think that kind of leads… I suppose my interest as president of Scottish Artists Union is the sort of role of artists within society and how artists can maintain careers in what is currently a very precarious working situation for artists. So I see Ellie’s Radical Renewable Art + Activism Fund as a real kind of beacon of a way that artists can… I think within this project the criticism that Creative Scotland had for funding Ellie, raises a lot of issues about who should get funded, what should get funded, these are all kind of in the ether and it is good that we’re talking about this kind of thing. So yeah, I think it is an issue of how do we as a society support people who are innovators, who are creative, who do want to make changes, who do want ‘think out the box’.
And I mean, I think it’s becoming more recognised within society that as we are dealing with… precarious working situations where many, many occupations are dealing with what are now to be considered as ‘zero hours contracts’. I mean you can look within Further Education and Higher Education with a sort of impending crisis on those kind of fronts. How do we fund these kind of alternative (well they’re not really alternative) lifestyles? How do we fund people to maintain lifestyles and operate within our society? These are really kind of interesting underlying issues within Ellie’s whole project.
I did actually prepare a question and again it’s to do with artists within Higher Education. I mean, I myself as an artist who worked at Edinburgh College of Art about fifteen or so years ago and I left because I was, you know, working as many part-time lecturers were at the time, when you would work over the course of a year and you wouldn’t know if you were working the next year. You wouldn’t get told until August, the month before, when you’d start in September, if you had a job. I mean, I left and went on and did other things as a freelance practising artist. But I look at people working within Higher Education and see that there’s been strikes here in Glasgow by the art students at the lowering of, you know, professional input. And you know lecturers having continually more difficult situations to deal with. But I think again, Ellie’s project has really highlighted this.
So anyway, my question was: ‘what do you think your project has highlighted about the role of Higher Education establishments and how they support their staff?’ Because I mean, basically what Ellie has done in a way has been, what in the past has been called ‘taking a sabbatical’. And I was thinking about it this weekend and it’s something I’ve not heard of within education, you just do not hear about anybody ‘taking a sabbatical’ anymore. It’s like, you know, how could anyone justify that now when actually art lecturers are pretty much working ‘zero hour contracts’, they’re working for the hours that they’re within institutions. So anyway, that’s my questions: how do you see Higher Education, how should they be supporting their staff?
Ellie Harrison: Um, I think…
Janie Nicoll: That’s a big question isn’t it? Sorry for asking!
Ellie Harrison: There’s something I’m reading at the moment actually is this idea of… like the economic system that we have at the moment being the ‘long way round’ to delivering good lives. And that we do so much shit that’s totally unnecessary just to provide for people and that actually it’s about refocussing what we’re actually doing in these institutions, which in my opinion, is teaching young people and… giving them then best possible start in life. Um, so… I think with all of these issues really it’s about: we all need the opportunity to slow down and really think about what it is… that actually make us happy and healthy. And that’s, I guess, one of the greatest ironies of this project is that I didn’t get the opportunity to do that. Maybe, if I had just taken a year’s leave… and done that, then I would be more chilled now [laughs]. But yeah… it is all in here. I don’t want to dwell on it too much.
Peter McCaughey: OK… I’d like to ask a question… as I think we’ve covered the questions from the floor. Can I just… picking up on the lady that asked the question about our responsibility to our children, and just also tying into the gentleman who’s gone now, I think he asked the question about Citizen’s Basic Income or Universal Basic Income. It’s just an appeal to the room to familiarise yourselves with this territory please. It’s being discussed with regard to Glasgow. Ellie’s made it a core part of her own research. I think we all need to consider what it means in a world… where the divide is growing greater and the unrest that we see and some of the issues around Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and other things are also tied into the alienation of people from themselves and their societies. And we see this extremist culture growing. One of the kinda tonics of that which has come from deep left, and is becoming really a rather central idea, which the SNP are carrying forward, is this idea that you as a citizen are due an income which you just get. This is the idea of Basic Income. Basic Income as it’s proposed for Glasgow, and Glasgow is nominated as a trial case, would be about four grand more than Ellie got from Creative Scotland. And I think that’s the proposal: that every citizen would be entitled. And there are many different arguments for this and I think we do need to familiarise ourselves with them.
But I think, one of the things that I carry the greatest admiration for what Ellie has set herself at. I can see as somebody who knows her a little bit, but not particularly well, what she has put herself through to explore territory with great courage, even to be here today, to face up to a kinda media shitstorm, that I hope I remain invisible enough never to have to face and would not wish upon anybody. And I think that, you know, I take great inspiration from not just from the presentation today, but from the courage of conviction. And I think the reason I asked who in the room considers themselves an artist and who not… the hope is that there’s enough in what you’ve seen from Ellie’s presentation to encourage in this space that the artists in the room who are trying to understand and articulate ourselves as that relation between active citizenship and art, the divided territory, what’s in common, as we go forward and we try and build that together.
I think that the words ‘creative outlook’ [Harrison actually said ‘creative outlet’], which Ellie keeps referring to in her practice and in her talk, and I’m reminded of a few questions, that I really hope our children in this country are going to grow up with a relation to their intrinsic value, that it’s a default given that they are valuable and that they have something inside them, that we all have inside us… that we’re born to do something with our lives beyond what is set out for us in the economic systems as they currently are and really would be facilitated by… one of the great fears – the reason that Switzerland voted not to take, which in their case was something like four grand a month for citizens – so what would that be? A huge amount of money that you’d give them for the rest of their lives. One of the reasons they didn’t take it, was because people are terrified. What the fuck are we going to do if we don’t work? You know, our society’s gonna fall apart. We’re gonna become lazy and indolent and we’ll start to fail. And I think that one of the things that Ellie’s model shows is just how busy you can be. Just how much you can do if you can take the time. And I think it’s a great model, amongst many other models, to think about, as we move to discussing should Glasgow… be one of the test cities for Universal Basic Income, where, you know, you get enough money… The two things that happen in the test cities where they’ve done it is: 1) visits to hospital decrease, 2) divorce rate increases [audience laughs]. So apparently, you know, particularly the female of the species, will sort of choose to get divorced more often if they feel they’re slightly more financially stable. So that is the studies, the places where they’ve done it before, those are the two stats that we have.
But I think we’re kind of out of time now here, but, I know Ellie was keen to say that if… anybody wanted to retire to the CCA, some of us were going to go there and you can continue what I think is, of course, an ongoing discussion. I think we’d really like to thank Ellie and I think one of the courageous things about what Ellie’s done today in being here to think out loud, is that she’s just literally finished. It’s going to take you a year or more of gestation to know what you’ve done and to think about what was valuable and what’s throwaway. So to put yourself into this situation I think has been… really valuable, but also great courage. And I think we should give you a resounding round of applause and just thank you very much [audience applause].
Ellie Harrison: I’ve got a few ‘thank yous’. Thank you to these guys [Peter McCaughey, Michelle Emery-Barker and Janie Nicoll]. Thank you to all of you [the audience]. Thank you to Creative Scotland. Thank you to Creative Carbon Scotland who funded £100 for the cost of the venue… And thank you to Kevin [live stream] and Stuart and Neil who’s been taking pictures and that’s all I think. So yeah, thank you very much for coming [audience applause].