6 January 2017
BBC News, Glasgow & West Scotland

The artist behind the controversial Glasgow Effect project has told how she used the outcry it sparked to fuel her work.

Ellie Harrison was awarded Β£15,000 by Creative Scotland for the project, which would see her deliberately confined to Glasgow for a year.

She was criticised on social media and accused of taking a “poverty safari”.

Now the project has finished, she revealed that the first few months were “overwhelming”.

Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland, Ms Harrison said she effectively went “undercover” in the face of the media storm and started working on local projects.

“It was an incredibly stressful first few months,” she told The Stephen Jardine Programme.

“There was so much anger that was thrown at me which I just processed and I thought about what it meant. I used it fuel the project in positive directions.”

The project took its named from the term which describes the poor health and life expectancy in parts of Glasgow.

Conflicts and contradictions

Ms Harrison, who has lived in Glasgow since 2008, took time off from her post as a lecturer at Duncan of Jordanstone College in Dundee to pursue the work.

As well as remaining in the city for the whole of 2016, she said she also travelled everywhere by foot or bicycle – cutting her carbon footprint to zero.

The project was designed to help her address “conflicts and contradiction” in her life, she said.

“I’d been living here but I wasn’t working here,” she added. “I was working in Dundee so I was doing this huge commute across the country two times a week.

“Most of the commissions or invitations I got as an artist were in other cities, or abroad. I was doing a lot of travelling in that respect.

“My parents are down in London – I’ve got a continual pull to try and take responsibility, be a good daughter, look after them.

“My niece and nephew, my sister, they’re all in Norwich, so it just felt like everything that I was doing was outside of this city.

“Why the hell was I living here? Did I really know this city? And was I actually investing any of my time, my energy, my ideas, the skills that I have acquired through all the education that I have in making it a better place? So that was the contradiction that the project was founded on.”

She told the programme that she moved to the city because of the so-called “Glasgow miracle”.

“That’s the story that tells you there’s been a post-industrial renaissance in the city, we’re a city of culture, we have international art stars and that is raising the living standards of everyone in the city,” she said.

“It’s not happening. It’s just creating more polarisation and more division.”

She added: “[The Glasgow Effect] was an opportunity for me to find out more about why Glasgow has the worst health equalities in the whole of western Europe but also, most importantly, to invest my time, energy and skills to try and improve the situation for the poorest people in this city.”

The project saw her art cross over with activism – she has campaigned to nationalise the railways and improve bus services.

Human fears

Her original funding application to Creative Scotland described The Glasgow Effect as an “extreme lifestyle experiment”.

Some objected to the phrase, claiming that some people have no choice but to stay in Glasgow for reasons of poverty.

Ms Harrison said: “I am absolutely aware of that. But it was an extreme lifestyle experiment. There was absolutely no escape from the project because it was this year-long durational thing.

“Even when I woke up in the night and I was fretting or worrying about my family who were all in other parts of the country that I couldn’t go and visit them – what if something happened to them? These horrible, human fears.

“When that was happening, that was all part of it, for me that was one step too far. To bring my family into this art project like that, I pushed it too far. I don’t regret anything, I’m glad I’ve got to the end of it.”