17 May 2018
The Work of Art, National Galleries of Scotland
Ellie Harrison: I’m Ellie Harrison. I’m an artist based in Glasgow and what I’ve got here – this is the first week of media coverage from The Glasgow Effect. This is a document, it’s probably about an inch thick… printed out by Creative Scotland for me actually, because they have a subscription to this Press Data thing which will search for every time Creative Scotland is mentioned in the media and then send them a copy of it. So their inbox was pretty full that week [laughs]… just put it that way.
Jan Patience: Spending public money on art still walks hand-in-hand with controversy, as Glasgow-based artist Ellie Harrison found out:
Ellie Harrison: I was lucky enough to get a £15,000 grant from Creative Scotland. That is the top limit of the smallest grant pool that they give out… I think, you know, as soon as you’re taking public money you kinda become public property to a certain extent and people want to see a return on their investment [laughs]…
They started this rumour that I was from London [laughs] which is true, but I haven’t lived in London since 1998… And that I’d just been paid £15,000 to move up here to see how the Glaswegians do it [laughs], which is, you know, a complete lie. And people, kinda understandably, got a bit annoyed that somebody was being paid this public money to do this so called ‘poverty safari’.”
Jan Patience: In 2016, Ellie Harrison devised what she called an ‘action research project’ called The Glasgow Effect. Her idea was that she would stay in Glasgow, her home city, for a whole year, cutting her carbon footprint and measuring the impact she would have working as an artist in a community-based context.
When the story broke in early 2016, that Ellie had received £15,000 from Creative Scotland to carry out the project there was a public outcry, in the press and on social media.
Ellie Harrison: I think The Glasgow Effect was an example of a sort of new form of public art really, that could only emerge in the era of social media. And because, you know, a lot of what I’m interested in is dealing with this issue of how do we operate in a more sustainable way, and the contradictions that you face as an artist as somebody who wants to have a sustainable life, but is in the business of making stuff…
So, I’m interested in how you can make spectacles, create an impact without producing material things. And I think that The Glasgow Effect and the social media storm that it kicked off is an example of that, because it was a huge project. You know, a million people saw the Facebook page in the first week… You can’t even comprehend those numbers. Yeah, so in terms of public impact it is enormous, and yes it wasn’t always reflecting on Glasgow in the most positive light, but that was part of it you know, to draw attention to the problems that we face in this city… with the hope of somebody starting to do something more about it. And mobilising people maybe pissed off with me to start to take action themselves.