Audrey O’Brien’s work for the Woven in Govan project, outlines the importance and significance of interdependence. “I’m an artist, working across photography, collage, sculpture and live events. For example, bringing people on curated walks, like the one featured here. I am very curious about how we use our senses. My projects raise awareness of our own senses.
For Woven in Govan, and it’s micro-commission, seven artists were to highlight or respond to women’s experiences during the pandemic. Covid-19 has taught us that the health of all life on the planet is connected – humans, animal, plants, entire ecosystems all mutually dependent. This all happens here in Moogety garden; growing, cooking, eating together In an Open garden.”
(Music Credit:Music By @PeyruisSong: Dreamer – Cinematic Mood Acoustic GuitaMusic promoted by No Copyright Music Vlog. Video Link: https://youtu.be/CC7KN9hMteo)
Ursula Kam-Ling Cheng’s piece for the Woven in Govan project was shaped through engagement sessions with local women – the final work exists as a representation of these conversations, featuring quotes and key themes relating to the care burden placed upon women. Ursula’s piece is currently on display at the wh·eat Cafe on Govan Road.
Fablevision has developed partnerships in Europe for almost 40 years. This has always been “glocal and inter-local” (i.e. local issues shared with communities/communities of interests at a local level that have global interest and impact). Those projects have included arts and disability (leading to the formation of Birds of Paradise) – and more recently, Memory of Water EU, looking at the role of artists in future planning for post industrial waterfront heritage zones.
Memory of Water EU was originally 6 cities and on the journey we discovered that local communities are on the one hand most vulnerable but on the other, have huge resilience that could be channeled and supported. We also identified that the next ‘shock’ about to hit those same communities is climate change.
The plan for Memory of Water EU was to develop the next stages – a large-scale collaboration involving existing and new partners in the exploration. However, Brexit has interrupted play: although we understand both education and culture are devolved matters for the Scottish Government, we find ourselves excluded from both Erasmus and Creative Europe because the UK Government has made the unfathomable decision to remove all four of the home nations of the UK from those funding programmes.
Undaunted, we are rekindling relationships with like-minded Scottish artists and activists: reawakening an organisation, established by cultural activist Helen Kyle with incredible prescience in 1996 called Scotland in Europe (SIE).
Scotland in Europe (SIE) has been working between Glasgow and Paris: bringing artists together in partnership, amity and in the spirit of cultural collaboration over the intervening decades SIE is an idea whose ‘time has come’. The departing Scottish MEP Alyn Smith begged the EU to ‘leave a light on for Scotland so that we can find our way home’. Scotland in Europe is that light. A beacon for cultural co-operation and learning exchange in the darkness that is Brexit, SIE will support Scottish artists and cultural organisations to continue the relationships, partnerships and projects that have been/will be developed in the future.
Europe stands in solidarity with Scotland. Lights are coming on all over mainland Europe… We have already established SIE ‘desks’ in Stockholm, Barcelona and Paris, with others in the pipeline through membership of the River Cities Network.
Our vision remains what it has always been – collaborative, engaged and outward looking.
One of the great things about the greatest European project – the European Union – was its role in fostering a feeling of co-operation, friendship and interrelatedness among its constituent parts – 28 sovereign nation states sharing a commitment to the same future and direction. Amity had replaced enmity.
It was in this regard and spirit that Fablevision joined Intercult (Gothenburg and Stockholm, Sweden), Municipality of Levadia (Levadia, Greece), Nabaltyckie Centrum Kultury (Gdansk, Poland), Ormston House (Limerick, Ireland) and Stad Oostende (Oostende, Belgium) in the Memory of Water EU project, which explored the nature of heritage, urban regeneration and renewal in post-industrial riverine and seaboard communities. At its heart was the use of artistic interventions/residences to help explore, encourage and engage with communities which have often been ignored or sidelined. It asked the question: who decides the future of such places? The question needs asking as more often than not regeneration of post-industrial places and spaces involves the imposition of “solutions” without reference to the heritage of these places or engagement with the communities who live there.
Then came 23rd June, 2016 and Brexit. It remains to be seen what the level of engagement between the UK and EU-based cultural organisations will be post-Brexit. However, one thing is certain, there is now no common narrative or direction of travel. Aside from the obvious dislocation and disengagement, the UK and its organisations will no longer have access to the same level of cultural funding or the same access to the skills, knowledge and experience of our erstwhile European partners. It is already the case that interns and cultural professionals are not finding Britain as welcoming and easy to access as it once was.
Fablevision continues to work with European partners – notably Intercult (Sweden) and Mariupol Platform TU (Ukraine) – as part of the Woven Network project, and Bridging Digital, with organisations from Sweden, Greece and Poland, on how the community cultural sector in Europe is adapting post-pandemic.
What is now less clear is what the future holds for Scottish cultural organisations now that the UK is outwith the largest market and culturally dynamic bloc in the world.
During the 1980s and 90s, when social enterprise was an innovative concept in Scotland, Strathclyde Regional Council, Objective 3 Partnership and the Scottish Centre for Regeneration were surprised when Fablevision board members thanked them for turning down applications for funding on the grounds that we were ‘not sustainable’. Having funding bids rejected forced Fablevision’s artists, like most other creative practitioners, to develop other, entrepreneurial business models that would allow them to continue their practice without compromising their vision or values and we thanked them for forcing us to be independent. Over the ensuing decades, Fablevision inherited furniture from Strathclyde Regional Council when they shut up shop; computer equipment from the Objective 3 Partnership when they closed and co-created learning materials on the demise of the Scottish Centre for Regeneration. The ‘unsustainable’ small cultural social enterprise outlasted all the big beasts. Like other small cultural organisations, we were light on our feet – able to adapt and pivot creatively and meet the new requirements of whatever adverse social/economic/political circumstances presented. There is a joke in community-based cultural practice that practitioners of these arts are like ‘cockroaches will be after the nuclear holocaust – they will be the only living things to survive’.
For more than four decades, Fablevision has created ‘glocal’ experiments in artistic interventionism. Taking a cultural planning approach (and with the intention of making a difference), in the early years this involved supporting people with disabilities to find their voice and make stunning theatre, resulting in the formation of Birds of Paradise Theatre Company. In the middle years, with partners in the Banlieues d’Europe network, we focused on place-based cultural planning in for example, north east Glasgow with the Royston Road Project and BoltFM. More recently, through collaborations with River Cities Network members on a project entitled, Memory of Water EU, we have worked in Govan with partners from Sweden, Poland, Greece, Ireland and Belgium asking what difference socially engaged, interventionist artists can make on post-industrial waterfront heritage zones: an exploration that has, over the last five years, expanded to include Ukraine and Georgia.
These international sharings of learning and practice are vital. They provide the oxygen for locally based artists working in communities/communities of interest (as well as those local residents who gain inspiration from seeing what’s possible in other countries) to ‘keep going’ in the face of, at best, indifference and often, outright hostility from politicians and planners. Artists empowering local people to speak out is one thing but empowerment to the extent of taking ownership; taking control and affecting transformation on their local area plans is not always welcomed by landowners and housing developers.
Fablevision survived the first waves of the Covid-19 pandemic thanks to European funding (which helped to lever local and national ‘match’). We concluded the final year of Memory of Water, (a major Creative Europe 6 cities, EU project) during 2020, delivering a ‘blended’ residency programme in spite of lockdown.
In early 2021, we secured a successful Erasmus bid to explore this experimentation with new working practices further. Over the next three years, collaborating with partners in Greece, Poland and Sweden, we will map examples of best practice in each of the participating countries: experimenting with case studies that will be delivered in real time. The ingredients for success will be unpacked, teased out, analysed and compared across the four partner countries. From these mappings and case study examples, we will create a set of learning materials for artists, educationalists (formal and informal) and community arts organisations, to facilitate adaptations in post venue based performance arts.
All of this is now threatened by Brexit, however, as , over the last 5years, we have seen ourselves reduced from lead partner status to ‘ third world country’ where we can’t participate in Creative Europe or Erasmus at all unless invited and subcontracted by an EU member state.
To be clear, it is not just the Fablevision business model that is under threat here. The whole premis of collaborative learning and sharing of practice with mutual understanding and in the spirit of shared values is now in jeopardy for all independent cultural organisations and practice based researchers throughout the UK.
Whilst many of our colleagues in the UK Creative Europe network of beneficiaries are moving themselves into mainland Europe or setting up satellite organisations in Cyprus, Paris and other welcoming ports in a storm, Fablevision is pondering available options. The jury is out on whether or not Brexit will spell the end of the line for Fablevision; if we can ‘pivot’ and survive the storm yet again, or if reinstatement within the EU family will come in time to save us.
Liz Gardiner is founder and Director of Fablevision and a PhD candidate at the University of the West of Scotland. All of the projects mentioned above have been developed with the support, partnership and supervision of colleagues within UWS.
Dr t s Beall is the Lead Artist for ‘Woven in Govan’, and was the lead Scottish artist for ‘Woven Network’ (2020), spanning five countries and led by Platform TU (Ukraine). Beall is a socially-engaged artist and researcher based in Dumfries and Glasgow, working with communities on durational projects to recover marginalised histories. Her work spans a variety of media including performative events, printed matter, and creative interventions in the public realm.
She is also one of ten commissioned artists on the Stove Network’s ‘Atlas Pandemica’, working with Travelling Showpeople to recover elements of Dumfries’ fairground histories (2020-21) and considering post-Covid positioning of creative projects in the public realm. Ongoing projects in Scotland include ‘Fair Scotland’ (with Showpeople, co-devised with Dr Mitch Miller), and ‘Protests and Suffragettes’ (recovering and highlighting women’s activism in Govan), both 2013-present. Beall was the lead Scottish artist for ‘Memory of Water’ (2018-2021), a project examining post-industrial waterfronts in six European cities, funded by Creative Europe. Her PhD with University of Glasgow (2017), collaborated with the Riverside Museum/Glasgow Museums, where her practice-led research developed engagement strategies for heritage institutions through co-curated events and participatory performance.
The latest artist to take part in this element of the Woven Network is Ursula Kam-Ling Cheng, a North Irish illustrator and visual artists based in Glasgow.
Woven in Govan is part of the European collaboration Woven Network with Intercult (Sweden) & PlatformTU (Ukraine). It concept and execution each part of the project is designed to focus on the often unsung role women have played during the continuing Covid19 pandemic and the various lockdowns.
Each artist’s work focuses on the different ways in which women have adapted and coped under the circumstances and how they have contributed markedly to the greater good.
Ursula’s work is created from life experiences combining surreal realities into a hyper colourful blend of contrasting and loaded line drawings. Often a mix of mediums are employed and explored on found surfaces and applications. Her work enjoys autonomy over the spirit of a place and seeks to bring charm and joy to viewers.
Her large-scale mural work has been commissioned by the V&A, Abertay University, Edinburgh University, Fringe Festival Society and Urban Outfitters to name a few.Within participatory creative facilitation her work aims to involve everyone, generate empowerment, build optimism and pride in communities. Her work combines a mix of mediums to create a unique hybrid of styles most distinctly her own and inspired by those interacting with it.
Audrey O’Brien – an Irish-born artist based in Glasgow, who works across photography, collage, sculpture, and curated events through a socially engaged practice – is the latest artist to join in the Woven in Govan part of the Woven Network project.
A background of employment in social care heavily informed her work in Arts and Health, Arts and Disability, and pedology. With both playfulness and seriousness having equal parts in her practice she is influenced by the Dada art movement. Her long-standing passion for this cultural and political art led to researching unfamiliar artists from this period and developing both collaborative and educational programme for community and school contexts. Creating interactive art works and focusing on the senses is essential to her creative exploration. Through working with diverse groups which as residents in supported housing to forest rangers and scientists she is a firm believer in collaborative production and democratising creative activity.
Recent projects include co-creating a self-led guide for Seven Lochs Wetland Park and collaborating with composer Sonia Allori with Sonic Bothy. She contributed to the School for Civic Imagination CCA Glasgow, a structured programme addressing socially engaged research and practices.
Alex Wilde visual artist who is interested in spaces for social and cultural exchange, particularly those which facilitate the growth of community and community activism. Much if this has focused on temporary and permanent community gardens, cafes and places for play. She sets out to animate existing connections and relationships and create new ones through collaborative projects with communities, using different tools, props and sets each time.
Ailie is a pioneering visual artist and agitator. For over twenty years she has been collaborating and inviting people to become co-producers of work, activate public space and collectively imagine productive alternatives to the way we live. Her work explores the relationship between community activism and creative practice, deliberately provoking and asking difficult questions in order to propose new models for living and working together.
Initiated by Ailie in 2015, and now collectively run, The People’s Bank of Govanhill is a long-term social artwork and feminist community currency project in Glasgow. In 2019 Ailie also co-developed String Figures, a new collaborative software that allows activist, feminist and creative groups working for social justice to support and strengthen each other’s work through de-centralised open-source networks centred on a principle of mutual care.
Memory of Water EU was a six-city (Gdansk, Gothenburg-Stockholm, Govan, Levadia, Limerick, Ostend) Creative Europe-funded project which set out to answer the question: What’s next for post-industrial waterfront heritage zones in Europe?
Our lead partner was Intercult, Sweden, and we had a range of NGOs, social enterprises and public sector organisations in the partnership mix. Fablevision was the Scottish partner with t s Beall, the social engaged lead artist responsible for delivering residency programmes in Levadia, Gdansk and Govan. From Ostend, Belgium, the city council arts department nominated street artist, Siegfried Vynck. Levadia, Greece, another local authority partner, nominated performance artist Ira Brami, whilst our partner in Limerick, Ireland, was a visual arts organisation, Ormston House, with visual artist, Mary Conroy. Gdansk, represented by Nadbałtyckie Centrum Kultury, introduced visual artist, Iwona Zając, whilst Intercult contributed film director, Jonas Mystrand.
Being involved has been a massive capacity building process for Fablevision in many ways: our profile and social media presence has been boosted exponentially; our project collaboration in Govan with activists, artists, architects, politicians and planners has first of all stopped the building of 750 high rise flats on Govan’s iconic, A-listed Graving Docks, then supported the developer to change plans and prioritise heritage, industry, tourism and recreation. Finally, by December 2020, we learned that Glasgow City Council has removed the Victorian dry docks site from the housing register so it is no longer zoned for housing. There is no doubt that without international benchmarking (in particular with the historic shipyard in Gdansk, Poland, whose iconic cranes were given protected status, and which, as of December 2020, is well on the way to having the whole shipyard area designated with UNESCO World Heritage site status) partnership with artists and academics, urban lab discussions, and the high profile residencies themselves, none of this would have happened.
An unexpected aspect of the learning and development for Fablevision was the arrival of Covid-19 which could have scuppered the whole project but in fact allowed us to invent whole new methods for delivering participatory artist residencies remotely that involved local people, community organisations and Govan-based artists in the delivery! Substantive research and relationship building gained during the first residency in 2019 coupled with the close, trusting relationships of partners and the expertise, professionalism and dedication of the artists involved, transformed disaster into opportunity and delivered output of exceptional quality.
The benefits are almost too numerous to list but leverage of match funding; the ability to remain within the European project at a time when Brexit is dragging us out; legacy developments like new East European project partners from Georgia and Ukraine and new projects like Woven Network are a few highlights.
We are very sad that we have been unable to be a lead partner on Memory of Water EU and are now reduced to third country status going forward but we hope this will be temporary and we are determined to continue working with current partners as well as forging new ones.
As the two year journey now draws to a close, you can catch up on some of the amazing dialogues and digital exhibitions of the artists’ work via the following links:
Directed and produced by Helen Kyle, the film provides a narrative of poems, music and photographs to evoke something of the essence of the river which has played such an important part in Govan and Glasgow’s history. Contributors include: “The Greatest Iron Ship” by Danny Kyle; “Clota, Goddess of the Clyde” performed by Louise Oliver; “Fear” by Kahlil Gibran (translated and performed by Michael Dempster) and “Braw Sailing on the Sea” by the Iona Fyfe Trio.