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Books: Arcade: Artists and Place-making

Edited by Rhona Warwick, Black Dog Publishing, £19.95

Books: Arcade: Artists and Place-making

It is a dawning of a new age, a new era, a New Gorbals. The final phase of building in the latest Gorbals overhaul is done and the accompanying art project is complete. In the ‘one per cent for art’ scheme, this fraction of developers’ money was invested in a wide reaching art scheme led by The Artworks Programme, and involved over 20 artists. The New Gorbals now has an orchard, a curving wall intersecting public and private space, a huge hanging lady, knitted cacti, metal birds, a girl with a rucksack, and many more interventions—permanent, evolving and temporary.
 

Arcade is an attempt to explore these projects by inviting writers, academics and artists to contribute essays that, in the main, take the art as a jumping-off point to investigate wider themes. The results are as varied as the contributors and the artworks, although recurrent issues emerge strongly, including utopianism, real and imagined landscape, and the role artists can have in creating or challenging an idea of place.
 

A free policy on style has given scope, too, for varied tactics in tackling the essay form. There are some brilliantly creative responses: for example, Jim Colquhoun’s splicing of diary entries—written when he lived in the Gorbals—with reflective reminiscence; and Kirsty Williams’ poetic narrative of entering one of the derelict Basil Spence high-rises which, together with architect Peter Smith and local school children, she transformed to look like a ‘1970s computer’ the week before it was pulled down.
 

Toby Paterson writes a sure and illuminating piece on Spence, the architect behind Coventry Cathedral, Sussex University and these tower-blocks. Illustrated with Spence’s architectural drawings, the text demonstrates how much Sir Basil has influenced Paterson. The meticulously imagined high-rises and shopping centres are characteristic of Paterson’s 21st-century homage to modernism.
 

The writing is at its strongest when relating directly with the artworks or the architecture of the Gorbals itself; asking questions, following thoughts and ideas through, but bringing them back to a reality that acknowledges the essential purpose of the area. The extensively researched photographs powerfully add to the book as a whole.
 

That so much can be projected onto and teased out of the Gorbals is testament to its compelling literal and literary history of identity and transition. However, some essays stray too far into theoretical wonderings, and a quick head-count of footnotes betrays the obsession with referencing theorists to construct arguments more suited to a university paper than a mainstream publication. But Arcade draws out important and timely debates on the role of public art, the ambiguous benefits of regeneration, the myth-making in cultural narrative, and is a significant document of all that The Artworks Programme has achieved and the ongoing questions their work will pose.

Ruth Hedges is a writer living in London