Calvin Image for Map
Sean Burns, Dorothy Towers, film still, 2022

Walking into the decedent, ornate, opulent, French Ooh la la Institute sheltered from the visceral and aural overload sprawling on the streets a stone throw away. Wait, maybe actually a spitting distance away, or better still a small jump away. Literally though, l~i~t~e~r~a~l~l~y just outside, right there ~ I swear, honestly.

There is an inviting installation created by Sean Burns:

~ Community ~ hostility ~ expression ~ repression ~ compassion ~ love and joy ~ class ~ shame ~ death ~ virus ~ suffering ~ acceptance ~ safe community ~ collective healing ~

(Usually not a fan of bean bag sit down situations) but this is different, this is honest ~ this is caring. The audio placement with two large Genelec Active speakers sending sound from the back of the room directly into the viewers ears. I gaze ~ the gaze ~ your gaze is focussed onto the 16mm projection (digitally transferred). Beats. Deep bass moving through you. 80s synth scenes of Birmingham. Of a different period, create a surreal and subversive installation. Quickly I arrange myself on a bean bag in the pitch black ~ accepting the invitation ~ entering a world far away from conservative gothic Edinburgh towards the opening scenes of glamorous Dorothy Towers.

People make Glasgow ~ well, people make Dorothy Towers - period.

The towers conjure a familiar aesthetic and assumption to the torn down high rises of Sighthill, a suburb in west Edinburgh. The location where the series Looking After Jo Jo was filmed, a rather aggressive Scottish man in a life and times of drugs and violence, in the late 1990’s. I was too scared to step near these high rises when I was younger - but always intrigued. Always aware a community existed ~ exists, something special. Although, the likes of these tower blocks in Scotland would fill me with terror, the constant threat of being other and getting unwanted aggression. Quite the juxtaposition to the nurturing scene created within and around the Dorothy Towers where you can find a maze of clubs and bars safe for freedom of self-expression, love and acceptance. A place you can dissolve into the idea of it.

A Place of Ghosts

Tower blocks oppressive and liberating communities ~ death virus change development acceptance AIDS ~ gay people ~ suffering hiding their selves and stories.

I came to Birmingham to die -

Time life authenticity dance movement ~ Victorian Post-ar air of threat ~ nothing linear with complicated subways and under paths.

Under passed -

Hiding from violence getting away ~ Cornish Rex’s soothing purrs ~ fitting ~ comforting ~ peace.

Fairy Towers -

Run down smashed windows secure inside ~ people diagnosed with HIV are sent to live out there as a community together creating unwanted attention from the far right National Front.

Sentinels -

Nightingale ~ I’m here until I die. ~ rag market for creation and accessibility ~ secret bars behind doors inside a glamour world far from reality ~ safe community.

Calvin Z Laing is a performance artist currently living and working in Scotland. Recent performances include: Calvin & Awkwardness, Scottish National Galleries of Scotland (2023) Calvin & A Series of Events, Take Me Somewhere Festival, Tramway, Glasgow (2021) Calvin & Jogging, Edinburgh Art Festival (2020) Calvin & Geppetto, Twitch TV, Scotland (2020).Calvin has lectured at Kingston School of Art, Edinburgh College of Art and Edinburgh College.

Sean Burns is an artist and writer. He is the director of the film Dorothy Towers and the co-founder of QSP, an independent publishing imprint. He writes extensively on art and culture and sits on an advisory council at Tate. He has been a visiting lecturer at several UK art schools.


Dorothy Towers will appear in the programme of TULCA Festival of Visual Arts, Galway, and as a one-off performance at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Sussex, in November 2023.