Elizabeth Price R O Grady copy
Elizabeth Price, SLOW DANS, installation shot. Photo: Rosie Roberts, 2023

While the water is rising, the school is rebranding. They do this at the first sign of a leak. We blow gum bubbles and drag our heels on carpet tiles, making water froth up at our feet. Rumour and damp are pervasive. First base. Second base. They persist, switching wool plaid skirts for cotton pleats. They replace buttoned blouses with stiff white collars, and introduce a new edition of stripes. The water continues to rise.

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In summer, our drool is blue. For lack of cigarettes, we smoke candy sticks, flock at the bus stop, roll up our skirts and slacken our ties. Our silhouettes are distinctive, nonchalant. Rucksacks relaxed at the straps. Some of this is posturing. In moments alone, we pick mindlessly at threads and worry thumbholes at our wrists. We press our hair from root to tip, keeping it flat with paddle and heat. Our worst fears are swimming and frizz. We take a flame to the crack of our trousers to frighten the fuzz of elastic threads. Flirting is to welt another with gym kit, or jab arm with ballpoint. Our common language is violence, but gradually we are learning to use words. The internet is suddenly alive and, in our searching, nouns become verbs.

The water reaches reception, and the school rotates the furniture, with claims that a fresh layout befits a new term. Polyester blazers, once navy and mustard, are now traded for grey with a contrast trim. Stitched to the pocket, the motto is Latin: Labore et Dolore. By now we are wise to their skins. We transgress, mixing fabrics and patterns from past uniforms. Boxy shirts, oversized blazers, expired ties. This agitates the school but we make waves in the corridors.

Ankle-deep in assembly, we mime:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet / consectetur adipiscing elit / sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt / ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.

In class, we keep our thumbs occupied in pockets. On new phones we discreetly send messages, feeling our way about rubber digits. We get so good we can text 4 4 4 7 7 7 5 5 5 and in our sleep. For lack of a contract, we pay as we go. Because we pay as we go, we contract. Every text costs and every word counts so we drop our vowels. Long words are considered with scorn. We edit our vocabulary. Whole phrases shrink to an abbreviation of letters. Everything is syphoned down.

As classrooms start to flood, lessons are relocated from the ground floor. Some learning takes place in stairwells. We pluck our eyebrows and raise one at the smell. We cauterise the hymn book with biro: labore et dolore magna aqua. Grazes are replaced with water stains. In break times, we scull through the canteen and gob milky spit. It cruises on the surface and clings to our shins. Weight of fabric keeps us from running. Instead of splashing, we chase pixels around our screens. The game is interrupted every few minutes by the buzz of a text. We are succinct, and substitute laughter for an acronym: 5 5 5 6 6 6 5 5 5. We wade knee-deep.

Textbooks swell in rucksacks. The curriculum adapts. The school introduces a sweater with the motto embroidered in gold and a new crest. We mask the smell with aerosols, and worry holes in the ozone. Water laps at our waists. We protect our phones by holding them overhead and set to work on the threads. We pick away excess letters with pen nibs. L - - o - e et dolore. This feels like progress. We huddle as a jury and pry gold from one another’s chests. The water throws us off balance and wets our hair. We loosen e e t d o, and then o r e.

We swim in the gym court. Our limbs are laden by saturated blazers and our makeup runs down our cheeks. Treading water, we keep our phones lifted with one arm, and our motto L O L afloat.

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Rosie O’Grady is an artist and writer based in Glasgow. Her practice manifests in video, performance, text, print, installation and temporary intervention. Rosie has undertaken residencies at Le Garage as part of the programme of Artistes & Associés in Labastide-Villefranche in 2021; at Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh 2018-2021; and at Hospitalfield in 2015. In 2018 she was awarded the Glasgow Open Bursary for Glasgow International, and received a grant for analogue photography from The Richard and Siobhan Coward Foundation in 2020. Rosie is currently undertaking a part-time MLitt in Art Writing at Glasgow School of Art.

SLOW DANS by Elizabeth Price, Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), Glasgow 27 Jan-14 May