Twenty Five Years Later
4th October 2013
Attending the Insitu conference 'Invisible Walls' in Marseille reminds me of the significance of that town in the history of street art in Scotland. In the 80s, I would travel to the Aurillac Festival in France to see and often book what was regarded as the most exciting and innovative outdoor work being produced in Europe at that time. I subsequently presented much of it at Scotland's first Street Arts festival 'Streetbiz', in Glasgow 1988 - 1990. The work we championed was driven by artists drawn to the challenge of making art outside the confines of traditional venues and seeking to develop new vocabularies and find new audiences. The fact that it was often anarchic and exuberant did not disguise an intent that was often serious and revelatory.
The founder of the Aurrilac festival, Michel Crispin, was based in Marseilles and had developed in the town France's first Creation Centre - "Lieux Publics "- as a laboratory to develop outdoor arts. A well equipped space so large that work for the outdoors could be made and rehearsed out of the weather and the public eye. The development of the creation centre became an inspiration for many of us in the UK as did the work of many of the artists who were drawn to the city to live nearby or work at the centre. In those years Illiotopie, Generic Vapeur and Groupe F reconstructed the possibilities of visual and performing arts in the rural and urban landscape. Their work was often informed by a social and environmental critique influenced by post situationist philosophies.
As we were leaving the 20th century, UZ worked with Lieux Public to develop the Insitu network - a pan-European project that seeks to work across borders and art forms to commission and distribute outdoor art. That rather clunky description reflected our concern to be genuinely internationalist and focus on the artists work and it's context. We wanted to make work that is site specific. We made landscape theatre and art. We wanted to talk about playing with the city, the city as a canvas or platform. We were concerned with the consequence of making work that promotes or creates social cohesion and the whole debate of how art and artists can be appropriated by politicians and social planners to deliver to their agenda. We welcomed story tellers and myth makers and activists who wanted to speak of social and political revolt and pranksters delighting in mystification, hoax, magic and transgression of rules.
Over the subsequent ten years we expanded the network to include 17 partners in 12 countries. We continue to be concerned with how to develop a critical vocabulary to talk about art in public space. Much of the work we have supported is site specific in that it responds to its location, yet is tourable in that the same approach can be applied in different locations and cultures. We remain fascinated in the exploration of context and of territory. In the most recent years we have supported work that explores virtual public spaces by exploiting new technologies- particularly social and geo locational technology.
For Scotland, the consequence of this collaboration has been that many Scottish artists have had their work developed and presented in an international context. Meanwhile Scottish audiences over the past 2 years in Shetland, Aberdeenshire, Glasgow, South Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway and most recently in Falkirk for Helix Day (September 14th) have enjoyed remarkable ground breaking work from European artists.
Neil Butler / Marseille