July 2018

Enclave Review (Cork: Eire, 2019)

If you drive into Norwich from the northern suburbs, there is one building that dominates the approach into the centre: Sovereign House, perhaps the most loved and most maligned building in the city.  This vast, derelict brutalist spaceship is glittering with windows, enough even to reflect back the famously enormous East Anglian skies.  This decaying intergalactic palace is the northern frontier of a down-at-heel complex called Anglia Square, comprised of a low-rent shopping plaza, semi-occupied office buildings and a cheap cinema, flanked by a couple of underused car parks.  Anglia Square was completed in 1968 and over the course of fifty years it has gotten both ever shabbier, and yet, somehow, ever more alluring, as artists and small businesses have gradually made use of the clumsily planned development for all manner of activities (perhaps the most glaring planning error was that which resulted in the fine city’s only fly-over, which elevated St. Crispin’s Road while plunging the lower end of Magdalen Street literally into the shadows). Yet, regardless of Anglia Square and its environs being somewhat marooned and disconnected from the city centre, this enclave has gradually owned its disadvantage. It has been both revived by local artist-led organisations like Print to the People and OUTPOST Gallery and Studios, and kept alive by small shopkeepers (a butcher, a greengrocer, a discount store and a greasy spoon café) and their thrifty customers.  

The encroachment of speculative property acquisition in Norwich has certainly been slower than in other places a bit closer to London, such as Brighton and Margate.  However, in 2014, creeping gentrification finally reached Anglia Square, when it was acquired by a London-based investment company called Columbia Threadneedle plc, who made plans to demolish the entire complex and start again, building 1,200 homes, a leisure quarter, a 200-bed hotel, a multi-storey car park, a replacement cinema and a 25-storey tower block with a roof-level bar. These ‘uninspiring and unneighbourly’ plans have met with strong resistance from local shopkeepers, residents and the numerous artists who work in studios and workshops in the area, and those committed to preserving the city’s built environment, including the Norwich Society and Historic England.  A campaign group comprised of artists and activists called Angrier Square has been set up, and an online petition [Save our Norwich Skyline!].  Possibly as a way of softening the inevitable conclusion of their plans, the developers have couched their development scheme for Anglia Square in gradual yet finite terms, which articulate not a ‘short-term’ use for the doomed complex, but a ‘meanwhile use’.   

On a Friday evening in early July 2018, the whitewashed windows of a small shop unit on the ground level of Anglia Square shopping centre were wiped clean, revealing the interior of a new art gallery named LOWER.GREEN.  The gallery had been set up by artist-organisers Henry Newcomb and Jonathan P. Watts, with the intention of hosting 8 exhibitions, as well as talks and events, in a time-limited programme scheduled to unfold between July 2018 and March 2019. The project proceeded from an overt acknowledgement of the interrelationship of artist-led projects and processes of gentrification, as the founders observed in their first press release, ‘LOWER.GREEN might be seen as an accessory to a funeral procession, the centre’s manager the funeral director whose job it is to oversee the decline […]. Given Anglia Square’s fixed end point, driven by developers, we would argue that LOWER.GREEN is symptom rather than cause. If it is capital and not culture that is driving the Square’s development perhaps, then, we fulfil the developer’s agenda by “artwashing” the decline, painting over the concrete rot?’

‘Artwashing’ as a term first came into usage in cultural circles in 2015, in relationship to the ongoing dispute between local residents and art galleries in the Boyle Heights district of Los Angeles, where the local, predominantly Latino community had organized to protest against the spate of recent gallery openings which they viewed as an attack on their way of life.  I followed the coverage of the battle for Boyle Heights while writing my book, The DIY Movement in Art, Music and Publishing (2016), a tour of 14 ‘creative cities’ beginning in post-war San Francisco and ending in present-day Istanbul.  In researching that book, I studied closely the increasingly rapid processes of gentrification that have occurred in cities with artistic enclaves since the 1990s, such as the neighbourhoods of Hackney in London, Mitte in Berlin or Williamsburg in New York.  While in the post-WWII period the artistic capitals of London, New York and Berlin were relatively affordable for those in middle and lower income brackets, since the mid-1990s the globalization of capital facilitated by rapid technological advances has made living in these major cities increasingly expensive and challenging.  As artist Martha Rosler wrote in her collection of essays, Culture Class (2013), ‘New York’s SoHo and East Village had proved, by the late 1970s, that the transformation of old warehouses and decaying tenement districts into valuable real estate could be accomplished by allowing artists to live and work in them. […] Artists, in addition, were not going to organize and make life difficult for city governments.  In the following decades the SoHo model became paradigmatic for cities around the world.’

The process of property speculation and gentrification in London and New York and, to a lesser extent, Berlin has only accelerated since the 2008 financial crisis, as the model of economic growth based on property inflation has taken precedence over other considerations, such as quality of life, character of a place, social identities and community networks.  The sociologist Saskia Sassen described the rising living costs in these global cities as effecting ‘expulsions’ in her 2014 book Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy, which detailed “people, enterprises and places expelled from the core social and economic orders of our time” including the impoverished, refugees, minorities and the unemployed.  The idea of expulsion underpinned many of the works on display in the opening exhibition at LOWER.GREEN, which took its title, MEANWHILE, from the wording of the developers who plan to expel the occupiers of Anglia Square in the not too distant future.  Patrick Goddard’s wall-based work, The Mediterranean (view to the north) (2016), for example, asks the audience to see again and reflect upon a device designed to secure vacant buildings against breaking and entering by homeless people and squatters.  Godard presents an Orbis security shutter in the exhibition, both as an object of contemplation and as a non-view, a blocked entry.  Goddard has first-hand experience of these devices, having squatted in empty properties in East London for more than a decade and witnessed the impact of the criminalization of squatting in the UK in recent years under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.  

Elsewhere, the redevelopment of London features in Danish artist Asta Meldal Lynge’s video work Showhome (2015), set in Tower Bridge, an area that has seen huge change in the last fifty years – once a busy international port, it was rendered obsolete once containers began to be unloaded directly onto trucks.  The watermen, lightermen and dock workers were made redundant and the warehouses and port buildings vacated, ready to be acquired by developers. The extension of the Jubilee Line in time for the millennium brought a new vision for the abandoned wharfs: one of condos, smart offices and expensive retail units.  As one commentator on Southwark Notes – whose regeneration?explains, this redevelopment has ‘changed the local character of the area from one of poor people and the type of shops and services poor people use and rely on to a landscape and culture of more well-off people and the mega shops and service industries they require.’ In Lynge’s video, an apparently glossy, professionally produced tour of a new development near Tower Bridge is spliced together with shuddering handheld footage of the area, before both narratives seem to break down and betray the false promises of real estate.   

Artistic enclaves have been identified as drivers of economic growth by several urban theorists, notably Richard Florida in his 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class, which argued that metropolitan regions with high concentrations of technology workers, artists, musicians, lesbians and gay men exhibit a higher level of economic development.  While the processes of gentrification are cast positively (as narratives of economic growth) in the work of Florida, the rising rents and living costs associated with gentrification also cause displacement and alienation of longer-term residents. While Florida has long maintained that the key to rejuvenating a city is to attract young creative professionals who will then bring about economic transformation by attracting investors, it is less clear how the ensuing real estate acquisition and gentrification serves either local creative practitioners or the wider community. Thomas Sugrue, author of influential study of the rise and fall of Detroit, The Origins of the Urban Crisis (1996) says that, ‘There’s not a lot of evidence that the tourism, downtown-oriented and professional-oriented urban redevelopment policies really grapple with the questions of how to provide stable secure employment for working-class and lower-income folks.’ Instead, Sugrue emphasizes the need to invest in education systems and the creation of employment opportunities for low-income residents.  

In Norwich, the Angrier Square campaign group has demanded an alternative redevelopment proposal for the northern inner city, which includes affordable social housing, rent controls to allow extant business to continue, and the provision of green space and a playground. Significantly, while the establishment of LOWER.GREEN and the MEANWHILE exhibition are informed by the sense of precarity that accompanies artist-led initiatives, the project also points to a solution that would better serve the needs of the local community.  Their position was made clear in the poster for the opening exhibition, which was printed in the style of a newspaper hoarding for local newspaper the Eastern Daily Press, known as the EDP.  The legend read, in bold black capitals on foolscap A3 paper, ANGLIA SQUARE GETS NEW GREEN.  The wording of the poster consciously gestured towards the history of Norwich, and the surrounding region of East Anglia, as a region richly fertile in many ways: agricultural, politically radical and the source of much innovative literature, dating from 14th century mystic Julian of Norwich, who penned her Revelationsfrom her anchorite cell, in which she opined, ‘And in good time things do evidently come together…’  One of the other most notable books associated with the region is W. G. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn (1995, in English translation 1998), which underscores the palpable sense in East Anglia that events inhere in the places where they occur – they never vacate their place of happening. Sebald offers a vision of East Anglia as a landscape through which dreams and visions can surface and coalesce:  ‘A pond becomes a lake, a breeze becomes a storm, a handful of dust is a desert, a grain of sulphur in the blood is a volcanic inferno.  What manner of theatre is it, in which we are at once playwright, actor, stage manager, scene painter and audience?’  The manner of theatre which Sebald outlines is exactly that which we find unfolding within LOWER.GREEN, in the practices of the artists exhibited in the MEANWHILE exhibition.  It is the same manner of theatre that took place in Norwich circa AD 60, when Iceni queen Boudicca led an unsuccessful revolt against the Roman occupation.  It was the same manner of theatre that unfolded beneath an Oak Tree at Hethersett in 1549, where Robert and William Kett of Wymondham, assembled their men before marching on Norwich to air their grievances concerning the enclosure of the common lands and the rising cost of living. Various enclosure hedges were ‘thrown down’ by their respective followers, as the revolt got underway. LOWER.GREEN is a quieter intervention, but one that has none the less transfigured a small shop unit, through Newcomb and Watts’ actions, stage management, scene painting and the help of their engaged local audience.

MEANWHILE featured the work of six artists from the United Kingdom, Hungary, Sweden and North America, who speak in different ways about the politics of urban regeneration.  Perhaps the work within the exhibition that most successfully draws out the themes of self-reliance amid regeneration is Great Yarmouth-based artist Kaavous Clayton’s ad-hoc furniture.  Clayton’s work is a revisiting of an earlier body of work, which he built as adjuncts to existing buildings around Norwich in the early 2000s. He would, for example, attach a fold-down chair to the side of a building, under cover of darkness.   His intervention would be discovered and used for a period of time, before being removed by the City Council. For MEANWHILE Clayton accepted an invitation from LOWER.GREEN to realise a series of items of furniture from materials salvaged from the gallery refit.  At the opening, Clayton’s modular furniture appeared in the guise of an upright sculptural assemblage, a bench and a table, but all of the units have been designed to be slotted together in three different formations, to be used anew in altered formulations in the LOWER.GREEN space for the duration that the gallery remains open. This meanwhile furniture Clayton called Sometime Support Systems (Supersave Series) 1–3 (2018), both memorialising the memory of the disposable pound-shop that previously occupied the gallery space – and acknowledging the value of artistic communities that may similarly form, build, and then later disperse.

At the exhibition opening, LOWER.GREEN co-organisers Newcomb and Watts were kept busy not only serving beers to guests from behind Clayton’s modular table, but also demonstrating that Chris Alton’s A shared interest in the bounce (2014) was not only available for sitting on, but could also be repurposed as a particularly challenging surface on which to attempt to play table tennis.  Alton’s work was based upon the Camden Bench, a piece of concrete street furniture, designed to offer a limited range of use to the general public, introduced to the London borough in 2012.  Intended only as a temporary seat, the Camden Bench is an inhospitable update on the traditional park bench, designed as it is to ‘be as inclusive as possible whilst resisting criminal and anti-social behaviour’. The recesses at the front and back of the bench have apparently been construed to allow the public to store bags behind their legs out of reach of opportunistic thieves, while the lack of slots and crevices in the surfaces of the bench serves to deter those wishing to stash drugs.  The surface of the Camden Bench is specially treated to repel dirt, water, graffiti and fly-posters.
While the designers claim that it offers a more inclusive place to sit, with gentle undulations that provide seating at different heights, its uneven surface makes the bench impossible for homeless people to sleep on. In 2014, in response to what he perceived as the disguised hostility of this street furniture, Alton began coordinating an ad-hoc table tennis league around benches in the City of London, deliberating subverting their design for pleasure.  For MEANWHILE at LOWER.GREEN, a replica of the Camden Bench was constructed by the set builder Tom Clarke and finished by Russell Eade, from measurements taken in the street after repeated failed attempts to source technical drawings from the fabricator. During the run of the MEANWHILE exhibition the bench was used to host a table tennis tournament, realising the promise from the exhibition poster of creating a clearing, a ‘new green’ for Anglia Square. This clearing for play recalls those places described by Johan Huizinga, in his important study, Homo Ludens: The Play Element in Culture (1949): ‘The arena, the card-table, the magic circle, the temple, the stage, the screen, the tennis court, the court of justice, etc., are all in form and function play-grounds, i.e. forbidden spots, isolated, hedged round, hallowed, within which special rules obtain.  All are temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart.’  

The idea of the playground or ‘new green’ in Anglia Square also has a particular resonance, given that the majority of real estate developers make very inadequate provision for public green spaces in their redevelopment plans.  The erosion of leisure facilities made available to the poor by landowners has a long history, which dates back to the 19thcentury introduction of the Enclosure Laws and the beginnings of industrialisation. In their seminal book The Village Labourer (1911), J.L and Barbara Hammond wrote about the significance of the leisure time that had been part and parcel of rural life for generations. They documented practices which were undermined by the Enclosure Laws and the mechanization of agriculture, such as ‘sauntering after cattle’ on the open common, and at twilight gathering on the village green to ‘play down the setting sun’.  The Hammonds showed how post-Enclosure England had been transformed from a country of commons and common fields to one of large enclosed farms with power concentrated in the hands of relatively few people.  It also revealed the resentment amongst many landowners of the leisure time enjoyed by peasants.  Enclosure was justified by some landowners on the basis that it would inspire peasants to work harder: for instance, Middleton’s Report on Middlesex concluded that the moral effects of commons was injurious to the public as ‘it gives their minds an improper bias and inculcates a desire to live, from that time forward, without labour, or at least with as little as possible.’ Arbuthnot, in his An Inquiry into the Connection between the Present Price of Provisions and the Size of Farms, (1773), further opined, ‘The benefit which they are supposed to reap from commons […] is in many instances an essential injury to them, by being made a plea for their idleness; for, some few excepted, if you offer them work, they will tell you that they must go to look up their sheep, cut furzes, get their cow out of the pond, or perhaps, say they must take their horse to be shod, that he may carry them to a horse-race or a cricket-match.’ 

Such ideas about poor people not being entitled to leisure or rest persist today, as pointed out by Alton’s subversion of the Camden Bench.   Similarly, another artist whose work was presented in the MEANWHILE exhibition, San Francisco-based Sarah Ross, playfully draws attention to hostile architectural features in Los Angeles designed to prevent loitering in public places, through an edition of four leisure jogging suits called Archisuits (2005-06) made to circumvent those inhospitable architectural structures. Ross explains, ‘The suits include the negative space of the structures and allow a wearer to fit into, or onto, structures designed to deny them.’ In the photographs documenting the work shown in the MEANWHILE exhibition, a person wearing an Archisuit with a huge wedge attached to the back is able to rest against a sloping wall at the junction of Detroit Street while a second, similarly cushioned by another special costume designed by Ross, is shown napping on a bus bench, despite the rigid metal seat dividers intended to prevent horizontal repose. 

The timing of Ross’s work relates closely to processes of gentrification that have unfolded in LA in recent years.  Up until 2005, downtown LA was considered undesirable, owing to the significant homeless populations there.  In the 1970s then-mayor Tom Bradley had decided to concentrate all the county resources for the homeless in the then under-populated downtown area, making it the designated zone for shelters, medical facilities, soup kitchens and other services for destitute people in the city.  However, since the mid-2000s, downtown LA has seen significant development, with many art spaces opening there, notably Ooga Booga #2 at Mission Road and Night Gallery, which initially, like Düsseldorf’s 1950s artists’ group Zero, offered a ‘nocturnal platform’ for viewing art.  As LA’s downtown area has become increasingly gentrified, this has led to increased awareness of the drug addicted, mentally ill people camping out on the streets of downtown LA. An article that appeared in The Guardian in March 2015 entitled, ‘Battle Lines Are Drawn in LA’s Urban War’, detailed how a tent city is erected on the downtown streets nightly between 9pm and 6am by the 3,000-6,000 homeless people who live downtown – who together constitute 10% of downtown’s current population.  Ross’s Archisuits, like Alton’s An Interest in the Bounce, uses playful humour to bring home the bleak and dehumanising forces of gentrification:  sometimes there is nothing more serious than a joke, to paraphrase Freud’s The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious (1905).

MEANWHILE also included works by the Hungarian-born artist Andi Schmied, who has a relationship with Norwich and the city’s artist-led OUTPOST gallery dating back to 2014, when he was invited by that gallery to spend a month making work in Gildengate House, home to OUTPOST Studios, which is one of the buildings currently threatened by the redevelopment plans for Anglia Square. Gildengate House is currently used to house studios for more than 80 artists, but was formerly the headquarters of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO), along with the nearby Sovereign House, the crumbling brutalist ‘cruise liner in the sky’, both of which were designed and realised by Alan Cooke Associates, beginning in 1966 as part of the re-envisioning of inner north Norwich.  Following his 2014 residency, Schmied staged an exhibition at Gildengate House, titled State of Limbo: Extracts from Sovereign House, which featured videos shot on a mobile phone documenting Sovereign House, architectural models of aspects of the building and a publication with archival photographs of the building under construction between 1966 and 1968.  For MEANWHILE, a series of still-life photographs of Schmied’s models were presented, charged with greater significance now owing to Sovereign House’s planned demolition. Through the windows of the gallery, visitors can glimpse the looming façade of Sovereign House, still reflecting the skies above the city, still dazzling even in demise.

Norwich is now a place that is now being impacted by the model of economic growth based on property inflation.  As has become evident in London, the potential profit from real estate can become a force that overwhelms all other values.  LOWER.GREEN offers a vision of another possibility – of a new green, where ideas and play are propagated.  George McKay, currently Professor of Media Studies at the University of East Anglia, wrote in his book Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism and Rebellion in the Garden (2011) that there are three meanings of ‘plot’: land (how the garden space itself is claimed, shaped, planted), history (a history of radical gardening) and politics (gardening as terrain for ideological struggle). LOWER.GREEN draws upon and deploys all three resonances of the term.  It is a project rooted in finite temporality, like all things that grow, that are impermanent.  Yet LOWER.GREEN demonstrates what can happen in spaces earmarked for gentrification, if those empty lots are claimed and invested in by the local community, for however long they can be, until the meanwhile runs out.  As Saskia Sassen points out, ‘Making by the powerless has a far slower temporality than that of ‘making’ by the powerful, who can grab and destroy quickly.  Yet when the demands of ‘outsiders’ for expanded inclusions succeed, they strengthen the overall institution of citizenship.  They may not have gained much power in this process, but their powerlessness became complex – they made a history, a politics.’  The message of MEANWHILE, if there could be said to be one, is that life and art must still happen, even while developers are busy making other plans. 

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New Edition (2017)

Curated by Sarah Lowndes, New Edition was a group exhibition displaying newly-commissioned printed works by Museums Press, Poster Club and Emer Tumilty. The exhibition was presented as the 50th anniversary exhibition of Edinburgh Printmakers, during Edinburgh Art Festival 2017. The title of the exhibition underlined the generational group of the exhibiting artists, who were all born between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, and who represented the current wave of Scotland-based artists working with print. New Edition showcased the imaginative and enabling possibilities inherent in the medium of print through new works by young printmakers active in the Scottish contemporary art scene.

The pages below are from the limited edition catalogue, featuring an essay by Sarah Lowndes and designed by Matthew Walkerdine.

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The DIY Movement in Art, Music and Publishing: Subjugated Knowledges

A new book by Sarah Lowndes, which captures the specific knowledge of 30 DIY creative practitioners based in 14 creative cities (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dusseldorf, New York, London, Manchester, Cologne, Washington DC, Detroit, Berlin, Glasgow, Olympia, Moscow and Istanbul) including Jörn Bötnagel and Yvonne Quirmbach (BQ, Berlin), Dirk Bell (Berlin), Keith McIvor (Glasgow), Pavel Büchler (Manchester), Good Press (Glasgow), Franz König (Cologne), Alexandra Bircken (Cologne), Vasif Kortun (Istanbul), Nicholas Moore (Moscow), Evgenia Barinova (Moscow), Ealan Wingate (New York), Max Schumann (New York), Simone DeSousa (Detroit), Greg Baise (Detroit), V. Vale (San Francisco), Tom Lawson and Susan Morgan (Los Angeles), Andreas Reihse (Berlin), Chris Johanson (Los Angeles) and Louise Shelley (London).  The DIY Movement reflects upon contemporary DIY practices, in particular considering how the DIY movement has been impacted by the rise of digital and internet technology and globalized culture.

Good Press at The Glasgow Weekend (Berlin, 2013)
Good Press at The Glasgow Weekend (Berlin, 2013)

Published by Routledge in their Research in Cultural and Media Studies series in May 2016.

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The Key Material is Time (2014)

On Saturday night I went to the dancing. You were working late in the shop so you went straight there…you had your dancing shoes at work with you, and something for your tea.   The Plaza was nice with the coloured fountains and the wee tables. John and I liked it there. But we went to the F and F Palais in Partick too, and Green’s Playhouse, the Locarno, and the Albert…I loved the dancing.[i]

By 1946, Glasgow had 93 dancehalls, almost three times as many as London per head of population. The Saturday night dancing was a kind of counterpoint to that of the local heavy industries, being devoid of tangible goal or object. The dancehall was a place where a kind of subcultural currency (of seeing and being seen) was in operation – where young people could elevate their social standing through their self-fashioning and dancing skills alone. Dick Hebdige famously characterized the ‘subcultural response’ as ‘both a declaration of independence, otherness, of alien intent, a refusal of anonymity, of insubordinate status. It is an insubordination. And at the same time it is also a confirmation of the fact of powerlessness, a celebration of impotence.’ [ii] The subcultural response played out in Glaswegian nightspots in the post-war era matched Hebdige’s definition, serving as it did to alleviate the alienating effects of ‘normal’ society.

After 1945 Glasgow began a gradual decent into post-industrial decline, which lasted until the late 1980s, when the city re-emerged as a ‘destination city’, with a post-Fordian economy based on shopping and services. The artists, musicians, filmmakers and writers emerging in this period in Glasgow no longer had to make a choice between conventional labour and their artistic practice, given that there wasn’t much traditional employment to be had. As local poet Donnie O’Rourke put it, this created ‘a whole generation of artists, who, absolved of the old polarity between employment and one’s real work, just do it.’ In those years of high unemployment, thecity’s subcultural scene grew incrementally until its reachextended beyond the parameters of the weekend. New models of living and working were fashioned in those years, which would eventually culminate in a unique and largely self-initiated arts infrastructure. By the early 1990s, the ‘free’ space of the nightclub had found a kind of representational corollary in the art that was emerging from the city: work that was process-based, rooted in social co-operation and often realized with an economy of means and materials. This work reflected its point of origin: a city constituted and made meaningful by social relationships and marked by identifications or emotional investments.

I moved to Glasgow in 1993 to study at the university. One night I met Toby Paterson and Robert Johnston, who were volunteer committee members of Glasgow (then) only artist-led gallery, Transmission,which had been established by painting graduates from Glasgow School of Art back in 1983.   Crucially, the gallery was non-commercial: established not to generate sales of works, but to offer opportunities for the exhibition of work and a social space for discussion. It answered to Nancy Fraser’s description of a democratic public sphere: ‘not an arena of market relations but rather one of discursive relations, a theatre for debating and deliberating rather than for buying and selling.’[iii]. The committee members supported and encouraged the work of others, motivated by a belief in the importance of community.

I went out dancing with my friends at clubs like The Arches and the Sub Club, where you could feel the bass through your entire body. Detroit techno and Chicago house were the order of the day, played by visiting American DJs like Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Blake Baxter, Jeff Mills, Larry Heard (aka Mr. Fingers) and Cajmere. But there were also local heroes with equally strange monikers: Harri at Atlantis, Twitch of Pure, H’atch and J’Ilkes, who ran Knucklehead at the art school, not to mention A-man and Panic of Tangent putting on raves on trains, boats and underground bunkers and mobile sound units like Desert Storm and Breach of the Peace, who staged riotous ‘Part and Protest’ events in flagrant contraventionofthe 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which attempted to prevent raves by outlawing public gatheringswith ‘amplified music’ and ‘repetitive beats’. As cultural theorist Hillegonda Rietveld noted,

The participants of the party and club life surrounding the musical discourse of house music were empowered by the celebration of a sense of community, which shaped identities that were excluded from, or given less power by, the world in which they were administratively ruled by government and mass media. The very existence of the house scene as a space for the bonding of ‘alternative’ identities was therefore a starting point for an opposing strategy.’[iv]

The main thing that was really striking was that the situation seemed exciting, and it also seemed wide open. You could get involved.

I remember going to the opening of the Girls High exhibition in 1996, at the Old Fruitmarket and seeing a work by Jonathan Monk called Whatever Will Be Will Be that consisted of a big mirror that had been dropped on the floor, and a sculpture by Jim Lambie, one of the constituent parts of which was a black pudding.I also remember seeing Claire Barclay’s exhibition Out of the Woods (1997) at CCA on Sauchiehall Street, curated by Nicola White. The main spacewas dominated by an enormous acid yellow plastic sculpture that stretched from the floor to the ceiling rafters: a giant florescent cut out bag. There was something so audacious about that.I remember the colour but also the smell of the work, the sense of knowing it somehow.  I remember Toby Webster’s trio of shows for the CCA, the first of which was the group show Lovecraft, which he co-curated with Martin McGeown, and which included pornographic pencil drawings by Tom of Finland alongside works by Glasgow-based artist Cathy Wilkes, an enormous quilted multicoloured cube by Jim Isermann and a whole wall covered in biro drawings, handwritten poetry and badly typed stories by fans of the Manic Street Preachers called The Uses of Literacy, put together by Jeremy Deller. Glasgow-born artist Lucy McKenzie later wrote that the work had discomfited her, ‘because it related directly to experiences with somebody real and not imagined.’[v] That was how I felt, too. The final show Webster curated for CCA was called Waves in…Particles Out, and featured a Piotr Uklański disco floor that Martin Creed’s band Owada played on at the opening. I don’t remember them being particularly good, but by that point I understood it was less about mastery, and more about having a go.

Tony Blair got into power in May 1997. That seemed at the time, a point of great optimism and Labour very quickly began the process of devolution for Scotland that was so necessary and so much desired.[vi] After I graduated, I started bringing out my own fanzine, and then started organising my own events. All the time I was going to gigs and clubs and exhibitions and thinking about and observing the scene in the city, which was beginning to attract more and more interest from outside.I carried on writing arts reviews for various places, initially local publications but later on London-based art magazines like Afterall and then Frieze. I was particularly interested in the work of artists like Hayley and Sue Tompkins, and loved their solo show Sounds of Grass, held at Transmission in 1999.

They have subdivided the space with a diagonal chipboard partition, and hung it with loosely draped squares of hessian sackcloth. There are a few cheap gold earrings, the kind they sell in Ratner’s, hooked into the sackcloth.  You pause in front of a dark cluster of what look like leaves hanging on the wall. They are magazine pages, crumpled until they are soft and shapeless in the palms of the sisters’ hands. The floor in the space is painted black, but they have left a dusty area unswept and then one of them has walked through it. You look at the footprints and think it’s like a kind of portrait. On the floor they have arranged, like a picnic blanket, a large hessian square, with a neon pink seam, set with a glass of orange liquid, probably paint water but possibly orangeade.

One of the most important changes in the local situation came when The Modern Institute was set up in Glasgow in early 1998, by Will Bradley, Charles Esche and Toby Webster, with a view to promoting Glasgow artists in ways that extended beyond the remit of the city’s existing museum and galleries system, chiefly by showing their work at key commercial art fairs in cities like London, Basel and New York, and forming relationships with curators and collectors outside Scotland in order to secure both exhibitions opportunities and sales of works for their artists.  Bradley later recalled,

Toby Webster, Chas Esche and myself had all been thinking of starting something. Toby and I had been at Transmission, and Chas had left Tramway. It’s partly you get into a habit of doing things and you want to keep doing them – but it came about really from having experience of what’s going on outside Glasgow. Also a lot of artists who were working here were starting to become quite successful – the artists that we knew were starting to get involved, and showing abroad. We got a real sense something like [a commercial gallery] could work in Glasgow, and wanted to give it a try.  We wanted to be everything: a record company, a publishing company, organising exhibitions and representing artists. We’d be all singing, all dancing. We tried to keep the definition of The Modern Institute loose: we called ourselves a research organisation and production company rather than a ‘gallery’.[vii]

The Modern Institute offices were located on the first floor of a decayed red sandstone building on Robertson Street, which also hosted the offices of socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan, a pro-life organisation, a private detective agency, a bookbinder, an ‘invisible mender’ and a maker of masonic regalia. On the top floor, Lucy McKenzie established Flourish Studios, where she and several artists including Keith Farquhar, Alan Michael and Craig Mulholland made work, rehearsed music and staged performances. I remember attending one Flourish Night where Lucy McKenzie played the clarinet while her collaborator, the Polish artist, Paulina Olowska formed the shapes of letters of the alphabet with her body. The evening ended in disarray when one of the guests started an unscheduled fire in a sink in a corner.Several of the artists who worked with The Modern Institute also had studios within the building, including, at the beginning, Martin Boyce, Jim Lambie, Toby Paterson, Jonnie Wilkes and Richard Wright, so the dingy corridors often echoed late into the night with sounds of sawing, hammering and broken electronic filters.

The Modern Institute in those early days hosted a number of three-day exhibitions by artists, both from their own (mainly) local roster[viii] but also artists from other cities that they were interested in working with, such as the Belgrade-born installation artist Bojan Šarčević. That show sticks in my mind especially because Šarčević built a very high shelf around the gallery space and then put all The Modern Institute’s files and paperwork on it, meaning that whenever the gallery staff wanted to refer to any documents they had to climb up a ladder to get it. Those shows were real events because the rest of the landscape had been fairly subdued since Charles Esche had left Tramway and Nicola White had left CCA in 1997. In 1998 and 1999 Tramway and CCA both closedfor Lottery funded renovations. Tramway’snewly appointed Visual Art Officer Alexia Holt organized offsite projects in the interim, but until Tramway re-opened in June 2000 and CCA reopened in 2001, Transmission and The Modern Institute were the two main heat spots in the city. That situation continued for several years, shored up by low budget temporary exhibition projects that artist organisers set up either in empty properties or in their own flats like James Thornhill’s Ready Steady Made (1999) and Marianne Greated and Sorcha Dallas’s Switchspace (1999-2004).

In 2000 I began to write Social Sculpture, my book about the Glasgow art and music scene. I was working during that time for The Modern Institute and went with them to the Chicago art fair in 2001, where we showed the work of Martin Boyce, Richard Wright and Eva Rothschild. I remember meeting the American Fine Arts gallerist Colin de Land at a dinner one night and telling him about my research on Glasgow, and how owing to a comparative lack of support in Scotland, the city’s artists had really come to rely upon opportunities elsewhere, in Europe and America. We were interrupted by a woman on the other side of the table, who opined loudly, ‘Of course, the model for that is jazz.’ It seemed to me then, that there was something particular and special about Glasgow that made it different from everywhere else. It didn’t follow a model; it wasn’t logical. Many of the most interesting artists in the city didn’t even produce a saleable product like a photograph or a recording that could be circulated outside the city.

One such example was Richard Wright, who had worked as a figurative painter in the 1980s but had become disillusioned with painting and destroyed nearly all his early work. In 1990 he made a gradual return to painting after taking a studio in a former cigarette factory, where he made some paintings on board and the first wall paintings. He remembered,

Sometimes I would just go to this old warehouse where I had my little  space and just fiddle around with things. If I didn’t like them I would just turn them to the wall. I very much liked the idea that the work had this very fragile or unstable kind of existence.[ix]

In the early 1990s he had begun to exhibit once more, showing site-specific wall drawings (that would be destroyed after the exhibition) in flat galleries, and artist-led galleries like Transmission and City Racing in London. Wright’s temporary wall drawings used pencil and gouache to chart a geography of response, accentuating the volume, scale, light and the social conditions or atmosphere of a given space. He explained, ‘My work is like a worn step, it is like a smoke detector, it is even like a picture, but it is more like the space between the letters of words.’[x] Another case in point was Christopher Mack, who began performing his emotive fingerstyle acoustic songs under the moniker The James Orr Complex in 1996 but did not release his first recording, the EP Figa on the Glasgow independent label Rock Action until 2001. But when he played, often in the pungent basement of the 13th Note on King Street, the audience knew all the words to his songs, because they had attended all his other gigs. The work being made in Glasgow in the late 90s was made with all manner of materials, but perhaps the central material was time. The scene wasn’t motivated by profit but was rooted in a desired social experience, one that rested upon people investing time in supporting one another.

In the early 2000s, two young galleries opened in Glasgow that had grown out of the flat gallery tradition: Sorcha Dallas, which evolved out of the Switchspace temporary exhibition project run by Dallas and Marianne Greated, and Mary Mary, which had begun life in a tenement flat on Bath Street. One of the first times I saw Glasgow-based artist Karla Black’s work was in 2004, in a solo show at Mary Mary’s first premises. Black had devised her own method of working over a number of years, actively avoiding traditional or learned techniques in order to develop her own language of making, using materials such as clay, paper, cellophane and non-art materials such as Vaseline and make-up. I wrote

Black’s art is not only about the body; it also speaks to and of the surrounding space. This exhibition, for example, reflects and amplifies its setting, in a tenement bedroom that doubles as the artist-run gallery Mary Mary. Walls with painted-over cracks and holes paved with Polyfilla reappear in the texture of Black’s work. In the days she spent in the space the artist created images not only of herself but also of the   atmosphere of the room.[xi]

Since the late 90s the scene in Glasgow has changed as the city has become established as a noted art centre. As the scenehas grown, it has become more elastic, with a variety of different styles and motivations at play, and, it must be said, an increased sense of competition – for audiences, for attention, and for funding. Since 1996, no fewer than 13 artists associated with Glasgow have been nominated for the Turner Prize, including Douglas Gordon (1996), Christine Borland (1997), Martin Creed[xii] (2001), Jim Lambie and Simon Starling (both 2005), Nathan Coley (2007), Cathy Wilkes (2008), Lucy Skaer and Richard Wright (both 2009), Susan Philipsz[xiii] (2010), Martin Boyce and Karla Black (both 2011), Luke Fowler (2012) and David Shrigley (2013). Of these, six won: Gordon, Creed, Starling, Wright, Philipsz and Boyce.[xiv]

Up until the 1980s Glasgow School of Art, where many of the city’s best-known artists studied, attracted a largely local student body. Nowadays the cohort has a much more geographically diverse demographic: 20% are international students and a further 20% are from the rest of the UK. The MFA programme at the school, which had a year group of just 12 mainly UK students during the 90s, now recruits over thirty students, many of whom hail from countries such as Switzerland or Canada but who then post-graduation have been selected to represent Glasgow or Scotland in international exhibitions. The success of The Modern Institute[xv] has led to other changes – in 2006, the organisation took the decision to relinquish the moderate amount of public funding it was receiving, and to channel that into a new non-profit project in Glasgow, The Common Guild, which would be helmed by Katrina Brown (then curator and deputy director of Dundee Contemporary Arts). The Common Guild was originally based in Robertson Street, in premises lent by The Modern Institute, before moving to Douglas Gordon’s town house at Woodlands Terrace in 2008 where it has been based ever since, presenting a programme of projects, events and exhibitions by international artists including Tacita Dean (2010), Wolfgang Tillmans (2012), Carol Bove (2013) and Phil Collins (2014).

In the last decade, The Modern Institute has been followed by other independent galleries in the city, such as Sorcha Dallas (2004-2011), Mary Mary (est. 2006), The Duchy (est. 2009), David Dale Gallery (est. 2009) and Kendall Koppe (est. 2011), which have helped to take the work of the city’s artists out of Glasgow and to collectors and collections elsewhere. It is no longer the case that everyone will turn up to the Transmission opening or the Modern Institute opening because the level and variety of activity in Glasgow has increased so dramatically – both through the young galleries and through the activities of studio and exhibition complexes such as Southside Studios, SWG3 and the Glue Factory which provide vital support for the development and exhibition of work within the city.

Scotland’s participation in the Venice Biennale since 2003[xvi] and the growth of Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art have also helped focus attention on the Glasgow scene. Glasgow International began as a relatively modest undertaking in 2005, led by CCA Director Francis McKee, who grew the budget and ambition of the festival in two further outings in 2006 and 2008. Katrina Brown directed the 2010 and 2012 editions of the festival, which in 2012 showed 130 artists across almost 50 venues, attracted 205,067 visitors and generated £1.7m for Glasgow’s economy and a further £436,878 for the rest of the country.[xvii]

However, Glasgow remains a city in which many artists make work that they do not expect to sell. A survey conducted in 2012 by the Scottish Artist Union (SAU) confirmed that three-quarters of visual artists in Scotland earn less than £5,000 a year, putting them in the lowest socioeconomic group of income earners, alongside pensioners, casual or lowest grade workers, benefit claimants and students. Indeed, many of the artists who live and work in Glasgow continue to work with inexpensive everyday materials, out of which they have formed their own unique language, after years of experimentation. This approach has been defined by Richard Wright as ‘a tactile element to the work, that has to do with a reinstatement of a concern with material and its poetry, still done in a stripped-down way.’[xviii]  Some of the most significant and distinctive artistic work made in Glasgow since that time remains intrinsically bound up with ideas of performativity: the material form is ‘secondary, lightweight, ephemeral, cheap, unpretentious and or dematerialized’.[xix] The scene is dialogic, centring on talks, discussions and live events of all kinds. It is rooted in the body, in song and dance, and concerned not only with style but also with the sound, scent and feel of things.It lives in memory more effectively than in photographs. It’s about empathizing with and being curious about other people. It is an approach that was fostered in the free space of Glasgow’s post-war nightclubs, and that stillinforms the city’s many independent exhibition spaces, music venues, record labels and publishing imprints today.

As you get in the driver regards you through the rear view mirror. ‘A girl like you should be going up the dancing.’ ‘What? Oh, I’m a bit tired tonight.’  He turns right onto Oswald Street and stops at the lights. ‘Mind you – it’s quiet tonight.’ He drives on, up Renfield Street. ‘I’ve been doing this job forty year, and I mind the days when all they street corners would be packed with folk queuing up for the dancing.’ He gestures out the window at the empty corner of West Regent Street.‘Aye, the Locarno, Green’s Playhouse, I mind them all.’You see the queue: the boys in their best suits, with their hair slicked back, smoking and rocking back on their heels. The girls with their eyeliner on, their hair set in waves. The stiff skirts of their dresses, just with a little pocket for their cloakroom ticket and comb.They were the portent.[xx]

Sarah Lowndes

[i]Interview with Bunty Angles, Anna Blair, More Tea at Miss Cranston’s, (Edinburgh: Shepheard-Walwyn Ltd., 1991), p.419.

[ii]Dick Hebdige, Hiding in the Light (London and New York: Routledge, 1988), p.35.

[iii]Nancy Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy” (1992), The Cultural Studies Reader (London and New York, Routledge, 2007), p.489

[iv]Hillegonda Rietveld, “The House Sound of Chicago”, The Club Cultures Reader: Readings in Cultural Studies, Steve Redhead, ed., (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997).

[v]Lucy McKenzie, Accelerated Learning, Luke Fowler, ed., (Dundee: Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, 1999).

[vi]In every General Election from 1957 until 1997, Labour did better in Scotland than elsewhere in the United Kingdom, while a third party, the Scottish National Party (SNP), grew in popularity. Following the establishment of a devolved Scottish Parliament under Labour in 1998/1999, SNP continued to grow in influence, and in 2007 SNP formed the first minority government of the Scottish Parliament. At the 2011 election SNP won a majority sufficient to call for a referendum on independence, which has been scheduled for September 18th, 2014.

[vii] Will Bradley, in conversation with the author, April 2001. Note: The Scottish electorate voted against being an independent country by 55% to 45%. The respective ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns generated much public debate and the high turnout of 84.59% reflected the level of engagement. In the 2015 General Election the Scottish National Party (SNP) won 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland.

[viii]The initial group of 13 artists represented by The Modern Institute were all Glasgow-based, with the exception of Eva Rothschild, who lived in London. The other artists were: Martin Boyce, Jim Lambie, Victoria Morton, Toby Paterson, Mary Redmond, Simon Starling, Hayley Tompkins, Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan, Cathy Wilkes, Jonnie Wilkes and Richard Wright.

[xi]Sarah Lowndes, “Karla Black”, frieze, Issue 89, March 2005.

[xii]Martin Creed was born in Wakefield, England but moved to Glasgow when he was three. After attending Lenzie Academy, near Glasgow, he trained at the Slade School of Art.

[xiii]SusanPhilipsz was born in Glasgow, but trained in Dundee and Belfast and now lives in Berlin.

[xiv]In 2014, another Glasgow-based artist, Duncan Campbell, won the Turner Prize. The 2015 Turner Prize will be staged at Glasgow’s Tramway, underlining the city’s many associations with the prize.

[xv]In 2014, Toby Webster co-directs The Modern Institute with Andrew Hamilton, and the gallery represents 39 artists, twelve of whom are from his original roster of Glasgow-based artists, and the rest from cities all over the world, including Monika Sosnowska (Warsaw), Chris Johnson (Los Angeles) and Urs Fischer (New York).

[xvi]The artists who have been shown as part of Scotland + Venice are: Claire Barclay, Jim Lambie and Simon Starling (2003), Alex Pollard, Joanne Tatham & Tom O’Sullivan and Cathy Wilkes (2005), Charles Avery, Henry Coombes, Louise Hopkins, Rosalind Nashashibi, Lucy Skaer and Tony Swain (2007), Martin Boyce (2009), Karla Black (2011) and Corin Sworn, Duncan Campbell and Hayley Tompkins (2013). Of these 18 artists, 16 were at the time of the exhibition Glasgow-based.

[xvii]Frieze curator Sarah McCrory was appointed as Director of Glasgow International in 2013, directing the successful 2014 edition and the forthcoming 2016 edition.

[xviii]Richard Wright, in conversation with the author, September 2001.

[xix]Lucy R. Lippard, Six Years, (New York: Praeger, 1973), p.vii.

[xx]Excerpt from work in progress, by Sarah Lowndes (2014).

This is an amended version of my essay “The Key Material is Time” first published in Moira Jeffrey, ed.,  The Generation Reader (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 2014).


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My Feet Are Killing Me – 8 page fanzine commissioned for Good Press on Demand (GPOD), Grafixx, Antwerp 2014.

Fraught with contradiction, heels paradoxically inhibit movement in order to increase it, at least in appearance. Standing in heels, a woman presents herself already half-walking while at the same time reducing the length of her step, fostering the illusion of speed while suggesting the promise of an imminent fall.

David Kunzle, Fashion and Fetishism: Corsets, Tight-Lacing, and Other Forms of Body-Sculpting (2006)

Petite Florentine noblewoman Catherine de Médicis started the fashion for high heels back in 1533 when she wore them for her marriage to the Duke de Orléans. High-heeled shoes give the optical illusion of a longer, slimmer leg, a smaller foot, and overall greater height. They alter the wearer’s posture and gait, flexing the calf muscles and making the bust and bottom more prominent. When a woman wears high heels (defined as shoes with a heel two inches or higher) her foot slides forward, forcing the toes into the unnatural shape of the shoe and redistributing her weight incorrectly.

High heels force a woman’s foot into the vertical posture described by Alfred Kinsey in Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female (1953) as typical during female sexual arousal, when “the whole foot may be extended until it falls in line with the rest of the leg.” The increased weight on her toes causes her body to tilt forward, and to compensate; she leans backwards and overarches her back, creating a posture that can strain her knees, hips, and lower back. The change to the position of her spine puts pressure on nerves in the back and can cause sciatica, a condition where nerves become trapped, triggering pain and numbness as far down as the feet.

Despite their impracticality, the popularity of high heels remains undiminished nearly 500 years after Catherine de Médicis first created a stir at the French court.

More than three million British women have had to seek medical attention for injuries caused by their high heels.

One in 10 women wear high heels at least three days a week and a third have fallen while wearing them.

Wearing high heels for prolonged periods can lead to spinal misalignment, shortened calf muscles and osteoarthritis. A 2013 study conducted by the College of Podiatry found that nearly 20 million British women have foot conditions caused by wearing high heels, such as joint pain, hammer toes, bunions, neuroma and ankle injuries.

The study was based on a survey of 2,000 British men and women and 60 podiatrists and chiropodists. More than a third of respondents said their feet had been so sore on a night out that they danced shoeless and walked home barefoot. The study found that the younger the woman, the higher their heels. Roughly 20% of those aged 18-24 own a pair of six-inch high-heels. This compares with 10% of those aged 25-34 and just 3% of 35-44 year olds.

Rupert Evans, an accident and emergency doctor at University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff says he has seen an increase in the number of women being admitted to hospital with high-heel related injuries. Martin Shalley, British Association for Emergency Medicine says that high heel related injuries range from sprained ankles to broken bones and dislocations, and estimates that up to half a dozen women are being admitted to his department with shoe-related injuries on weekend evenings. Consultant podiatrist Mike O’Neill, says ‘Any shoes with a heel higher than two inches are a concern.’ Rupert Evans, agrees, and advises that women should stick to shoes with heels less than 4cm (1.5in) if they want to avoid a trip to hospital.

1n 2010, college student Megan Moore (16) was killed instantly when she slipped in her high heels as she ran along a rail platform and fell under a train in Worthing, West Sussex. Megan had been drinking vodka and Red Bull with her best friend Sara Yos earlier in the evening and was running alongside Sara’s train, waving goodbye to her, when she plunged down the gap between the carriage and the platform. Recording a verdict of accidental death, West Sussex coroner Penelope Schofield said: ‘Nobody could have prevented this type of accident. It shows what happens when young people consume such an amount of alcohol and I hope that other young people can learn from this tragic case.’

In 2012, Georgia Varley (16) was killed instantly when she fell under the wheels of a moving train because the guard gave the order to set off as she leaned, intoxicated against the carriage at Liverpool’s James Street Station. The court heard the sixth form student had earlier been at a house party for a friend’s 18th birthday where she had drunk vodka and was said to be ‘the drunkest person at the party’. The guard who signalled for the train to set off, Christopher McGee (45) appeared in Liverpool Crown Court charged with manslaughter.

In 2013, Antoinette Sackett-Wood (39), a woman who was wearing high heels for ‘the first time in years’ died from a blood clot after falling and breaking her ankle, an inquest heard. Ms Sackett-Wood, from Snodland, Kent, was on a night out when she slipped over and hurt her ankle last December.Neighbour Tony Parris said he saw Ms Sackett-Wood on crutches soon after her fall. When he asked what had happened, she blamed the heels.Ms Sackett-Wood was obese and suffered with brittle bones, the court heard. Assistant deputy coroner Allison Summers recorded a death by natural causes.

In 2014, I carried out an anonymous online survey of 100 British women. I asked,

Have you ever had an accident because of wearing high-heeled shoes?

Yes – 41.67%

No – 58.33%

Women’s visits to the doctor for foot and toe complaints shot up 75% between 2005 and 2009, but although twice as many women as men report suffering from corns, cracked heels and bunions caused by wearing uncomfortable and ill fitting shoes, 20% of the women surveyed by the College of Podiatry did not seek medical help because they believed their foot complaint was not important.

Consultant podiatrist Mike O’Neill, from the College of Podiatry, warns that squeezing feet into smaller shoes can cause long-term damage including arthritis, stress fractures, and trapped nerves, which may even require surgery or steroid injections. O’Neill says, ‘There’s absolutely no doubt women who wear high heels are putting themselves at risk of permanent injury in the name of fashion. Given a choice between a stylish pair of shoes or nice feet, many will go for the stylish shoes.’

I asked [of the 41.67% of my survey group who had had an accident because of wearing high heels],

Did the accident require further medical treatment, i.e. a visit to your GP or hospital?

Yes – 16%

No – 84%

The third question in my survey was optional,

Please describe the shoes and the incident.

The following quotations are the answers I received.

Tripped, fell flat on my face, probably more due to being tipsy, but cobbles and high heels helped just as much. Skinned knees, bruised face.

Vivienne Westwood Melissa platform mary janes, sprained ankle whilst running.

Wooden platforms purchased in Berlin, was wearing at a house party when I stumbled and grabbed hold of the nearest thing to me, which happened to be the record decks, I landed on the floor, with record deck on top of me.

5 inches high. Fell down some stairs and badly injured my ankle.

Beautiful boots, very soft tan colour leather, rubber sole and heel, not terribly high, twisted my ankle on cobbled street, sprained it.

Wobbled on a cobble street, went over my foot.

Brown platforms with high stacked heels and cream piping (like icing). Fell over just about every time I wore then. Once I waved at my date who was standing by the fountain in Kelvingrove, and promptly fell over and skinned both knees. Had to buy cotton wool and a pair of American Tan tights in a shop in Argyle Street.

2 inch high Mary Janes – slipped on leaves coming down steps and sprained both ankles. I’m a very amateur ‘high’ heel wearer.

Fell down flight of stairs

5 inch high stilettos with one inch platform. Lost footing walking down stairs and hit head against wall at the bottom.

I am an infrequent heel wearer, so was only wearing about a 1&1/2 inch heel. I was novelty struck and spinning on the heel at a friends wedding, a few glasses of wine in, but not lots. I spun my way exuberantly across the dance floor, became entangled in the bride’s dress and landed on the floor at her feet. She was very nice about it- but I did tear the dress a bit and had to be unraveled while everyone watched. I still occasionally wear a wee heel but take greater care. I was mortified, but we all see the funny side now. I really hope so anyway.

7 inch platforms, fell down the stairs. Huge bruise and bad ankle for about a year.

There are many incidents, but 30th birthday, very high Vivienne Westwood plastic lobster heels, pink, fell over at least three times due to a) the fact that they are very high and hard to walk in b) drinking an obscene amount of cava.

In rural Spain I walked down a kind of mud road in the dark, in high heels. I stumbled and flew through the air and landed awkwardly and so broke my ankle, I could hear it crack.

High-heeled shiny black stilettos. I was running up some stairs at work (in a theatre) fell forward and smashed my nose. Also had many other various trips and slips over the years…

Low-heeled (1.5 inches), fairly ‘practical’ vintage black shoes. Wore them to work & heel broke outside building sending me flying head first into a puddle. Scratched my cheek, but otherwise was ok.

I sprained my ankle while wearing high ankle strapped sandals

High stiletto, went over on the side, fell over, sprained my ankle!

Shoes: Borrowed from a friend, too high for me! Incident: Sore feet and a twisted ankle.

Cheap wedge sandals plus uneven pavement resulted in a semi-fall. Ego bruised as much as ankle.

Red strappy sandals. Went over on my ankle, ouch.

I sort of don’t know what happened, but I caught the heel of the shoe on a doorframe, and as I tumbled I sort of caught the heel on my other leg and stabbed myself a bit. It was crap.

The fourth question in my survey was also optional,

High heels make me feel…[complete the sentence]

The below quotations are the answers I received.

Sometimes glamorous, sometimes sexy. often vulnerable. taller. Click clack clickity clack! Self conscious and fancy

Confident, sometimes tall like I’m wearing something for the ‘pleasure’ of others. I no longer buy or wear them.

Uncomfortable! Hot, dressed up, like I’ve made an effort, uncomfortable, more exposed, like I’m seeking attention

Taller and more elegant. Also, sore and constrained. I don’t wear them often.

Taller and thinner a bit useless.

Tall at first but tired soon after Self-aware, in every sense…

Like I can kiss my husband without needing a lift! Clumsy, but they I like them too sometimes…they can feel very beautiful. Mostly I feel ridiculous and I’ve never found a comfortable pair. They do help me feel more powerful in terms of my sense of presence especially as a small woman. Taller taller and more important / wobbly and blistered. To me a high heel is 2 inches / 6 cms high – anything over is a dead trap.

Sexy but have a sore back

Uncomfortable, but like a different person Restricted. I used to wear them ALL the time – now I feel they slow me down. Elegant and sexy happy… like a man in drag.

Intimidating ‘dressed’ tall


Powerful, glamorous, confident, referencing other powerful, glamorous women and at other times, overdressed, overly feminised, vulnerable.  More professional and smart (I’m a lecturer), but only if they’re comfy & relatively low-heels (I can only do 2.5 inches max). Higher heels make me feel clumsy, restricted (e.g. I can’t run for a bus in them) and like I’m a kid pretending to be a grown up. I seriously envy those that can walk comfortably in them though.

Slightly taller.

Sheckshy and empowered (in reality; vulnerable and uncomfortable) pain now !! Tall

Taller, prettier, sexier, more feminine. Taller, dangerous, poised, loud.

Like a drunk daddy-long-legs. I really hate them. They make me feel stupid. Taller, slimmer, bit self-conscious, sometimes more attractive, sometimes more ungainly.

A bit taller, sometimes more sophisticated but sometimes a bit silly.

Too tall and slightly unsteady when walking. If I stood still for the duration, I know high heels would compliment my outfit and make my ankles look more elegant.

Clumsy restricted. Achey and uncomfortable.

Grown up and businesslike …dressed up for a special occasion …like I want to take them off after 10 minutes!

Sophisticated, smart and confident! Elegant, strong, and sometimes awkwardly tall. pretty uncomfortable. For a start I have massive feet, so any high heels I own are a little bit small for me. So they get sore quickly. That means that I don’t wear them very often, but when I do I feel a bit odd. High heels are shoes that one shouldn’t wear when you feel odd because you have to be confident and not odd. I therefore have formed the opinion that I shouldn’t wear them.

Taller taller!… and dressed up

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