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Clydeside Stories: how art is co-existing with the Games

Away from the sporting success at Hampden and the Emirates Arena, and the musical programmes of the Kelvingrove bandstand and the East End Social, there is another side of the Commonwealth Games that has perhaps not been given as much prominence.

Nathan Coley's The Lamp of Sacrifice, 286 Places of Worship, Edinburgh 2004
Nathan Coley's The Lamp of Sacrifice, 286 Places of Worship, Edinburgh 2004

For alongside the hockey and the badminton, the table tennis and triathlon, art exists in the pockets of the city interacting with and inspired by the Commonwealth Games. 

Generation, a nation-wide exhibition programme celebrating 25 years of Scottish contemporary art, has found a home in many of the city's galleries and exhibition spaces, and will showcase the work of some of the country's finest artists including Douglas Gordon, Toby Paterson and Martin Boyce to a new global audience visiting during the Games.

Scotland Can Make It! is a collaboration between six Scottish artists briefed with designing and manufacturing six souvenirs made here in the country, all of which are on sale to public from mid-July onwards. They include a modernist-inspired jelly mould inspired by the interior of Glasgow's iconic oyster bar simply entitled Common Wealth, and a miniature model of a tenement coated in gold, which stands as an exploration of urban regeneration in Dalmarnock.

Coinciding with the Games is Surge Festival, a combination of unique events and performances held in the city centre organised by a group called Conflux which runs projects designed to develop street arts and physical theatre.

Merchant City's Parnie Street plays host to one of them: an event called Scotch Hoppers, put on by Still Motion, a company that puts on collaborative performance works.

Eva Kerr is a volunteer with the venture. "We've worked with lots of different and amazing games and outdoor designers who have come up with different activities made with wood.

"At the weekend, this whole part is closed off and it's a family zone. I was helping out with another event previously so just started with Scotch Hoppers yesterday. It was quite quiet, but mobbed at the weekend.

"We've been having workshops in the mornings as well, some for kids and some for adults. Then, from 2-5 pm everyone's just welcome down to play.

 "At the back of the playground is a shipping container - we worked with a graphic designer on that. The whole thing has been a big collaboration. The timber games, especially, was us working with a company who did a lot of that sort of thing. All the timber is reclaimed and locally sourced, too."

Malcolm Dickson is the director of Street Level Photo Works, based on King Street. "We've got rather a lot of things happening at the moment that align with and intercept the Games using photography.

"We've got an off-site exhibition happening at the Harbour Arts centre in Irvine, which is called Going the Distance - photography and sport. We do a lot of local and regional partnership-based exhibitions.

"We have the Commonwealth Family Album on too at the moment. It's situated in several different locations throughout the city. It's on various billboards and areas close to where the Games take place. So, as part of that, we've got the Glasgow Green Family Album going up today as the final portraits of a series of 50 taken over the course of the last week - with visitors to Glasgow Green.

"It's been an accumulating piece of work. It's taken a bit of engagement with people - talking to them, and finding out why they're here. What they think about Glasgow and the Games and a lot of audience interaction.

"We have an Arpita Shar exhibition in the lobby. It's an exhibition of portraits of Glasgow families with some Commonwealth connection. So it could be that their partner or spouse is from a country that's part of the Commonwealth, or their parents. There's been a tremendous amount of work involved in finding people, tracking them down and gaining their trust.

"A bit of a mini festival, then, and all very much complementary of what's going on around us, as well as our own unique contribution."

Further towards town, Goma is currently one big celebration of Scottish modern art.

On the top floor is an installation of 286 miniature cardboard buildings by Nathan Coley. Each structure is a religious building, stripped of its religious insignia and is a carbon copy model of the same buildings dotted around Edinburgh.

At the back of the gallery, two attendants spoke quietly to each other about how, since the installation was made, the buildings have somehow shifted and become more tightly packed, shrinking back from the lap that rings this cardboard city which visitors can walk on. Maybe it happened gradually when the floor was cleaned, they wondered. One even wagered that he had a photograph on his phone, should they wish to return the sculptures to their original positions.

Yet, isn't that the precise nature of a city? That it will shift and evolve whether its creators want it to or not? Buildings are torn down to be replaced while others turn into something different , solely because the needs of who the city must service - its inhabitants - change over time.

Made from cardboard without flags or iconography, it is impossible to see whether Coley's sculptures are mosques or churches or synagogues. They work as one cohesive group, all the same yet all different. 

Coley's installation is of Edinburgh, but it works just as powerfully as a parallel to Glasgow. In many ways we are a city that looks beyond what is on the surface - skin colour, religion, nationality - and celebrates what unites us.

In some cases, however, we don't. But there are plenty of signs evidenced through art's reaction to the Games that all this will bring so much more than sporting success. These are signs that point to the fact that the changes in Glasgow - the regeneration, the influx of nationalities - are what will forge a brand new creative landscape.

Now is the time to show off our creative industries. And, how, through them, the many ways we are skilled at proving our worth on a global level. 

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