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WHERE IS THE ART?

I have lived in Livingston over half my life and I like living here. As an artist, however, I feel there is a distinct lack of a visual arts environment, I would like to use this space to talk about this. I have written many articles on the subject, these have appeared in the arts newspaper ArtWork. I talk a lot about public art which I think the local council rely upon too much as a substitute for galleries in the area. Livingston was inaugurated in 1962, it's first town planner was an architect called Peter Daniel. The short film New Town Blues features Daniel talking about Livingston where he bemoans the lack of ambition by those in charge, He was dismissed from the job and it was said that the then general manager of the LDC (Livingston Development Corporation) "did not care for opinionated architects with beards". 

I have collaborated in this section with the French student Matis Leggiadro who has taken the up the issue for his website which is concerned with democracy in art.

To view Matis Leggiadro's website click the link below

 

The film New Town Blues is interesting as a work of its time, it is artful and slightly avant-garde. It also shows that Peter Daniel was unprepared and not really equipped to get to grips with his task. This is not a criticism, in fact he was a visionary, he wanted to bring Heriot Watt University to Livingston but this was not to be. The reality is that Daniel's experience of life (his background ) did not sit well with the industrial heritage of West Lothian. This marriage was never going to work. An article I wrote in 1997 (ArtWork 87 August/September) discusses some of the reasons why Livingston (and West Lothian as a whole) fell short of Daniel's expectations. In 1997 Scotland welcomed a devolved parliament causing a lot of soul-searching about how a more "independent" nation would be perceived to the outside world.

Recent calls from some sectors of the art press to preserve the best of Scottish contemporary art for the nation is a cause worthy of support ......

 

In 2005 I was asked to curate an exhibition to be held in Saint David’s Church in Bathgate to celebrate the centenary of the church. Six months in planning, the exhibition took place in August of that year to coincide with the Edinburgh Festival. It was hoped that Festival visitors might take the 20-minute train ride from Edinburgh to Bathgate to visit the exhibition. It was a success being one of the biggest (if not the biggest) visual arts events to take place in the town. A colleague suggested I contact BBC Scotland for some publicity. I did not expect the receptionist’s dismissive attitude when I called – she snootily declared “I wouldn’t go to an art exhibition in Bathgate”. Up next is a short piece I wrote in 2006 which reinforces this prejudicial attitude. 

Once upon a time Bathgate had a castle, then it had British Leyland, then it had a “face”. The earthwork known as the Bathgate Face occupies a site on which stood a castle that Robert the Bruce gifted to his daughter as a wedding present (an event which brought about the founding of the royal house of Stewart).........

 

THE PUBLIC ART PILL

Since 2005/6 the situation has not changed. In the period between then and now I have voluntarily curated well over a dozen exhibitions/displays in the area, I will discuss this later in another section. Sadly, however, the BBC receptionist was right - she wouldn't go to an exhibition in Bathgate because there are none. At this point though I will include a recent article I wrote which again refers to the architect Peter Daniel's prediction and the conclusion that art in the area is regarded as something to be "consumed" - to be administered in prescriptive doses. The picture opposite (taken a few days ago) suggests that the "community" is keen to participate on its own terms - I leave the viewer to make up their own mind about what it tells us? By the way - it wasn't me! 


At the end of November an exhibition dedicated to Livingston New Town will be held at Howden Park Centre. Nothing unusual about that you might think ...........

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