City Wall
City Wall
Image: Ric Warren

Ric Warren: Talkin' 'Bout Our Gentrification

Ric Warren explores social and spatial boundaries. As he faces his biggest solo show yet, The Skinny meets him at his studio at the Glasgow Sculpture Studios and asks if he knows what he’s up against
Feature by Jac Mantle.
Published 06 April 2011

Going by its title, Borders, Boundaries and Barricades: Redeveloping Geographies of Division, Ric Warren’s forthcoming show at David Dale sounds pretty serious – like an essay. Well, his practice is nothing if not comprehensive. Dealing with the demarcation of territories in urban space, it touches on issues of society, regeneration, civil unrest and war, as well as the work’s immediate surroundings – in this case the gallery itself.

But the allusion to an essay, Warren explains, is a deliberate foil. The aim of the show is not to present conclusions, but to prompt unavoidable questions for the viewer. It is Warren’s first major Scottish solo exhibition and he hasn’t shied away from the big issues, or from large constructions. At the centre of the show will be an imposing wall of lacquered wooden panels that cut right through the space. The panels are adorned with batons, referencing those on construction site hoardings, designed to prevent fly posting.

Inspired by Sol LeWitt’s modular structures, the wall will have a macho, minimalist look. “It suggests a quiet, territorial war that’s constantly there but you’re not really aware of it because it happens slowly,” says Warren. “It’s also about the temporal nature of construction sites – once the barriers have been removed, the boundaries are still there. Whatever reason is behind the regeneration of the area, it constitutes a sort of conceptual barricade.”

But he also wants to give a nod to the more aggressive, militant implications of demarcating territories. To contrast the panels he is creating pointed structures based on anti-tank barricades as well as incendiary devices known as Molotov cocktails. “With these, it’s going back to civic unrest and more an obvious, blatant violence in terms of a push and shove for space.”

Having viewed the show as a means to focus a period of studio time rather than an end in itself, Warren has countless options to draw upon. He won’t decide the exact format of the show until he takes all his works down to the gallery in Glasgow’s East End. Which brings us to the unavoidable question of David Dale’s context. The work clearly references issues surrounding gentrification, ‘ghettoisation’, and that most thorny of issues, class – is the work all about Bridgeton?

“No, but it is about Glasgow, as much as it is about any city. The fact that there’s this inevitable period of regeneration or dilapidation, gentrification – it’s constantly shifting. That’s what I like about Glasgow. Even in the time that I’ve been here, it’s changed so much.

Clearly, Warren’s subject is one that comes with baggage. It has a loaded vernacular and a hefty political dimension, before one even begins to consider their own stance. But pressed for an answer, how would he position himself in relation to the bigger issue of regeneration of the city’s more rundown areas?

“Well, I sit on the fence to some extent. I am coming from some sort of socialist perspective, but it’s not necessarily about me taking a really harsh political stance on the middle classes. I’m from a working class background, but I went to art school, and that’s a pretty middle class pursuit.

“I do think it’s important that I mention ‘ghettoisation’ as much as I mention gentrification because the work’s not about the middle classes being the baddies.” He glances around the studio, grins and leans over to whisper, “Although sometimes, it is.”