Scotland Can Make It: Scottish Souvenirs
Think of Scottish souvenirs and you’ll probably imagine an array of tartan objets, some shortbread tins, perhaps a Scotty dog magnet, accompanied by the distant blare of the hi-energy bagpipe techno remix of My Heart Will Go On. Scottish identity has long been a confused beast, with the merchandise touted as representing ‘Scotland’ being an increasingly baroque combination of bizarre signifiers – the kilt, the bagpipe, the haggis, Mel Gibson – with the only hint of modernity being the deep fried Mars Bar, which few who live here have actually sampled. There is a disconnect between Scotland as it is commonly marketed, and Scotland as we are proud to see it – a contemporary society at the forefront of creative innovation.
Scotland Can Make It! aims to gently challenge that orthodoxy. In light of the impending Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, local independent curator duo Catriona Duffy and Lucy McEachan, aka Panel, invited Scottish artists and designers to submit proposals for original souvenirs that could be created to go on sale alongside the Games. Aiming to promote both native design and industry, it was essential that each design be produced with a Scottish manufacturing partner.
Says Duffy, “We were interested in looking to see what’s possible in Scotland now, what can be made here and what are the challenges in making something here that’s commercially viable but also made to high quality. And we were also interested in creating a dialogue between designers and industry.
“We were looking at how objects can house memories. When they’re all considered together they’re a very diverse range of objects we’ve come up with, but when they’re presented together they display a very distinct idea about Scotland. That was presented through the quality of how they’d been made by the manufacturing partners but also the quality of idea that was presented through the object by the artists and designers that proposed them.”
Six arts practitioners were selected to develop their proposals, chosen by a judging panel including Turner Prize winner Martin Boyce. Their products are varied, ranging from an intricate golden necklace by Neil McGuire and Marianne Anderson commemorating a tenement razed to make way for the Games, to an app developed by the band FOUND which changes according to geo targeting.
Duffy feels the inclusion of the app adds a crucial dimension to the collection. “FOUND have worked with Chemikal Underground as their manufacturing partner and their souvenir is slightly different from the others in the fact that it’s not an object, it’s an audio visual digital application. There’s something really interesting about that. What the app does is it responds to Glasgow by altering and changing and becoming more visually and musically complex the closer you get to [the city], so in a sense rather than being a memento or a keepsake of a place it’s kind of calling you back, inviting you to return to that place. It’s interesting because more and more people store their memories and their ideas within cyberspace rather than housing them within objects, which is how we traditionally do things.”
Another product has been developed by art-design-fashion collaboration Atelier, in this instance made up of printmaker-fashion designer Beca Lipscombe and fine artist Lucy McKenzie in collaboration with Marc Camille Chaimowicz. They’re developed a series of three blanket designs, bespoke images created by each and turned into high quality cashmere-lambswool blankets by Begg's, a Paisley-based manufacturer who quietly work in the very high end of the fashion industry.
Says Lipscombe, “We entered Scotland Can Make It! because the brief was about having something manufactured in Scotland, and that’s something that’s very important to us. We thought blankets were the perfect souvenir – you know, you wrap your tired kid up at the end of the festival or the event, put your picnic on it, it keeps you warm… There are so many ways of looking at it. And also we could have an array of graphical references – the functionality was the most important thing.”
As well as the chance to redefine the common conception of the nation by presenting high quality designer merch, Lipscombe sees the industrial focus of Scotland Can Make It! as having a much wider resonance. “There’s a misconception that the designers are the pinnacle and industry is subservient to designers. It’s actually the other way round – without industry designers could design and design but with no one to make it there’s a real problem. And that’s what we’re finding, in Britain especially.”
Other products going into production through the exhibition include Common Wealth, a pristine white ceramic jelly mould by artist Katy West. Produced by Highland Stoneware (a company more commonly associated with fairly traditional ceramic goods decorated with paintings of Scottish wildlife) the moulds take their formal inspiration from the Art Deco ceiling of Glasgow restaurant Rogano’s, reaffirming the more visionary design influences that reside in Scotland’s past. Contemporary weaver Angharad McLaren and digital designer Emlyn Frith have collaborated with Johnstons of Elgin to produce a pair of merino sports scarves featuring a geometric pattern abstracted from the herringbone weave of traditional tweed. The final product on display comes from designer Claire Duffy, who's working with the mighty Tunnock's of tea cake fame to create a series of medals.
It seems inevitable that an arts project related to the Commonwealth Games should present some level of ambiguity about the positive nature of a mega-event arriving in a city. While the collection of works do not overtly criticise, there is a poignancy to the Golden Tenement necklace, its commemoration of a little piece of Glasgow history ripped down in the name of progress, that suggests there is more to this than meets the eye.
Catriona Duffy, however, refuses to be drawn into unconsidered negativity on the impending sporting bounty. “The souvenirs are definitely a celebration of what’s happening in the UK, what’s happening in Scotland in 2014. But they’re also exploring what happens around mega-events in cities. It’s a huge thing to happen to a city and a country, and there are positive outcomes but also other things that can happen through that and we wanted to be quite open and to allow the people we were working with to explore all of the different sides of a big sporting event coming to our country.”