from Falmouth

Here is a bit of analysis on my Ibrox Bravheart performance: on causing offence, and on stimulating conversation. Thoughts are greatly appreciated!

My own work in relation to the dissertation question:
A mapping of the argument: what is the role of the artist in responding to the issue of statehood?

Ibrox Braveheart

What did I see as my role?
I thought of my purpose in making the ‘Oh My God – I’m Scottish too!!’ project to be that of providing a stimulus for asking questions and challenging perceptions – both my own and the publics – regarding questions of nationality and nationalism in Scotland.

I approached this project with strong but perhaps unsubstantiated views on the nationalist movement and what I saw as the parochial/small minded nature of Scotland, especially in the current political climate. In Scotland Independence is not a radical view anymore: it was when I was a child and even still when I moved away in 2008. I now, in 2012, have many friends who support independence for Scotland.

I realised that whilst I opposed independence/the SNP, and wished to make work that critiqued this, it was important for me to try to begin with an open mind, as I had not lived in Scotland for four years prior to the project. Maybe my mind would be changed?

Whilst in the research stages of the project, I did not experience a complete about face in my views (ie. I did not become a pro-independence nationalist) giving myself time to live within that culture and actively examine it certainly did complicate the issues at hand for me. In contrast to living in England, Scotland is in a better economic and social situation, devolution has been very successful and consequently many residents believe that independence will reap further benefits. The SNP are a very capable and successful political party and Alex Salmond an astute leader. In short, I became aware of the reasons why many people are pro-independence.

It became clear to me that my job as an artist (and all I could really hope to do) would be to support an environment where audiences felt inspired to ask questions about the current political situation that they may not have asked without my initial provocation. (is this arrogant?)

I would argue that this has to be the position of the artist in political situations such as Scotland, where the debate is one purely of governance, rather than that of serious injustices, huam rights abuses etc, as in Palestine or Sri Lanka to use examples that have been explored in this essay. Whilst Scotland does fit inside the defined frame of a marginal or emerging state as introduced at the beginning of this essay, the conflicts at play here are smaller, more domestic. Who am I to dictate how people should vote?

However, it would not be true to say that my work was unbiased or without opinion. I am an artist and not, for example, a sociologist. The work reflected my own findings from both the research phase of the project and my experiences growing up in Scotland, which are of course not exhaustive of the entire political debate, and thusly are opinionated to a certain extent. Nonetheless, my aim was to subvert common signifiers of Scotland in order to prompt my audience to question what it was that really shouted ‘Scotland’ at them, rather than impose my views. I ridiculed both Alex Salmond and William Wallace – two very different but widely accepted key figures representing ‘Scottishness’. Using the frame of Braveheart in my William Wallace performance also tackled the idea of stereotype, and asked whether the Scottish people are happy being represented by an actor known for anti-Semitism in a historically inaccurate movie.

Was my work successful?
My main performance of ‘Oh My God – I’m Scottish too!!’ was performing the Braveheart ‘Freedom Speech’ - which calls for a free Scotland and is set the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 - at Ibrox football stadium in Glasgow. I was interested in the conflict between the fact Rangers supporters are almost unanimously against independence, and that for me they are a real symbol of Scotland – particularly part of the macho culture that I have shied away from in the past. However, I could not have anticipated how my work was to be read. My thoughts were that this would present the question of what we wish to represent us as Scots. However, the work was not seen as a littoral piece of performance, rather it was read by the rangers supporters as a pro-independence performance; a piece of public art that was protest based rather than discursive, and there was an angry backlash against me and my speech online.

What fascinated me most of all is that despite the obvious disgust that these football supporters expressed, specifically against me as an artist, the performance did its job. Across six pages of online forum threads on Rangers Media Forum angry fans discussed amongst other (more personally abusive) topics: sectarianism, misrepresentation as Scots, misrepresentation as Rangers supporters, ‘what is art?’, the relevance of the armed forces in Scotland, and the fact that the Braveheart speech is not a relevant indicator of modern day Scottish culture. Artistic vanity aside this could be said to be a very successful dialogical or discursive performance.

This analysis further prompts us to ask whether for a work to be dialogical and to facilitate the asking of questions, the audience must read it as such or whether – as in this case – the fact that the work was read as a protest and caused debate as a consequence of that, qualifies it.