Close encounter with Neds and co
Nu photographs and video work by NuArts until February 16 Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow
Throughout Britain, piazza-based city centre galleries and museums seem to act as meeting places for disaffected young people. The Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art is one example.
Anyone visiting the gallery, which was designed for accessibility to the young, will have noticed that the territory marked out by the teenagers hanging out there - mainly Goths, Moshers, Neds and Skaters - stops outside the front door. The often tense "them and us" atmosphere has led staff at the gallery to foster a more positive relationship.
Over several months, Jim Poyner and Graham MacIver, of the innovative visual arts company NuArts, began to compile photographs of the young people, gradually engaging their interest, before developing the project with video footage. What these young people wanted, they discovered, was to be heard as much as photographed.
A Big Brother type of video recording booth was set up inside the gallery, giving anyone who wished a chance to speak directly to camera. This filming took two days, during which time the gallery staff took care not to intimidate but to encourage the teenagers to use the gallery and to listen to their needs.
Mr Poyner remembers how the girls, "the leaders of the pack", were the first who dared to enter, rushing out to encourage the boys and less wary to come in and participate in the project.
A crucial factor in the growth of this project was the early involvement of youth workers from Glasgow City Council through community action teams and youth services and the gallery staff, particularly curator Victoria Hollows.
An alternative careers convention was set up, bringing together practitioners of body art, piercing and tattooing with animators and illustrators. This aimed to show that the teenagers could "stay weird without dropping out", as Mr Poyner says. From this followed a series of Sunday workshops inside the gallery, including music sessions run by Mr MacIver. These classes were not particularly well attended but the gallery staff concluded that the young prefer to hang out outdoors. Regular classes in DJ skills, music, video skills and photography are planned in the future.
Nu, the exhibition of Mr Poyner's and Mr MacIver's photographs and video excerpts, is described by Ms Hollows as "not a full stop, rather a punctuation point in an ongoing project". Library staff in the gallery also have been working with and listening to the teenagers, finding out what resources they would come in to use. There have been some successful work placements through schools.
Mr Poyner says he and Mr MacIver edited out a lot of the mooning and giggling on video but, that apart, the footage presents a fairly representative snapshot of the teenagers.
The work is rather disarmingly open and curiously innocent. It shows a group mainly concerned with tribal and territorial signals, expressed and explored through music and dress as much as behaviour; they are bored and disaffected but not yet lost and alienated. Their main complaint expressed in the video clips is of being stereotyped, judged and harassed for their appearance.
Some clips are upbeat and positive. Billy, who is 18 and a student (and was the only one to introduce himself by name), talks about music (Iron Maiden). He wants to do something with his life, not be on the dole.
Another articulate boy just wanted to say that he had come out both as gay and a Goth and was very happy with his life.
Among strange ramblings - "We are Satan's butterflies, no longer a static concept" - came positive notes, such as "I love my hair" and tales of holidays in Cornwall, with denials of drug abuse and darkness: "We don't rush at Satan or that."
Boredom and loneliness, through lack of amenities, were common , plus fear of violence, war and death of family members.
NuArts remain committed to the project and have been approached about doing something similar in New York and Edinburgh. They see their work as part on an on-going strategy to attract teenagers, one that may take five years to establish.