Glasgow Art School fire, image property of David Pratt (@foreigncorr1)

Statements follow, on behalf of NGS, from our incoming and outgoing chairs.

 

Last week, as regular, we met as a committee. As is often the case, we were fortunate to be joined by a potential exhibitor in our gallery, who wished to share their work with the public later this year. They had been in contact looking for support for an exhibition building upon their artistic practice which explored the use of reclaimed materials and the intrinsic memories and qualities these had to talk to people on a subconscious, almost primal level. 

They discussed their work with elegance. and there was a truly honest and palpable sense of excitement and resonance amongst the committee members present, who hung on each word and image the artist shared. Pieces of timber with words unseen for generations marked on them; cables which had carried light and sound to dark chambers of creativity; nails which had held fabric together. All from the centre of our citiy's creative life, saved from the ruins of the fire which had caused such heartache in 2014.

As a committee we love this (often adopted) city, and many are here as a consequence of Glasgow School of Art. The work spoke to us because we knew the value of these materials and their ability to speak to everyone who was lucky enough to share in Mackintosh’s finest building. We felt humbled that we could share these small pieces of the story with our friends and colleagues around the city, in the 150th year since Mackintosh’s birth, as the building he is known around the world for was finally finding its way back to life.

And then Friday night.

It is without doubt that those few hours, as photographs of cinematic power were shared around the world, have had a catastrophic impact on a building we all hold so dearly.

Our thoughts go out to all those who have painstakingly recorded and re-crafted the Art School over the last four years and who will over the coming days find the effects of this fire so hard to recover from. We stand with you and for you. We feel hurt for those in Garnethill, who we stood with last year in protecting their beloved neighbour from excessive development around the Mackintosh Building, only to see their friend hit by the cruelty of fire again. We are thankful for the incredible work and resilience of our Fire Service in their efforts to save the Mack once again, who we know this will have once again have had such a profound effect upon.

The city is shaken and wounded. But it is also strong and resolute and creative. We will find a way through.

Our city is enormously wealthy in architectural and cultural heritage, and the fire of this weekend shows the precariousness of the built fabric that stands testament to our forebears. These places of social significance have enriched the lives of those who call Glasgow home, and even hold pride of place in the imaginations of those across the world. As a city, we have for too long left these places on the edge, risking them through a culture of neglect or inaction (think beyond the well known, and remember the forgotten Lion Chambers or Egyptian Halls). When even those we love and cherish can fall so profoundly to fire, we are on the edge of losing everything. A debate must begin about how we as a city value and protect that which we love, and how we create a viable future for our iconic places.

In the coming days the full and stark reality of the extent of damage to both the Mackintosh Building (and equally loved and important ABC) will become clearer, prompting a debate on the future of this treasured building and its neighbours.

Until the picture is clearer, the investigations concluded and expert analysis undertaken, it is in no-one's interests to surmise or best guess what tomorrow might bring. We must wait, patiently, until those best placed to advise have spoken. However, whatever the outcome is of their investigations, it is abundantly clear that the Mackintosh Building and adjacent ABC are intrinsically linked to the lifeblood of our city.

As the level of damage becomes clear, over the next weeks, months and years we will fully support the return of the ABC, and the full restoration of the Mackintosh Building as one of the worlds greatest cultural assets. We will fully support the leader of Glasgow City Council in her call to form a working group for Sauchiehall Street, which over the course of the last few months has seen destruction on a scale not seen in this city since the 1960s. And most critically, as we will always do, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with our friends and colleagues at Glasgow School of Art who have lost so much.

Whatever remains we will cherish; the memories will live on beyond the fabric; no fire can burn out the culture of our city.

Ross Aitchison, incoming chair, New Glasgow Society
18 June 2018

 

At some points over the last few days, it has seemed sensible to stop, and check: have the expressions of grief over the situation become hyperbolic? Is all this keening merely the self-interested outpourings of privilege? What has materially changed, in a city where so many must overcome complex, practical challenges simply to get through the day, where poverty renders contentment or happiness an ungraspable illusion, where generations still grow up feeling unable to travel beyond the confines of their own estate? The faces one sees at the police tape in Bath St mutely answer that question. And - speaking personally - I would have needed a heart of stone to stand in Dalhousie St on Saturday, looking at the silhouette of that stylised bird finial now exposed and isolated, perched above brutally blackened and ruined stonework, and not to have felt that it represented much, much more than the possible end for a historic building.

Glasgow has a big hole in its self-image now, though of course it will not have lost its confidence in how it presents itself to the world. But it has potentially lost what was its most internationally important piece of architecture, and it has also lost, at least for now, a building with a spectacular history of entertainment - the best medium-scale concert venue it has had since the Barrowlands Ballroom curtailed its regular programming.

Feelings in Glasgow run strong at the moment, and our city has rarely been revered for its emotional restraint. But the visceral nature of the pain being felt seems worth noting. The degree of loss, as expressed, is palpable. Much of this, of course, stems from the context of the fact of the previous fire, and the bitter end to a long road of careful, painstaking reconstruction efforts, which New Glasgow Society have been following closely, and celebrating. Frustration can be a surprisingly potent emotion, and risks lie ahead in such a febrile, volatile context.

What can be said is: right now, almost no-one, if anyone, will really know what happened to allow this destruction to take place. Some, if not all, 'truth' will have been lost forever at the point at which the disaster began. Glasgow's record of fires in significant buildings has been appalling. With all that in mind, it is even more important that any conclusions drawn by investigations must be interpreted with the aim of the improvement of practices and standards and prevention, not merely at finding blame. Rumour is the inevitable handmaiden to public tragedy (and some of it may even prove some day to be valid) but we must, as a city, concentrate on what practically gets us from where we are to where we want to be. And the most important element is that 'where we want to be'. Another tangible risk is politicisation. There may well have been political or organisational failings, and these should be made public. But we must all be aware of the agendas that may drive some parts of the debate to follow. Most of these agendas, we hope, are reasonable, explicit and freely-admitted.

New Glasgow Society will endeavour in the months and years ahead to provide a place for discussion on what the right way ahead will be. We will continue to offer our own point of view, as well as pressure, where needed. And as Mackintosh's anniversary year continues, we will present substance for reflection on what we have, and what we have had.

Lex Lamb, outgoing chair, New Glasgow Society
18 June 2018

Image property of David Pratt (@foreigncorr1)