The Arches has closed

The Arches went into administration today. The press release with all the details is here.

This is terrible on a great many levels.

It means the loss of an incredible venue which kick-started a a huge amount of careers and provided a fantastic starting point for a great many companies (including us, as our first professional piece, Selfish, was an Arches commission). It’s a loss for Glasgow of course, and Scotland, and for UK arts touring. It’s also a blow to a whole model of working. The Arches was an exemplar of the idea that a venue could generate a commercial income and use that to fund brave and experimental work. But now we can see that such a fine balance is impossible without proper support and joined-up thinking from the authorities. It’s pretty shocking, really, that such a vital arts venue could be lost because of the intransigence of the Glasgow Licensing Board.

It’s made me think about what this incredible venue allowed us to achieve. Here are some pictures from Selfish and Joyce Macmillan’s review for The Scotsman.

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Thu 29 May 2003

An installation of a theatre show


THEATRE: Selfish ****


IT’S THE title that holds the key to this latest piece of new work by director-designer Paul Burgess, specially commissioned by the Arches Theatre.

As much an installation as a theatre show, it’s a meditation on how ideas of the self are pieced together in a society where many of the social definitions of identity are fragmenting; it begins with a statement of the “selfish” philosophy of a generation of individualists, but soon begins to deconstruct the word in ways that invite thought rather than condemnation.

On stage, therefore, are three separate, cube-like rooms without walls; at the back of each is a screen carrying a range of images, from simple shadows and sheets of colour to film of street-life, and live video images of the three performers and the set.

Among these images, themes recur – the importance of clothes and dressing in constructing a sense of identity, an obsession with screen or mirror images of the self, a recurring fascination with cells and cell-structures, and a strange sense of scale, in which little plasticine figures in miniature virtual landscapes come to seem real.

And that is just about it; except that after 50 minutes or so of shifting images and ideas, the whole piece begins to develop a huge emotional momentum, as the detached image of a face wanders a little then fades, screens are packed away, and the shimmering light that sustained this world of perceptions fades to common day.

This is the kind of show that’s difficult to describe, and harder to recommend. But at the heart of it, there’s a serious, true and compassionate feeling for the human condition in the image-driven age of Big Brother; and a deep musicality about the expression of that feeling that finally becomes irresistible.

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Thank you, The Arches, for making this happen, for the other production some of us did there (New Town: Glasgow, made with Simon Daw for Scale Project), for so many other productions by so many other artists that you made possible, and for so much more.

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