‘indestructible language’: The eco-artwork illuminating Glasgow’s skyline

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COP26 in Glasgow has brought a new landmark for commuters on the M8 – with a mysterious artwork appearing on one of the city’s historical buildings.

This monumental neon piece titled ‘indestructible language’ is by acclaimed New York artist and activist Mary Ellen Carroll. It is located on the roof of The Schoolhouse, a Victorian building on the outskirts of the city centre.

Its message: “IT IS GREEN THINKS NATURE EVEN IN THE DARK” is spelt out in three metre high red lettering that has been lighting up the sky each night since November’s climate summit.

Despite its size, the phrase can be difficult to catch, much less comprehend, for motorists driving past at high speed.

The enigmatic nature of this global warming sign has made it a talking point in the city and online, with passers-by taking to social media to share their responses.

The Online Reaction To ‘indestructible language’:

Receiving such a range of responses comes with the territory of making large-scale public art.

But Carroll said that during her visit to Glasgow for COP26, the majority of people she met – from taxi drivers to dignitaries – were eager to find out more about the installation and its climate change warning.

This is exactly what she hoped to achieve; that the piece would make people curious and engage with the work and its message.

Carroll explained: “It wouldn’t be effective for the installation to say ‘stop climate change right now, don’t drive a car.’”

In Carroll’s opinion, such a declarative statement instructing people what to do would likely have the opposite effect.

indestructible language’ Explained:

According to Carroll, the title ‘indestructible language’ represents the strength of our words and how they “don’t just disappear”.

Carroll explained the name of the piece is presented in lowercase to “universalise its existence and make it accessible.”

It took the artist over six months to come up with the wording displayed on the sign, which is broken down as follows:

“IT IS” – Immediately asserts the climate emergency is a scientific fact of extreme importance.

“GREEN” – The colour green has a special significance to Glasgow, affectionately known as “The Dear Green Place”. It is also a complimentary colour to the glowing red lettering, and symbolises growth, environmental campaigning, and the green economy.

“THINKS” – Highlights the human capacity to engage with science and make informed choices.

“NATURE” – Represents itself – earth, atmosphere, ecosystems, and the outside.

“EVEN” – A reminder that climate change affects everyone. The word also envisions a rebalancing to carbon neutrality.

“IN THE DARK” – Seeks to emphasise the viewer has a choice – to engage with the climate emergency and effect positive change, or ignore it.

The Location

The M8-fronting position of The Schoolhouse where the artwork appears is the perfect place to spread its environmental message as high volumes of traffic mean ‘indestructible language’ is seen by thousands each day.

Carroll also said the location offered a “vantage point” during COP26 because the piece could be seen from the climate summit’s Blue Zone, where key negotiations between world leaders and their teams took place.

Located on the Scottish Events Campus (SEC), across the River Clyde, the Blue Zone was controlled by the UN for the duration of the conference and was inaccessible to the public.

Architect Joe Logan is landlord of the Victorian schoolhouse, which was built in 1910.

Logan refurbished it to offer contemporary office spaces. Occupiers in the building include Channel 4 News (who used the piece as a filming backdrop during the conference), digital entertainment company Blazing Griffin, and production house Storyboard Studios.

When asked why he thinks The Schoolhouse is a fitting venue for Carroll’s artwork, Logan said:

“Schools are built for education and the Victorian school is still capable of creating a place for creative learning.”

He explained: “The school was designed by the architects Bruce and Hay and is a palazzo building modelled on Italian palaces – that palace style having a civic purpose and a civic pride.

“When you think of the message of ‘indestructible language’, what better place to host it than a palazzo, creative industry, modern school place.”

This is something Carroll agrees with. She added: “What happens in school? The privileging of language and accessibility, right?”

Carroll’s ‘indestructible language’ was originally commissioned in 2006 by the Precipice Alliance to appear on New Jersey’s Pulaski Skyway. The Glasgow installation is a completely new fabrication.

It is supported by Urban Office, Turtle Conservancy, King World Foundation, Stardust, Love, Titos, MCM, TransArt Foundation, as well as private donors committed to climate change.

Over the 15 years that have passed since the New Jersey display, Carroll said her own commitment to the environment and the piece’s message has intensified as she saw “global warming become climate change and now the climate emergency.”

This is why it was so important to Carroll that the artwork had a presence in Glasgow for November’s crucial summit.

The Installation Process

Carroll described getting the artwork up as a “herculean effort”.

After months of meetings and conversations about the location, officials gave the go-ahead in August.

The project received praise from the likes of Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken, who said: “Arts and culture have a centre stage role in our discussions on climate change, helping make it meaningful to people.”

The sign is made from neon – an ecological and durable material because it’s a glass and a gas. It is powered using low-wattage transformers and lead-free glass tubing.

The Future

The installation is set to be here until 31 January 2022. But Carroll hopes it can stay longer as “it’s such a big part of the city now.” Having fallen in love with Glasgow and its people, Carroll feels ‘indestructible language’ is where it needs to be.

 

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