“Outside of steel door and glass window façade of Many Studios, Ross Street Market pops-up on the street with the permanence of a carnival.”

“The Barras” is written in iron that’s been rounded, pounded into a
serif font I cannot name. Decorated with metal circles and semi-circles, sheets
of metal bent and warped into a style I can’t think a name for; the words rest
on top of a landmark like a giant, squared shoe horse. The posts supporting the
structure and framing it on either side are covered with paper advertisement,
some legible, some legitimate, much of it weathered to pulp and held to the post
by fraying tape. The whole thing has a look that reminds me of a bowling alley
from the end of the last century in the neighbourhood I grew up in; something
that came out of the 60s, soon went into a coma, and woke up in the 90s and has
forever been trapped there.

This is a place where bargain laminated flooring is found close to rare furniture from centuries past, oddities abound like needles on a porcupine. Inside a garage booth no bigger than a shed, a DJ blasts his own hip-hop remixes to entice people to buy his second-hand CDs across from a second-hand record shop. Yellowing books are sold under the auspice of hand-written signs oozing sexism that could get you done for and political commentary that wouldn’t be out of place written on the stones of Bishop Castle in central Colorado. The third-hand record sleeves have been chewed by mice. Walking the market’s central street, I heard “cunt” shouted in as friendly a way as possible – friend, that word said, or, at the very least, a close enough synonym for someone you’ve been stall-neighbours with for more than two decades. Perhaps some of those very people selling there can remember the days of yore when traders sold their wares on barrows (“barras, in local Glaswegian dialect).*

“something that came out of the 60s, soon went into a coma, and woke up in the 90s and has forever been trapped there”

This market is an uncut gem for studies of the social type. I imagine it, if not as a series of film vignettes exploring the human psyche, at least an ethnographic account of a geographical location that traces its origins to the community spirit and business savviness of Margaret and James McIver. A place that evolved due to external political and economic pressures, and has stayed, in one way or another, a community hub. Perhaps it is thematically (and not just economically) fitting, then, that a new style of community hub has made its home there. If that is by design, necessity or political will, you’ll have to ask the people involved.

To Glasgow I travelled, for the opportunity to learn appeared before me. As part of the European Creatives Hubs Network Peer-to-Peer Exchange Program, I was admitted into the inner sanctum and the internal workings of Many Studios; coworking space, community hub, home to The Gallow Gate Gallery, which “produces projects which work locally and globally, modelling new civic acts of tolerance, resolution and resistance in response to todays socio-political landscape.” As such, finding out about The Barras was incidental; one of those things that can only happens once you are there. That Saturday morning I was in Many Studios specifically to see how, through the direction of some community minded individuals, the establishment of Ross Street Market was facilitated.

A view of Glasgow, pen on paper, by Ian Cooke-Tapia

As I remember it being
told, Ross Street Market came about not just in the spirit of The Barras
Market, but also as a natural evolution of Many Studios’ presence in the area.
Or, perhaps, the idea came through by the natural juxtaposition of one space to
the other in this general geography. The two markets are examples of how this
part of the city is changing. If I were to describe them, I would say The
Barras Market is an old wooden desk, once painted, now smoothed by hands and
stains, dust caked to fresh varnish hiding rusted screws; wherein Ross Street
Market would be a coffee table made from upcycled pallets and boiler parts with
a retro logo pyrographed onto the side.

Outside of steel door and glass window façade of Many Studios, Ross Street Market pops-up on the street with the permanence of a carnival. No built stalls, no permanent markings; a temporary store with travelling departments. Trendy (with all the entrapping the word has) in the style of new artists running their stationary and craft businesses. Knick-knacks and badges, original art prints, wool hats, upcycled desks, and tree stumps as furniture… stuff whose value lies more in what it says about the customer than the construction cost. Polite browsing led to a conversation that led me to buy one card, mostly out of social convention and a little voice in my head saying “come on, it’s three pounds, you’ll support someone like yourself”, before making my way around the building looking for something with some… texture to it. There is something incredibly sanitized about the sort of places where artists sell their wares. Or, at the very least, the places where animal print cards and pin badges with gender identifying slogans are sold one next to the other. I love these places, I really do; but like superhero films, they sort of blend into one another if you experience too many of them.

Perhaps
because, as I write this, a recent visit to a Monastery high on the Rila
Mountains of Bulgaria colour my imagination but crossing the main landmark of The
Barras Market feels like walking into a shrine of some description. Here I feel
like I am in dialogue, not with the people and objects therein, but with the
millions of people that have come before me who have gathered in the square to
trade, talk, and exchange. What lies here, in the gathering square, is a place
of worship to what was, and what is. Relationships between woman and object,
community to itself, man and customer, all enshrined in tiny nooks in warehouse
galleries. A museum of both people and objects that have, like organic matter
lying still at the bottom of a lake for millennia, preserved the consumer
culture of the last seventy years under layers of dust.

“Pornography sold amongst 70s popular novels didn’t surprise me; after all, they are all literature.”

Curiosity took me to
the most promising of the warehouses, a dark place where bustle whispered of
commercial interest within. There I found dust floating in the air inside a
cavernous arch that seemed to be supported entirely from a towering pile of
chairs, tables and all manners of broadstroke “antiques”. There was no respect
for their history: no plaques displaying their origin, no sign proclaiming the
designer; just more old shit to be
peddled. Perhaps. Maybe. Who cares, it is just ugly furniture surrounding
ugly-looking people. If someone buys something, that’s great, and if they
don’t, who’s to care? That’s the attitude the configuration of the place, like
a telegraphed trap room in a treasure hunt game, gave me. I was too afraid to
touch anything, not for fear the ensuing avalanche might break anything, but
because the stall-holder, who I assume to be the Tetris master of stacked
chairs, looked like the sort of man who brags about the many scars left on his
back from knife-fights.

Farther in was a man,
or stall, or both, for he filled the thing disproportionally, selling comics
from forty years ago. His look was of someone who’s survived on super-hot curry
for thirty years and is trying to keep it all in.

Do these people even want to sell anything? I kept asking myself.

But I wasn’t in the
position to buy so maybe I wasn’t the type of fish this tackle was for.

“Viagra and cigarettes”, shouted a man with a blanket on the floor. I’d like to think he was aware of the diametric effects those two commodities have on the body. There is an irony of some type permeating the atmosphere of this place where objects that still have some use (vases, furniture, clothes, books) find their way into a warehouse to rot just because they’ve fallen out of fashion. A little like the people who have been abandoned by politics and fragmented community. Yet they are here, rubbish and the people hiding amongst it all; defiant to those who would rather bury them in the landfill. Here you dig for value. Here dust piles upon piles of, in their aesthetic arrangement, rubbish. Old, ancient, dusty, falling apart objects sharing the same space as tacky, disposable, cheap, new, plastic-wrapped knock-off, and all not two meters away from off-brand tools and hardware that will not last beyond fifty uses. Here I felt a sudden repulsive, gut-reaction to this space, to people, to humanity, to cultures other than my own.

The Barras Market, ©Stephen Sweeney , 2008

A book shop was crafted in sexism. A shrine of some type, a “safe male
space”, if the sort of man who thinks like that already hasn’t got enough of
them; and one that seemed to exist at the expense of dignity to others.  Pornography sold amongst 70s popular novels
didn’t surprise me; after all, they are all literature. Besides, the displayed
magazines were tame and mixed: bisexualism, very common fetishism, gay and
lesbian, and very little of what could, at a glance, be considered exploitative
and sexist. Then, again, it is mainstream porn. They go hand in hand. They are
one and the same in perception and manufacture. Yet… they are just books. There
is no damage, except when there is damage. The complexity of the issue cannot
be easily explored in one book stall, can it?

The most telling sign here was the one hung over romance novels. I see
the joke, I do: demographics and numbers speak of a reality about romance
novels, but doesn’t that speak more about what kind of reading we tell kids is
“gender appropriate”? “Weemen’s literature”, the sign proclaimed, relegating an
entire genre to a joke, ignoring that, perhaps, many people find comfort and
understanding therein. While now I realise they were going for a colloquialism
and how the word is pronounced, now that I type it I see the double insult.
Wee-men. Little men. Women are not women, they’re something else. And the signs
then went on to describe what happened in the books in a very succinct, harsh
way: “finds love, loses love, finds love again”.

Pop down the Barras, come for the gentrification crowd, stay for the grime that’s always been here.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Barras

Final Part in a Psychogeographic exploration of Glasgow

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3