Socio-political artist Heather Marshall will work with audiences throughout the day to create a visual Manifesto of Care at our opening day event at the CCA in Glasgow on Wednesday 4 October. We caught up with Heather to ask her what audiences can expect and how to start a revolution with a roll of tape.

How are you feeling about being involved in the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival again? 

I’m excited! The last time I was involved with SMHAF was in 2017 when I created the installation Sinking Horses in the Leith Walk Police Box. We filled it with the exact number of pills I have to take in a year alongside some gorgeous riso wallpaper printed at Out of the Blueprint and had the brilliant Rosalind McAndrew performing outside the police box. It was a great way to connect with members of the public and open up conversations around mental health.

I’ve enjoyed watching the festival develop and grow since then and I’m really looking forward to being part of it.

At this year’s festival, we’re exploring the idea of ‘art as activism’. Do you think that art has the power to bring about change?

Absolutely. To me the power of art is communication, it allows us to connect with people in new ways and brings together communities.

Border Tuner installation
Border Tuner by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (c. Monica Lozano)

One of my favourite examples of this is Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s installation Border Tuner that supports families on either side of the Mexico and US border to communicate through light beams. It’s beautifully intimate for participants but also has a huge reach, encouraging those who see the beams of light to think about the impact of borders and migration.

I think we live in a world where we want and expect things to happen immediately and so it can be easy to say that we’re not seeing changes, it’s frustrating. But I think the beauty of arts activism is that it is enduring, the images created or lines said will live on in the mind of the viewer, they’ll remember them and share their experiences with others who will hopefully, in turn, share them too.

I know that since learning about Border Tuner four years ago I’ve shared the work with friends, colleagues and participants. The girl who decorated and shared a cake on the New York subway to encourage people to talk to one another has been a staple workshop stimuli for me for the past nine years. And I regularly share the work of Street Autist who creates street art about being neurodivergent.

A big part of arts activism is getting information out there in an engaging way, one that makes people want to learn more and potentially support the cause.

Street Autist (c. Heather Marshall)
Street Autist (c. Heather Marshall)

Your installation at Manifesto will involve working with audiences in a very hands-on way. What can audiences expect on the day and what do you enjoy about this type of creative work?

At the beginning of the pandemic I wanted to find a way to communicate with my community. We were in that weird period where we were only allowed to go out for an hours walk a day and so many people were isolated. So I began to use my hour each day to tape messages in public spaces for others to see when they were on their walks.

The reaction to my tape art was quite overwhelming, lots of people sharing it on social media and others using the tape to play with the messages or respond. For example I taped ALWAYS REMEMBER TO LOVE YOURSELF on Leith Walk and someone changed it to ALWAYS REMEMBER TO LOVE YOUR ELF and then pictures of elves started to appear around it. It became a really fun way to connect and communicate with people.

It’s something I’ve continued and I’ve been creating tape art all over Scotland. It’s fun, accessible and, when I need it to be, immediate. If I’m frustrated about something I’ll go out and tape it – you’ll often see me near polling stations on election days taping THE TORIES DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU!

So I wanted to give Manifesto audiences the opportunity to create their own tape art installation. Together we’re going to create a Manifesto of Care on the walls of the CCA. We’re going to think about what care means to us, what we really care about and how we can use that to invoke change.

What do you hope audiences will get out of being involved?

I hope they’ll make connections with other people who care about the things they do. Or maybe they’ll learn from someone who has opposing views to them.

Life is rough for so many people at the moment so if I can host a safe space for folk to create and play then I’ll be delighted.

To be honest my main hope is that they have fun, life is rough for so many people at the moment so if I can host a safe space for folk to create and play then I’ll be delighted.

The idea for the installation came from your work on a new show She’s On the Roof. Can you tell us more about the story behind that?

She’s On the Roof was born from my frustration with the world and how as a queer, disabled, working class woman I often feel like I’m shouting into a void.

A quote from the show is:

The world is slowly falling apart.

The NHS is crumbling

Nurses who work full time are relying on food banks to feed their families

Energy bills have skyrocketed, so much so, that we now have heat banks

Because people can’t afford to heat their homes.

Disabled people are being declared fit to work by people not qualified to assess them.

2368 of those people died after being declared fit to work and having their benefits cut.

Hate crimes against the trans community have gone up 56% in just one year

Racist attacks have increased by two thirds

The government declared that the pandemic had no real negative impact on our mental health

Yet the waiting list for Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services is over four years just to be seen for a first appointment

How many of them will survive that wait?

How many of us will survive?

I feel like there’s so many awful things happening around us and yet so many of us are apathetic, we sign online petitions and maybe go on a march and hope it’s enough. But we know it’s not.

I wanted to explore activism that physically demanded change. I have a relative who was one of the ringleaders of the Barlinnie jail riots, Scotland’s longest prison siege.

She’s On the Roof looks at the experiences of those men demanding change to their inhumane living conditions and asks whether we can learn something from their protest?

Actors Rosalind McAndrew and Ross Mann rehearsing She's On the Roof.
Ross Mann and Rosalind McAndrew in rehearsals for She’s On the Roof (c. Chris Scott)

The installation asks people what they care enough about to start a revolution for. How would you begin to answer that question?

It’s a big question isn’t it? I change my mind on it all the time. Sometimes I’m ready to go out there and loudly fight for systematic change and other days I find myself advocating for a gentle revolution. But my core beliefs are that everyone has the right to be safe and happy so I guess that’s what I’m fighting for.

I think the way to start the revolution is to listen, I believe in radical listening – listening to listen as opposed to listening to respond. So we listen to the voices of those who are most vulnerable in society and work together to elevate them.

Maybe we’ll start with a roll of tape… 

Join Heather Marshall at Manifesto

Join Heather Marshall to create a visual Manifesto of Care at Manifesto on Wednesday 4 October at CCA, Glasgow.

Drop in at any time from 11:30am – 1:30pm & 3:00pm – 7:00pm.