Keira McLean: Ways of Seeing


The philosopher Mark Rowlands says that the best way to find out who a person is, is not to ask them ‘how are you’ or ‘what do you think’, but to ask them, ‘how do you see the world?’

I see the world politically. I believe that we are all political animals and as such all actions are political actions. This way of seeing the world started in childhood. Both my parents were Marxists, both were activists. I grew up in an overtly political environment where I was encouraged to think oppositionally.

From the moment we are born, our cultural capital, our economic circumstances, our class is already defined. It is defined not just by the politics of the present but also by the politics of the past.

I was born 1979, the year Margaret Thatcher came to power.

I don’t want to simplify Thatcherism as the views of one person, to do so is lazy and inaccurate. Thatcher may be gone but the ideology of Thatcherism lives on and in my opinion has resided at 10 Downing Street for the last 35 years.

Just because the politics of privatisation, the strategy of trickle down economics, the cultural attitude of putting profit before people that has dominated for 35 years does not make it an absolute, a truth.

It is a political choice. A political choice that benefits those who hold wealth and power and their interests are in conflict with our interests. So to think oppositionally and to challenge the perceived authority of the dominant view, you first have to see.

John Berger’s book ‘Ways of Seeing’ is probably the most influential book I’ve ever read. He is an art historian and this book presents an oppositional/alternative reading of the history of Western Art.

When we make art we do so in a defined environment – the environment in which we live. Landscape, climate, ideology, class, language all feature in the art we create – regardless as to whether it is an explanation, critique, observation, celebration. The realm of the political influences and shapes our art. What we see forms the foundation of how we view the world and what we then articulate as our politics. If you’re an artist, what you see is the starting point for what you create.

Like everyone else I have constructed a personal history that makes me make sense of the world. I have selectively organised events in my life and given them significance. I have created myths, what we might call a ‘mythology of the self.’

I explored this idea in a recent piece for an exhibition. I made fused glass lattice maps with stories of my childhood on them. The stories were intentionally ambiguous. What was interesting was how people responded to these stories: they responded with familiarity, with their own memories. These stories could have been theirs. We share a cultural, social, economic history. We share a political history. We share mythology.

This shared mythology has influenced and framed the mainstream debate on Scottish Independence. The political union of the UK is not an equal partnership and the idea that Scotland is too wee, too poor and too stupid prevails. This is a mythology. It is a constructed myth; constructed to retain power over resources and to keep wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. It is a political strategy: a strategy as old as time.

Mythology has been used throughout history to oppress and suppress peoples; to present women as weak or morally corrupt; to persuade indigenous populations that they are uncivilised or barbaric and to link homosexuality with immorality and deviance.

And it is currently being used to convince a population that they cannot govern themselves. The language and message of the No camp is mostly negative. Split, break, divorce, separation; these terms are designed to stimulate reaction without explanation, to make us fearful and unsure.

The one positive message from the No camp can be found in a single idea: we are ‘better together.’ We are one, working together, supporting each other, helping one another. Except that we’re not. When Thatcher claimed there was ‘no such thing as society, only individuals,’ she effectively removed the solidarity from politics and each government since her time has reinforced the individual not just with policy but with ideology.

Poverty is now a choice. If you’re poor it’s your fault.The eradication of poverty should be the priority of all governments of all political parties, but it isn’t. Profit is. To put an end to poverty, society needs to come before the individual.

When you fuse glass each piece must be compatible, heating and cooling at the same rate or it shatters, it breaks. It is only a strong as its weakest link.

The mythology of Yes is one of a different political and cultural identity in Scotland: it is one that puts social justice and equality first.

I try and think oppositionally. I try and question the authority of dominant ideology. The inherited myth must be challenged. To simply say, ‘just because’ or, ‘its common sense’ prevents the pursuit of truth. The challenge I make is a result of what I see. I see vast inequality in one of the richest countries in the world. I see the NHS being broken up and sold to the lowest bidder. I see women and children being pushed into poverty by welfare reforms that have been condemned by Oxfam and Save the Children. I see education becoming a privilege and not a right.

These things don’t just happen to other people, they happen to all of us. We have a choice to make. The choice is simple, it’s a choice between hope and fear. Marshall McLuhan said;

There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there
is a willingness to contemplate what is happening.

If we can change our way of seeing and recognise WE instead of ME then there is hope. For me hope starts and fear ends with a Yes.

Keira McLean
National Collective