Marc Cairns


Marc Cairns is an architectural designer, producer and gallerist, born, raised and based in Glasgow. After working for 2 years at an architecture studio in New York, Marc decided to come back to Scotland and establish his projects Pidgin Perfect, MANY and The Telfer Gallery.

In this video and interview, Marc talks about his creative practice, his involvement with Glasgow and why he considers it an inspiring city.

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Please tell us a little bit about your background. How did all of your projects – MANY, The Telfer and Pidgin Perfect – come about?

I’m Co-founder and Director of Pidgin Perfect, a mutli-award winning creative studio that I established in 2011 with two fellow graduates, Dele Adeyemo and Becca Thomas, from the Masters of Architecture programme at the University of Strathclyde. Pidgin Perfect work to place the community at the heart of projects; combining research, participation and design to help build better communities for everyone. So far this year, Pidgin Perfect have presented a research project investigating ’the power of film to transform communities’ at the World Design Capital in South Africa, alongside a number of participation and design projects across Scotland and are currently delivering two new permanent public realm spaces in Glasgow’s East End with internationally recognised artists for Velocity – a project designed to promote and support the wider cultural impact of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

In early 2012, I began my role as the Projects Director of MANY, a creative arts organisation and studio provider currently located in the Merchant City of Glasgow. In this role, I have worked with the team at MANY to initiate projects with Glasgow School of Art, Wasps and Glasgow City Council and have collaboratively designed and supported a unique Graduate Residency Programme, now in its third year, which offers practice specific mentorship and opportunity for four graduates annually. Currently, I’m producing the delivery of a major new development which will see MANY Studios upgrade from its current location to a newly refurbished market hall in the historic Glasgow district of The Barras.

I also support the development and programming of The Telfer Gallery, an artist led contemporary art gallery hosted by MANY Studios. Since 2012, The Telfer Gallery has presented new work from local, national and international artists from diverse forms of creative disciplines, facilitated residencies and curated projects for Edinburgh Arts Festival and Glasgay Festival. In our 2014 programme we will exhibit solo presentations from Yuri Pattison, Sally Hackett, Nick Thomas, Elizabeth Corkery and Scott Massey.

Which Pidgin Perfect project would you consider your favourite?

It’s hard to pick a favourite really, as we put so much into every project we deliver at Pidgin Perfect and each project is unique and different. However, I think the project I am most proud of is when we co-represented Scotland+Venice at the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale in the summer of 2012 with our project ‘Banchetto: A Play in Three Acts’. The project engaged with and learned from the inhabitants of Venice with the first act, ’Tour Della Biennale’, a guided tour of the Giardini, playing the prelude to the principal event, ’Banchetto’, an open air theatrical evening of dinner cooked by local people as the backdrop to an important discussion about the impact of the Biennale on the lives of the resident Venetian population. The final act, ’Esposizione’, provided one last celebration with local residents attending the Scotland+Venice exhibition. I was also incredibly proud that the project received the prestigious Royal Scottish Academy Medal for Architecture in 2012. The intervention at the Barras project as well as Picture Window on London Road project were both very interesting.

Could you tell us what is the objective of bringing installation like the mentioned above to some of the areas of the city? Can design and similar projects change the city?

At Pidgin Perfect we’ve so far built very little but we have been delivering a number of large community events and public realm artworks across Glasgow since 2011. Cedric Price famously said that ‘architecture is too slow to solve problems’ and at Pidgin Perfect we believe in this approach to working with the city. Our temporary projects, installations, events and artworks highlight, and often even address, the immediate challenges that face communities and help to build momentum for the development of projects with wider scopes of ambition, long term planning and real change.

Do you think art and design is intended for a small group of people?

Not at all. Everyday I have the pleasure of working with the most creative and talented people in Glasgow who are working hard to engage the public with the work they do, create opportunities for people to learn new things and imagine unexpected ways to transform the city for the better. Art is for everyone.

Is art a good business?

I think it can be if people are willing to work hard, be open to new ways of working and collaborating and have a good network of support, mentors and advice around them. Finding ways to help artists build more sustainable practices is something at MANY that we support and develop. We’re now in the third year of our annual Graduate Residency Programme which supports four graduates annually from a diverse range of creative backgrounds, providing them with a studio space and a structured residency programme designed to provide each resident with a sustainable model of best practice going forward.

What, in your opinion, is the role of a contemporary designer?

Question. Challenge. Resolve. Then question it all over again. For me, any contemporary creative practitioner has a responsibility to understand the past, work with the present and find a way to better that approach for the future. I think that this responsibility also extends to continuing to emphasis and evidence the value that creative practice has for our society and the benefits it can provide to our economy and social agenda.

What do you like the most about your work?

What I like most about my work is that in all of my projects I get to collaborate with and showcase all of the amazing creative talent that Glasgow, Scotland and beyond, has to offer! Whether it’s working in architecture and planning through Pidgin Perfect or with contemporary creative arts practice through MANY or The Telfer Gallery I get to challenge myself everyday, work in interesting new ways and experiment with and learn from the world and others around me.

Who are your favourite artists and designers at the moment?

One of my favourite artists at the moment is print-maker, Abigale Neate-Wilson. I have had the pleasure of mentoring Abi for about a year on the 2013/2014 MANY Studios Graduate Residency Programme, she is definitely a strong emerging talent in Glasgow and I am really keen to continue to work with her as her practice, and her career, develops. I’m also really enjoying the work of Charlie Godet-Thomas who I came across on a trip to the Bristol Art Weekender in May with The Telfer Gallery. I was really taken by his work and he is definitely someone I want to bring to Glasgow in the near future. In terms of designers, Gabriella Marcella DiTano is someone I will always grasp any opportunity to work with, for me, her practice is incredibly captivating and easily engages a really wide audience which has made her a valuable collaborator on many of the Pidgin Perfect projects that I have managed.

You lived in New York for a while, has this experience influenced your work in any way?

I lived in New York between 2008-2010 where I was working for ’starchitect’ Daniel Libeskind. It was working for Studio Daniel Libeskind, a global architecture brand, that made me realise that I wanted to take a different path and use my career as an opportunity to explore different, more people focused, ways of working with the built environment through projects such as Pidgin Perfect. Living in New York was also a life changing personal experience for me, I met so many incredible people who introduced me to worlds I’d never known before and I became very involved in the art and design scene in Brooklyn. I had the engage with innovators in the forefront of their field and a chance to use my training as an architect to assist and collaborate with some amazing innovate visual artists, experiences which have certainly influenced my thinking and aspirations since returning to Glasgow.

What are your favourite places in Glasgow and why? 

There is a long list of places in Glasgow that are special to me for a whole number of different reasons. I grew up in Glasgow so there are so many places that I associate to positive experiences in my childhood, like when I used to go to the Barras Market at the weekend with my Granny or explore the Kelvingrove Art Gallery for hours on end at the weekends. For art, I never miss a chance to stop by Tramway in the Southside, for me it’s the best art space in Scotland and it’s programme is simply world class, I can’t wait for Tramway to host the 2015 Turner Prize. If I want to grab a quiet pint then I enjoy visiting The Belle in the West End and the world renowned Art School venue is always good for a dance. The great thing about living in Glasgow is that I am always adding new places to that list!

How has the city changed in recent years? 

The imminent arrival of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games has certainly placed a lot of pressure on the city and has affected the people of Glasgow in both good and bad ways. However, the Games have brought opportunities for emerging creative practitioners and small creative businesses to access a platform to promote their services and skills through the various cultural programmes and initiatives supported by the Games. There has also been a real push to create a genuine ‘legacy’ from the Games and we’re starting to see evidence of what shape that legacy will take with the opportunities that have been provided to set up new creative businesses and neighbourhoods in the east end of the city.

What makes Glasgow so creative and inspiring?

Glasgow is full of creative and ambitious people who are doing things differently and making a difference, that’s what makes Glasgow so inspiring to me.

Thanks to Laboratorio Espresso

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