Ailie Rutherford on the future of Govanhill Baths: ‘It’s a centre for activism’
Govanhill Baths Future Archive Exhibition Glasgow

Edwardian swimming pool turned arts venue Govanhill Baths boasts a colourful history – and future, according to artist in residence Ailie Rutherford.

The community baths were closed by the council in 2001 – but activists weren’t ready to hang up their swimsuits yet, and occupied the building for 140 days in the hope of saving it for years to come.

The original campaign may not have succeeded but today, the space is used as an arts and community hub, hosting everything from film screenings to theatre, upcycling fashion shows and even food pop-ups – all geared towards funding the restoration of the baths as a community-owned swimming pool.

The Future Archive exhibition is a look forward to what Govanhill Baths could mean to residents of the close-knit community in years to come – and visual artist Ailie explains what the Baths mean to her after a year on the tiles.

Govanhill Baths Future Archive Exhibition Glasgow
[Photography by Adele McVay]

Tell us more about your project for Govanhill Baths – why now?

I’ve been here since August last year, coinciding with the Baths centenary. My residency is all about looking to the next 100 years, initiating discussions with local groups and considering what kind of things could happen in Govanhill. A lot of the conversations threw up similar topics – about new technologies altering the way we live, and about resource consumption.

And how do those conversations translate into visual art?

The discussions have helped form the Future Archive – a series of items and objects dated over various points in the future. One of the things I’m creating is a talking soap, made during soap workshops that take place here at the Baths, and fashioned like the old pink carbolic soap.

The idea is that as we reach a point where our resource consumption gets too high, hot water will be regulated, so we’ll no longer have hot showers or baths in our own flats and the Baths might come back into use as a washhouse. It’s a digital soap, which talks in over 100 languages – at the moment, there are 52 languages spoken in Govanhill – and it plays a recorded message saying ‘you have used your water allowance for today, please exit the shower’.

There are also virtual reality swimsuits, and more on the possibility of energy-generating swimsuits to keep the pool going using people power.

How do you go about using art to show events that haven’t happened?

I’ve been working closely with archivist Paula Larkin throughout to see how she catalogues and dates items. The idea is that it should be embedded within her archive collection, so you’re not coming to see an exhibition of my work, it’s more subtle than that. You’ll have to look for pieces which relate to the future, even newspaper articles. There’s also the idea of the People’s Bank of Govanhill. I’ve screenprinted notes for an exchange booth on opening night, and the rate is 100th of your weekly income – the idea being the less you earn, the less you pay.

What do the Baths mean to you after a year in residence?

Govanhill Baths is such a fantastic place – there’s so much going on, and the drive for it to become a swimming pool again is just one aspect. I can’t believe the amount of community activists I’ve met and the Baths is a hub for that. I wanted to reflect what it is – a centre for activism, as well as for the arts – and how that might continue to manifest itself in the future.

The Future Archive launch takes place Thursday 19 March, 5.30-7.30pm –  featuring the People’s Bank of Govanhill currency exchange. The exhibition runs Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm, until 24 April.

Main image: Adele McVay

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