Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Land Grab

I'm half way through Writing Urban Space, a Zero Books publication edited by Liam Murray Bell & Gavin Goodwin, which, as the cover-all tagline states is an exploration of "the relationship between imaginative writing and the built environment". It's a compilation of short, digestible chunks of essay texts, that meanders gently through the subject matter, until I got to Can Writing Shape Place? by Sarah Butler, writer and director of UrbanWords - a consultancy setup "to explore how writing and writers might intersect with the process of regeneration". Oh dear.

Whilst Butler tries to allay my fears around the use of terms like consultancy and regeneration, I'm not convinced. It all feels like a physical and metaphysical "land grab". The property developer/ council/ regeneration agents has the monopoly on the physical land and it's planned architectural development with artists/ writers subcontracted (through a consultancy agency) to lay claim to the more ephemeral spaces that occupy the soon-to-be-developed site. In the case of this short essay, Butler's projects are "participatory, community-based projects, which look to explore, unpick and articulate communities' relationships to their environment." Oh my.

I'm perhaps coming down too hard on this idea of a consultancy/ agent working with communities to help articulate their sense of a place/ space through writing or any other creative forms, as this is something artists are often parachuted in to do. However, it is the motivations of those retaining the consultancy's services that I question and their ability to "harvest" the creative outputs of a community for their own gains. The allusion of "control" extended to those within a community in such a situation, again, unsettles me greatly - "We're knocking down your town centre, but as you've indicated you'd "have a café with huge sofas and bottomless coffee pots..." therefore we'll lease the new prefab to Starbucks". Butler certainly wants to challenge the artists being "'used' as a tool"in these circumstances but the examples given in this very short text completely undermines the conclusion that the artists' role is anymore than that of 'tool' (both as instrument and person).

Despite appearances to the contrary this entry is not a 'cheap shot', as Butler's essay has raised a lot of interesting considerations when dealing with place/ space. Specifically around the term 'ownership' (and similar terms like authorship, control, etc.) and the simultaneously empowering and powerless act of reigning over conceptual place. Perhaps we can define these places/ spaces as 'property', aligning the terminology more closely with terms used in Andrea Phillip's essay Art and Housing: The Private Connection (in ArtSocial Housing-Housing the Social: Art, Property and Spatial Justice, 2012). This allows us to draw out the sense of ownership or implied ownership aspired to by unsuspecting Community D who sees Artist C descend on them with creative writing groups, drawing sessions and all other manner of conceptually camouflaged psychoanalysis employed as a control and feedback mechanism for Consultancy B under the employ/ instruction of Property Developer A - I imply a linear hierarchy starting at A moving through to D in order to highlight possible power structures inherent in such relationships.

My thoughts have dried up, so until I've mulled over it a little more I'll end this post here.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

A Dander with Demarco

When trying to find your bearings and get a sense of architectural place, what better way to do so than with a guide? In the case of the below video from 1970, Richard Demarco takes us on a dizzying tour of the City of Edinburgh from the west end to, rather befittingly, Calton Hill. "Look at this."; "Come look at this."; "Look at that." His love for the stone city is offset against a distaste for, (rather ironically), the contemporary, specifically, the inability of the New Towns to illicit the same sense of identity with place as one achieves when living in historical porridge. I'm going to take a punt and suggest whilst external appearances of tenements in Edinburgh in 1970 evoked all the romantic notions of living in history, conditions within, would have been less than palatable. Just like Glasgow, Edinburgh had slum clearances too, with the latter only being on a comparatively smaller scale due to population, but both building new social housing to cope with the decanting away from the centre. Alas the marching drum of gentrification sounds in Demarco's Walkabout as he surveys the monument of Edinburgh's architectural triumphalism.

WALKABOUT EDINBURGH (link to NLS Scottish Screen Archive)

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Finding Place

First, a little background.

For of my proposal to Collective for the Critical Discourse Internship I appropriated the term 'non-place' from French anthropologist Marc Augé's book Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity as a way of describing the notion of being 'in-transit' from one 'place' to another. In Collective's case this was a reflection on their planned moved from their Cockburn Street gallery to the City Observatory on Calton Hill. I was drawn to the Augé's writing during my MFA when exploring the temporality of the Modern Movement (in physical architectural terms) and anthropological place expanded out on and indeed became an articulation of architecture's ability to service as a tangible gesture of a particular political/ social ideology. At the time of writing it seemed the most direct means of putting across this train of thought.

The places [anthropological place] have at least three characteristics in common. They want to be – people want them to be – places of identity, of relations and of history. (Augé, 1995, 51)

As anthropological place on the one hand feels very defined it also offers an armchair-anthropologist-come-artist like myself a level of ambiguity, allowing for appropriation. In an act of validation or qualification anthropological place can be regarded as being anchored by architecture. Physical structure can be employed as metaphor/ monument/ icon of the aforementioned identity, relations and history. It was the monument's of Cockburn Street (in relation to Collectives' identity, relations and history) and Calton Hill (in relation to Collectives' aspirational identity, relations and history) that led to the appropriation of place and non-place in describing my interests. The use of non-place was employed as a means of stripping identity, relations and history from those taking part in NWSP and specifically referring to Collective (as the name given/ appropriated as anthropological place) being in-transit not just between two physical and geographical locations but also metaphysically in-transit. This, on reflection, seems somewhat naive interpretation of Augé's work and requires some more research and scrunity.

It might therefore be more apt to consider this period of research during my internship as one of finding place anchored by Calton Hill as a monument to this new place - as yet to be defined. The focus may not be one of a found place, but the accumulation of thought and physical material (notes etc.) in finding this [undefined] place. The ongoing act of finding may in fact become the 'output'. 

I'll update as the search continues.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Another Lecture, 2011

A little interlude, looking back over old posts from 2011, I found one referring to Nathan Coley's show at ACCA which had yet to open, and specifically referred to this piece of work, so here it is:

Architectural semantics. Funny.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013


A year is a long time but when revisiting this blog it feels like a fleeting moment since the last update in August 2011. There's a lot of ground to cover between then and now, there and here, and no doubt forthcoming reflections will assist in filling in the gaps in time. Suffice to say, most of that time was spent as a Committee Member at the artist-run space Generator Projects in Dundee until this month, when a move to Edinburgh and position as the Critical Discourse Itern at Collective prompted the need to re-inhabit a space for my own reflections on practice. 

Blogging always (rightly or wrongly) felt like an 'output', somewhere I could unload to an inattentive audience half-baked thoughts and ideas. Perhaps a hangover from an academic necessity for quantifiable thought (and what most likely influenced a sense of 'output' whenever I blogged) I still maintain a value in the act of consciously working through my thoughts in 'print'. This however, is not a blog about blogging, just a starting point with some context.

New Work Scotland Programme

So that's why I am here, in Collective, in Edinburgh. A six month Critical Discourse Internship examining transition and place. Having applied early 2012 the initial proposal, or proposals, seems distant. To get everyone up to speed (and for the purposes of the aforementioned self-reflection) here's what I proposed:
Collective ‘Non-place’

Place is completed through the word, through the allusive exchange of a few passwords between speakers who are conniving in private complicity. (Augé, 1995, 77)
Consider for a moment, that as Collective moves from Cockburn Street to the City Observatory, the notion of the organisation, as defined by place, becomes ‘in-transit’ not just physically but metaphysically. The constituents of this non-place - somewhere between a gallery and a conversation - are without context and are thus free to re-establish place as they see !t. It is through the New Work Scotland Programme that the convergence of individual practices come together with the commonality of this one goal.

The physical structure of Collective (i.e. Cockburn Street) can be considered monument to the values which underpin the organisation and wider satellite communities. The deconstruction of this complex system through discussion and debate will allow the NWSP participants, as architects of the ‘new place’, to comprehend and understand their relationship towards it. Whilst, at first glance, object may be produced by Practitioners, and space produced by Curator, the interdependence of these relationships with place must be considered as more than simply an inconsequential by product of the NWSP. 
I frame my proposed involvement with the NWSP in a role that uses the physical assets of the organisation, the two buildings it is moving between, to polarise the discussion around the more transient social assets - arguably the former being the more ‘valuable’ (a term which also needs scrutiny) in the establishment of place. In essence, I wish to capture and evaluate this ‘new place’, sculpted by the participants and Collective, in the hope that it is defined by more than simply a move from one geographical location to another.

Augé, M., 1995. Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. Translated from French by John Howe. London: Verso. 
I often revisit and reread things I have written (my literary track-record makes this exercise a fairly easy task to do - repeatedly) and the above has been the foundation of an undeveloped notion that I have carried with me until starting at Collective. Now, rereading, feels like a starting point for this development. A decision to detach from one organisation and ground myself in another should allow me to focus my attention on what now seems a naive and overreaching proposal.

I'll go into more detail (about most things), but had to get this post up as a starting point.

There, started.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011



Rosebay willow herb is a ruin-loving plant, the weed of decayed modernity. [...] It is known too as fireweed; the plant is a marker of disruption and decay, and grows on charred ground after forest fires have destroyed all other vegetation. So attuned is it to such sites that if it does not appear in the wake of a fire it is sometimes sown as to start the process of organic regeneration - it is a plant of hope as much as ruination. At the seminary, it seems to stand sentinel in rows about the buildings, as if gaily awaiting some ritual or celebration by which the complex might be brought back to life.
Dillon, 2011

I thought I would start with the beautiful words of Brian Dillon from his new fiction, Sanctuary. I finished reading the book on the train back from the NVA's book launch of To Have and To Hold at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Both books take inspiration from, what many would argue is Gillespie, Kidd & Coia's greatest achievement, St. Peter's Seminary, in Cardross. What differentiates the books is Dillon's is one of fiction, as with the quote, only referring to the "the seminary", but without a doubt, St. Peter's is source of the fantastically rich and descriptions language of a ruined seminary on the outskirts of a large city (i.e. Glasgow).

The story, although a little close to home, describes the girlfriend of an artist/ filmmaker/ general eclectic sort on a search for her lover who has disappeared amongst the ruins of "the seminary". For the record, my work focuses on St. Bride's, and I'm single, so it is definitely not biographical. Joking, and general story aside, Dillon paints an overwhelming description of the artists fascination with the seminary. For me, this work of fiction is, in relation to the descriptions of the seminary, a work of non-fiction, and punctuates this "fascination" certain demographics have with architecture from the Modern Movement. Another quote from Dillon succinctly explains the draw such structures have:-

He found his way inside the main block because this was the space, in the countless photographs taken by previous visitors and architecture enthusiasts, that had first convinced him there was something to be explored, some story or image that was not yet exhausted by the bare facts of the seminary's history and the aesthetic banality of its present ruination. The place, he told her, was too good to be true: it was a modern cliché on a monumental scale, and in its very obvious romanticism there must be some remainder, a quality that was still invisible to those who had been there before him.

Where I diverge from our missing protagonist, is this quality he seeks that has not been found by those who have visited before. I feel my practice, began in a very similar fashion, finding out about St. Peter's through photographs on websites such as the Hidden Glasgow Forums, but as my practice developed and focus turned towards the non-ruined St. Bride's, I began to question my own perceptions of these structures. Drawing on a wide range of sources, beyond simply site visits, perhaps removed some of the romance from the research, and introduced a pragmatism to my practice which prevented me from getting easily swept away.

The New RC Pavilion, is a physical manifestation of my own rationalisation of the forms which constitute the very particular branch of Gillespie, Kidd & Coia's Modernism. There is romance within the sculpture, floating above your head, with a handling of materials that is contradictory to the dogmas of the Modern Movement. I'm detached yet completely involved with the subject matter, with the empty space below the pavilion a platform for the open-ended discussion that has taken place throughout my Masters.

I'm content in the knowledge that it may say everything or nothing about our relationship with these icons of a nostalgia that is both complete fiction and non-fiction.

Nothing exists anymore but everything is like before, more true than natural, disengaged of every fragilities and imperfections that time put in stone and plaster.

Monday, 8 August 2011


The Monument of Ruin

Things are drawing to a close, and in a period of rapid change in my work, I have neglected my blog. The Master's Show is two weeks out, and I'm almost complete one work, The New RC Pavilion, and contemplating the fate of what I've come to refer to as the "3D work". Instead of a blow by blow account of what I have been up to, I'll try and inject the thought processes as they've developed with the work.

The New RC Pavilion

IMG_2895 copy

The centrepiece and the physical manifestation of my Masters work, which I frame under the dramatic title of The Monument of Ruin, or TMOR (due to my enjoyment of industrial sounding abbreviations).

From the early stages of my Masters I identified that the work with St. Bride's, went beyond the digital, and a 3D model (projected or otherwise). The modelling afforded me, similar to undergraduate, an intimate understanding of the structure, but the "mythology" surrounding Gillespie, Kidd & Coia, had to be articulated in a physical object. The notion of a "pavilion", a Modernist Soap Box from which to deal with issues of the context, and ironies of the Movement as it is perceived today. Miles Glendining in his book, Architecture's Evil Empire - the triumph and tragedy of global modernism, succinctly gives reason for the prominence of Gillespie, Kidd & Coia's work in an age of what he refers to as "New Modernism":-

In places that were short of 'heroic' old modern egos, reputations could be posthumously manufactured. In Scotland, for example, where the 1950s and '60s had been dominated by the worth establishment of Sir Basil Spence and Sir Robert Matthew, New Modernist propagandists in the 1990s and 2000s constructed a myth of heroic genius around a local firm of postwar church designers, Gillespie, Kidd & Coia...

My opinion of Gillespie, Kidd & Coia has come full circle, initially displaying frustration towards the lack of dogma behind their work, then accepting it as part of the visual vocabulary of the Modern Movement, and again, feeling a slight aversion towards what I refer to as The Mac (Mackintosh School of Architecture) triumphalist touting of the firm. These are honest words from someone who has based his Masters on the firm, but I've now come to a point where I accept the "myth" of Gillespie, Kidd & Coia as part of their present day cultural value. Although no doubt Miles would disagree, there is a romance behind places like St. Peter's Seminary, and artists are drawn towards these visual queues that are, sometimes, loaded with fictitious ideologies.

Gillespie, Kidd & Coia, for me, represent a "high-art Modernism" as their brutish and striking buildings are endowed with histories that go to the core of our relationship with the Modern Movement. Similar to Sir Basil Spence's Queen Elizabeth Square, a poster boy for the Modernist high-rise in Scotland, with its demolition in 1993, it became a monument to this shift in opinion towards anti-Modernist rhetoric. So one could argue, that St. Peter's, like Queen Elizabeth Square, has become, as Miles suggests (with regards to GK&C's churches), a poster boy for a romanticised "Heroic Modernism" in Scotland.

The NVA are essentially attempting to re-asscribe cultural value to St. Peter's, and this notion, along with other dichotomous narratives which play out in GK&C's practice, are given centre stage on The New RC Pavilion.


I think I'm going to stop for the moment, as I've chewed through some momentous thought. I'll attempt to update later this week, going into a little more detail about plans for the Masters Show.