Research Topics and Speculation about Art and Public Space by Scottish artist Matt Baker

Monday, 29 November 2010

Turning Myself in Knots

My efforts at picking my way through the minefield of ‘what is public art?’ (and the continuing debates elsewhere) have been causing me major angst in reflecting on what I am doing at the moment – I guess like many other folk I do try to cultivate a public face – the way I would like the world to see me.
I’ve been really enjoying working on the project for Stranraer – but I have had my doubts about how well it fitted into my ideal for how I would like to carry out my practice. I am not sure whether this is ‘art’ at all....but it feels good to put any skills, that I may have learnt, to the service of a very worthwhile endeavour.
From the very outset it was clear that there would be little or no time for in-depth research and meaningful working with local people. The architect's design for the space was complete and costed - ready to start on site. I was shown 3 possible places within the design which I could effect (in a purely physical way).
As I state elsewhere I was drawn to the project because of my family’s intimate connection with Stranraer and I guess that I was intrigued by the challenge of working within such a limited brief….the way that artists are ‘supposed’ to work in public?
What has been has been the privilege of working on this building site – pretty much everyone involved is local to Stranraer – yet usually they work away unseen on farm buildings, bridges or sea defences etc. In Castle Square there is almost a carnival atmosphere as passersby recognise folk on the site and everyone working there is committed to showing what they can do ‘for their town’.
The excellent architects are from Edinburgh and they have been completely overwhelmed by the standard of craftsmanship that is being produced on the site from start to finish.
So heres to you Dave Mc, Johnny B, Davie T, Rod Mc, Scooby, Gus, Colin, Alistair and all the rest of the crew.
This was the scene one day in the site dinner room – for anyone unfamiliar with Scottish culture, the orange liquid in the bottles is Irn Bru (google it…)

Early excavation works – compare to ‘before’

 The model I made for one of my interventions on site – this retaining wall was always to be made of the local whinstone (or properly –Greywacke). I am fascinated by this rock as it started life as the seabed of the ocean that used to separate Scotland and England when they were originally different land masses (Paleozoic era 400 million years ago). When the two land masses were pushed together the seabed was pushed up out of the water and turned into the hard grey rock that forms the Southern uplands of Scotland – Stranraer is at one end of the Southern Uplands and Berwickshire the other.
The idea of the wall is that it changes in feel from ‘ocean’ at one end to ‘hill’ at the other and this is reflected in the form of the whinstone along its length – changing from its slate-like form to large boulders.
On a previous project (Cairnsmore landscape menu) I worked with  poet Mary Smith, Mary wrote a poem about the sea becoming the hills. She gave me permission to cut the poem into the top of the wall.

Whinstone boulders arriving on site – this was a literally gigantic exercise in ‘making it up as you go along’ – thanks to Scooby, Colin , Gus and Rod in particular for saving my bahookie with this one!

Rising ‘hill’ begins to take shape

The Slatey whinstone ‘ocean’ end – Davie Topping and his father knew a place where this form of whinstone was lying on the surface and collected a van load for me.

The end point of the watery end of the wall – large stainless steel chains will be fixed through the holes and then disappear into the ground.

The sandblasted lettering of Mary’s poem on site – I love how the bottom of the letters have the texture of sand on the shore. Thanks to Galloway Granite for their work on this.

The other place I am working with on site is the ‘Burn Feature’ and ‘Performance Space’.  The Stranaer town burn used to run through Castle Square, the architects decided to reflect this with a serpentine line of white granite running through the otherwise black paving. I was asked to make a design for the circular performance area at the centre of the square – a circle that was formed by the curving granite line.
 I fell very much in love with the rivers around Stranraer during my New Luce project, one of their characteristics was the way patches of bubbles formed around rock and other disturbances – this phenomenon inspired my idea for the performance area.

 Bubble pattern design

Current state of play on site – thanks to Burnhouse Engineering for the steelwork. The final stage is to pump the area full of coloured and textured concrete…..we wait for a break in the cold weather…

1 comment:

  1. Jeez but that looks good Matt - I am LOVING those bubbles, loving 'em!
    'til soon