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

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Govan Riverside - from the outside

This is something I have never done before and I am feeling more exposed than usual as a result. I had a very exciting and interesting talk this morning with Andrew Henderson of Glasgow Housing Association and their 'Resident Artist' Peter McCaughey (the lead artist for commissions with GHA of which Govan Riverside is one). Peter is a very experienced and skilled public artist, one of his private aims in his work is to further understanding and recognition of public art practice....Peter was very complimentary about the way I write about my own practice and asked if I would keep a form of journal of my work with Govan Riverside. This is the first (and very possibly last!) entry....

There is a very precise moment when I enter a project - it is when I talk to the first person who is personally connected with the place I am working....at that point I become 'known' and from then on, my relationship to my outsider status becomes fluid. Until that moment I am looking in from the outside - it is a very useful experience and I return to these observations regularly.

What follows are some outside observations from today...anyone reading this from Govan please, please note that nothing here is a criticism - it is just me looking from the outside and knowing nothing of the reality that lies within. Today has whetted my appetite to find out more and I cannot wait to step across the threshold now

Walking down Water Row to the River

These are part of the remains of the former ferry crossing gear

Dredging the river for the foundations for the pontoon that will be part of the new ferry crossing

The new 'Riverside Museum' designed by architect Zaha Hadid that is being built directly opposite Govan Riverside on the North bank of the Clyde


Following the path along the river you arrive at the edge of the group of houses that makes up Govan Riverside
I am very bad at reading graffiti tags - but usually anything with a YT is related to a gang. There is very little graffiti amongst the houses themselves...just a bit at the edges of the estate
One of the houses facing the river - the materials are the same throughout the estate, but most of the houses are part of bigger blocks. The brick cross motif is one of the only bits of decoration built into the housing estate

My first impression of the place is that this feels like a settled and proud community - it feels like a place that people really live in (as opposed to passing through) - but I am struck by how little is visible no one has any ornament or 'front garden' outside their houses. The outside spaces are well looked after and clean - but seem strangely empty and quiet. I am used to wandering around in very small villages - but I am unsure about how welcome I feel here. This feeling takes on a significance after conversations with Andrew and Peter about how there is likely to be an influx of tourists coming here to take photographs of the new museum from across the river.

The brick surface of the river bank - there are contrasting materials here - some old and some new (as above) a possible reason for this becomes clear when I cross the river...see below
I start to notice how much interesting decoration is in peoples windows - this appears to me to like the equivalent of what might otherwise be placed in a front garden or on a front step. There is a fascinating array of different styles and interests, but all beautifully presented


This ingenious Doocot (pigeon coop) is behind a high-walled garden
There are several of these strange cobble-edged spaces between the houses
Reaching the edges of the housing estate again I notice that suddenly there is much more noise and activity - I am standing outside the Riverside Hall. I've been told about this place and how utterly central it is to life here. I feel very intrusive again and hurry past...but try to take in as much as I can of the atmosphere...this looks a brilliant place. When I pass again later there is a children's workshop happening in the street and football practice taking place on the the basketball court. There are obviously seriously committed and brilliant people running this place - I suddenly feel utterly useless and a total fraud - I hope they will be patient with my madness.

The Riverside Hall (photo from the web - I did not want to take photographs until I had met with people here)
A graffiti mural beside the Riverside Hall
Moving past the Riverside Hall I headed for the area of wasteland alongside the housing estate....this was a place that I had known well in the late 1990's - the deserted Graving (Dry) Docks.

I've always loved the feeling of being in wilderness in the city
A fireplace by the Clyde overlooking the new museum - I wonder if Zaha Hadid has been here....
View from the Graving Docks - Govan Riverside to the left
A clever solution to swinging around from a doorway to the ladder on the wall
I made my way across the river to try and see what the view of Govan Riverside would be like from the Museum
Backs of advertising hoardings on the Expressway
Granite kerbs from the old docks - I have used these once before in a previous artwork


This last panorama is a s close as I got to the museum. The view of Govan Riverside is really striking as being a definite group of houses that stand out as different in style to what is around them - this gives them a sense of belonging somehow. The rivers edge is very dominant in the view too - now the difference in materials that I had seen close-up on the other side makes a bit more sense....it looks as if the spaces between old dockside structures have been filled in to create the land that the houses are built on. I need to look into the story of the the changing use of the land....also the shape and rhythm of the river edge looks like something that would be useful to work with.

All this focus on 'looking', 'views', 'visibility' is bringing to mind the giant earthwork known as Doomster Hill that used to sit beside the site of Govan Riverside. Current archaeological thinking is such that earthworks like this were used for by people with power to 'be visible' as the places where justice etc was carried out. Doomster Hill was the seat of the kings of Strathclyde in the Dark Ages (7-8 centuries AD) after the Vikings drove them from their previous seat at Dumbarton. I must go and look up Professor Stephen Driscoll who did has excavated around Doomster Hill.

In the meantime it is definitely time to meet some people from Govan Riverside...time to find a new view

next blog in this series

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