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

Friday, 20 May 2011

A Mother, A Gardener, An Archaeologist and a Landscape Architect

My day today began with Gillian who a year ago began a mothers and toddlers group at the Riverside Halls. Gillian is one of those amazing people in the world who exudes positivity and ‘can do’. She told me about the great sense of community she experiences in Govan (Gillian lives across Govan Road from Riverside) – she told me about her teenage daughter who is a very keen artist and about the very active youth club at Riverside….her husband works in the shipyard (as her father did all his life) – Gillian and I hatched plans about how the Mothers and Toddlers could be involved in a community picnic to celebrate the opening of the new Museum. 

Community BBQ organised as part of 'Oatlands Needs Pakora' - Glasgow 1999
Gillian tells me that local people are very excited about the Museum and can’t wait to see it. We discuss ways that the youth club could play a part in the projects we are planning – Gillian suggests that the young people would like to be involved in helping the speakers present their talks and maybe could help me interview local people about their recollections of the area…this could feed into something graphic to go with the picnic event? I will return another week to talk to more mothers in the group.

When you see images like this one from 1930s, it is not hard to see why there is a deep folk memory of the River Clyde as something dark and dirty. This shows the river being used entirely as an industrial space.
Betty's garden photographed last week

On my way back to the subway I see that a lady is working in the tiny garden that I first noticed a week ago – I meet Betty the Gardener. We talk about the land around the houses and I learn that people are not allowed to put their washing outside (Betty complains that she is too old to climb the stair to the communal drying room). She tells me that no one disturbs her garden – but that she would love a little more privacy around her house.

Betty and her garden
In contrast to the scheme that Gillian lives in Betty says there is very little sense of community in Riverside – because of he lack of private space around her house she says that she feels ‘like a prisoner’……she talks about ‘them’ in the Halls and says she’ll not go there…but she promises to come to a talk about the history of the area.

Traditional Glasgow road surface of whinstone cobbles - showing wear and different jointing materials

Steve Driscoll is a professor of Archaeology at Glasgow University – he has been interested in Govan for many years and has co-written the recent book “Historic Govan” and carried out many of the archaeological digs in the area (including trying to locate Doomster Hill). I met Steve six years ago on a previous project and knew that he was not just an expert in ancient Govan but also had an active interest in the future of the burgh – he showed me proposed development plans for Water Row and the Old Parish church and spoke passionately about plans to make the Govan Stones part of the ‘visitor offer’ associated with the new Museum.

Hogback stone in Govan burial ground (before removal inside the church)
Steve thinks there is great potential for interpreting the burial ground at the church and told me of the way the different styles of gravestone tell a fascinating story about changing attitudes to ancestral land from families who appropriated the Norse Hogback stones as ancient family Lairs to the 17/18th Century skilled workers who adopted an Enlightenment ‘rational’ stance to burial –reflected in the iconography of their memorials. Steve gave me a detailed version of the history and use of Doomster Hill and showed me how he had altered his estimation of its position since we met last. Steve kindly agreed to be make a presentation about ancient Govan to local people at the Riverside Halls.

Natural landscape 'design' caused by weeds growing unchecked between paving stones - Govan
Pete Miller is a Landscape Architect who works for Glasgow City Council and worked on the recently completed works along the Clyde and adjacent to Riverside. Pete is also very knowledgeable about the history of Govan and loves the river. He explained how they had attempted to simplify the layout along Clyde and ‘give the river back to the people in the scheme’. Pete is very enthusiastic about walking along the river and showed me maps with proposed works to join up the lengths of walkway that currently end in dead ends.

Riverside dead end- Canting Basin, Govan
Riverside dead end - Graving Docks, Govan

We talked about shapes and markers for temporary routes that will allow people to continue river walks – Pete is keen on marking Doomster Hill and offered me useful guidance about recycling the whinstone cobbles on the site. Pete would like to come and be part of any seminar event at the Riverside Halls, gave me some amazing archive photos and offered to help with advice on landscaping when the time is right.

Top of the Ferry Slipway - Water Row....note how long the slipway is - Ethel-May Abel says this entire structure is still buried under the current temporary carpark

A good day in Govan.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so intrigued by the hogback stones. Thanks for an eclectic, curiousity-invoking post Matt!