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

Wednesday, 29 February 2012


Those who follow this blog will know that I have very definite views about public art practice...two of the most passionately held are: that the intention of the work must be directed at having an effect within the place it is made ....and secondly - that I consider physical artworks to be part of the process of the work (ie no less or more important than any other part of a process of interacting with a place).
At the moment I am working as part of team in Govan on several  fronts eg the Glorious Govan facebook page building up to the Govan contribution to the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art and working with archaeologists Northlight and Tim Clarkson
I'm also working on a series of sculptural pieces for Govan Riverside - there are four different sculpture projects on the go...this post is about one of them. - Waymarkers

Waymarkers began from two starting points - the discovery of a pile of Dock-kerbs that had been removed in the creation of the new Riverside Museum (directly across the water from Govan)

Pile of salvaged granite  dock-kerbs (May 2011) - these are a standard sized granite unit that was hand carved in quarries all over the UK (from Cornwall to Aberdeen) - they are to be found in pretty much every major  harbour dating from the Victorian age
The second starting point was the view across the Clyde from the new Riverside Museum and the realisation that people may well cross the river to explore the Southside of the river having seen some of old Shipyard infrastructure and new additions like the Science Centre and Millenium Tower.....this idea stems from my initial impulse with this project that it would centre on the way that Govan might begin to see itself differently as reflected in the gaze from the new tourist attraction of the Riverside museum.

I proposed to the Glasgow Housing Association and Glasgow City Council a project that would recycle some of the dock-kerbs and use them as 'waymarkers' to guide people along the waterfront at Govan Riverside and through the Housing to join the main route along the river on the Southside

Layout of seven Waymarkers
The inspiration behind the form of the Waymarkers came from a chance conversation with my good pal Archie McConnell who runs the sawmill at Penpont. Archie told me that, for years, he has been supplying large oak wedges to the shipyards at Govan.

The wooden wedges are used throughout the traditional shipbuilding process - including holding the ship steady on the slipway before launching - known as 'daggers'
When you look across the river at Govan the outline of the former slipways of the Harland and Wolff shipyard are plainly visible:

Aerial view of Harland and Wolff yard in the 1930s - note characteristic profile of the river edge and compare to contemporary view above
My idea was to cut the recycled dock-kerbs into wedge shape and then place these relative to the orientation of the former slipways:

Today I visited my good friends at the wonderful Galloway Granite who are sawing the dock-kerbs for me. I am just delighted with the results:

The contrast between the polished cut and the aged edges works really well and if you look closely you can see several holes and buried steel pins that have been exposed by sawing through the stone
I made plywood mock-ups of several sizes of chain to see which would be the rights scale with the granite wedges - this is the one I picked
This is a photo from a recent visit to a chain stockholder - this chain is approx HALF the size of the plywood mock-up in the photo above
For the last months I have been engaged in research into Govan (assisted by Ingrid Shearer from Northlight) One of the aims of this research has been to uncover material to inscribe into the Waymarkers. I have been looking at imagery from all the eras of Govan's past and also looking for language connected to the area - particularly the language of protest eg Rent Strikes, Shipyard closures, Unemployment, road protests and Spanish Civil War.

There are seven of  designs I am working on for the top surfaces of the Waymarkers - is a sneak preview of one:

The (short) back face of the wedges will carry the newly chosen name of the Govan Riverside Walkway - as chosen by the local residents (hopefully the result of the vote can be revealed tomorrow)

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