Flowing Lines – the Santiago Pilgrimage

A few weeks ago, I found myself traveling to Santiago De Compostela, Galicia.  A journey along lines which hundreds of thousands of pilgrims before me will have made over the centuries.  For most an act of faith, along the Way of St James, leading them to the great cathedral overlooking Praza do Obradoiro.  Faced with limited time, my dilemma was, do I experience the ecclesiastical riches that this World Heritage Site has to offer or do I seek contemporary intersections between heritage, landscape and creativity.

Some cities reveal a creative pulse as you arrive on their outskirts, the first indications of life can often be tagging and stickers, as you travel further in you may encounter murals and other street art, which then blends and blurs with public art in the heart of the city.  In the short time I had spent in Santiago De Compostela there was already enough signs of playful creativity…

Dali's PeekEmbelishmentThus I found myself outside the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea (CGAC) before it opened, and to fill a few minutes began to explore a park adjacent to it.  I soon encountered a large piece by Basque Sculptor Eduardo Chillida, Porta da Música: it is said there is a peculiar sound when the wind blows against it !

Porta da MúsicaInevitably, I was drawn to the ruins of a building,

Wash House ?which appeared to be a wash house,

Flowingand then I began to weave and flow up hill.

Past another ruined building,

A Number of Ruinsthe floor of which the stone slabs had been inscribed with numerous numbers.

Numerous NumbersWhether these stones were an artistic intervention, interpretative device or integral to the work of Medieval numerologist was not revealed.

As I flowed further up, a succession of devices led the water down the hill,

Chain FlowFlowFlow 2Until I encountered a stone cut hole

possible water cistern, grotto,

entrance to an underworld.

GrottoSo having flowed to the source, I was led downhill by a different path,

autumn leaves nestled in dry flowing meanders.

LinesLeading to the remains of a contemporary stone circle, what ancient rites have taken place here?

Stone CircleBut despite the joy of finding traces of contemporary prehistory,

moth-like I was drawn towards the walls of white beyond, to be immersed in a cemetery.

CemeteryI was looking so hard at what I was meant to see, the emptied recesses, names and numbers variously inscribed, that I nearly missed the continued flow of lines, no longer in water but this time a flow of stone.

These tiny traces, I first spotted adjacent to the entrance, and could follow, in one

Stone Flow 1two

Stone Flow 2three

Stone Flow 3four compartments

Stone Flow 4Before they turned the corner.

Stone Flow 5The stone then flowed along the length of another four tombs.

Occasional traces of embellishment punctuated the flow.

Stone Flow DetailAnd round the corner they continued.

Stone Flow 6Meandering across another recess

Stone Flow 7and splashing to the other side.

Stone Flow 8Stone Flow 9And then they stopped… was there no more….it made no sense, why only on this side…

Eyes frantically danced across the compartments, and rested on a plume of feathers on the other side of the cemetery.

Feather DetailsStone Flow 10And there the line was…

And across the gap broken by steps,

Stone Flow 11a sherd of brown glass, marked another point of departure.

Meandering through another recess.

Stone Flow 12Shells caught in the flow of stone.

Stone Flow 13Round another corner it continued, then stone upon stone it flowed up the wall…

…beneath shiny marble progressed

Marble DetailsFurther embellishment of feathers…

Feather DetailAnd there, in the fourth compartment along the flow ceased….

Stone Flow 14

Why do stones flow through the cemetery?

There is intent.  There is an order of stones in the cemetery.

The stones are small, discretely positioned, but not hidden.  In the higher, longer runs of stone, they have been placed at the very front edge of the compartments.  Perhaps seeking to be spotted, yet precariously living on the edge. In contrast, the lower flows of stone which meander and splash across the gaps, hug the wall closely, nervous of being disturbed by passers.

The evident dislocation and obscuration of some stones by small plants, suggests they originally flowed some time earlier this year, it is clearly in a process of decay, but not totally ruinous.  The traces of feather embellishment have a regularity, which suggests further feathers may have been placed to create an overall pattern or design.

We can imagine how it may have looked when first completed, resplendent ! But even in its full glory, how many have noticed the flow of stone within the cemetery.

We can only speculate as to who may have produced this, perhaps furtively, with no one else aware of their repeated visits to the cemetery: an individual act, contemplative, obsessive, beautiful in intent ?

Or was this created collectively as part of an art work, a publicly made installation ?

Widely known, much celebrated in the city,

and very occasionally revealed to the

flowing pilgrim.

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I flowed through the Parque de San Domingos de Bonaval.  It was was the site of a 13th century convent, and after years of abandonment and neglect, was converted into a public space in 1995, about the process for which more details can be found here.
The core of the city is a World Heritage Site, Santiago de Compostela (Old Town),  characterised by a rich ecclesiastical architectural and continued cultural heritage traditions of pilgrimage. There is also further World Heritage Site designations of locations associated with the pilgrimage routes, comprising Route of Santiago De Compostela and Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.  
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Past Inspired Sculpture 5

– stand upon
this footprint made for everyone

The Stones of Scotland was created in 2000 to celebrate / commemorate the Scottish Parliament being re-established but also attempted to mark its spirit.

Stone CircleIt is a potent sculptural piece by artist George Wylie, which is redolent with Scotland’s past and full of hopes for its future.

Stone and steel rung around a solitary Scots pine: young and fragile in the urban realities of the modern era.

Thirty two stones were gathered into the circle, drawing on the geological diversity of the country.  Many show signs of quarrying, and working, seemingly in different states of finish, presencing the industry and craft which has contributed to the heritage and character of Scotland.

Old Red Sandstone

From East Ayrshire, a fossil pocked surface of old red sandstone, splits visible celebrating the quarrying, the mining, the sculptural versatility of a material.  Evoking tenements within which many generations of families have lived within.

Polished GraniteFrom Aberdeenshire, the polished granite, cool, smooth but hard won, reliable.

Hugh MacDiarmid

These fragments of Scotland’s regions, drawn together, like the words of verse, are bound by the lines from poet Hugh MacDiarmid: a celebration of our differences which we share.

Incantation

And also in the centre of the circle, is a stone with a foot print carved on it.  Evoking the sites and ceremonies of the early Historic period of Scotland.

The words before it  ‘…whose the tread that fits this mark?’

come from a poem ‘Incantation‘ by Tessa Ransford.

       *                                                    *                                                                 *

Ten years later from when the above photos were taken, I revisited the piece in the fading twilight of a winters day.

Most visibly marking the changes of the past ten years

was the solitary Scots pine

10 years laterTaller, fuller, I was pleased to see it had grown and matured since I last visited.

In another ten years, I will visit again.

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The foot print in stone can be paralleled most strikingly at Dunadd, in Kilmartin. The seat of the Dalriadic Scots, it is said the ceremony to crown their kings required the individual to place their bare foot on the rock: a real connection to land.  The depth of the footprint sculpture is a powerful device suggesting, with the slight wear on the rock this single act would have, to all those who took part a long time depth to the ceremony, and deep connection to the land.

For more examples of Past Inspired Sculptures:

Past Inspired Sculpture 1

Past Inspired Sculpture 2

Past Inspired Sculpture 3

Past Inspired Sculpture 4

Past Inspired Sculpture 4

WaterlinesWaterlines by Marian Leven & Will Maclean is located in the public space in front of the RIAS 2013 award winning The Sir Duncan Rice Library at the University of Aberdeen.

The shape of the piece, two monoliths of Kilkenny Blue Limestone, and form of incised lines evokes Pictish carvings. The piece also refers to the Aberdeen built sailing ship the Thermopylae, launched in 1868: apparently the fastest sailing ship ever constructed.

At the foot of the monoliths is an inscribed poem by Peter Davidson:

Poem - Peter Davidson

It clearly evokes the maritime heritage of Aberdeen but also refers to the standings stones which can still be found in the wider landscape referring to the ‘crow stone’ and ‘maiden stone’.

For more thoughts about this piece, from the artists Will Maclean and Marian Leven, please watch the video.  Well worth watching about Past Inspired Sculpture: markers in the landscape.

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Past Inspired Sculpture 1

Past Inspired Sculpture 2

Past Inspired Sculpture 3

For more info about Waterlines there is an interesting review by Georgina Coburn at Northings.

Spirit of Scotland – journey through the south west

Spirit of Scotland was the first stop on a recent journey through south west Scotland on which I explored some of its landscapes, heritage and art.Loudon HillSpirit of Scotland is a sculpture set at the foot of Loudon Hill, a granite volcanic plug, and striking feature in the landscape from some distance away.  Loudon Hill is located at the head of the Irvine Valley, a strategically and historically important location and route way for some millennia as evident by the close proximity of a Neolithic long cairn (c 5500 years ago) and a Roman Fort (c 2000 years ago).

Spirit of ScotlandSpirit of Scotland by artist Richard Price was erected in 2004, by the Irvine Valley Regeneration Partnership, and is located on a pathway which runs through the Irvine Valley.  The piece is of fabricated steel and stands over 5 metres tall.  It is located in close proximity to the Battle of Loudon Hill, involving Robert the Bruce in 1307, and the words and imagery on the sculpture refers to another important historical figure William Wallace who was said to have won another battle here in 1296 : for further details see Historic Scotland’s Inventory of Historic Battlefields.

The cut out human form can be used to frame different views of the hill and the wider landscape beyond but it was the words on the sculpture, comprising three short phrases of archaic tone, to which I was most drawn.

On the front of it, reads:

Thou saw’st the strong arm of a Wallace raised to stem the tide of alien tyranny

on its other side

The Knyght Fenwick that cruel was and keen he had at death of Wallace’s father been

and on its inner arch:

At Wallace nam what Scottish blood but boils up in a spring tide flood

Subsequent investigation suggests that two of the inscriptions appear to have literary origins: evoking a broader body of historical narrative and wider cultural associations.  The words from the side facing Loudon Hill (The Knyght Fenwick that cruel was and keen he had at death of Wallace’s father been) appear to derive from Blind Hary’s 15th century poem The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace (simply referred to as The Wallace) which was the basis for The History of the Life and Adventures, and Heroic Actions of The Renowned Sire William Wallace by William Hamilton in 1799 (see page 51).  While the words on the inner arch ‘ At Wallace nam what Scottish blood but boils up in a spring tide flood‘ come from The Bard in 1785 in an Epistle to William Simpson of Ochiltree: which can be listened to from the link.  I am not sure where the third phrase (Thou saw’st the strong arm of a Wallace raised to stem the tide of alien tyranny) derives from, whether it is a modern evocation by the artist, or whether it has another direct literary reference ?  If you have any ideas please let me know.

The first stop on my journey through south west Scotland, demonstrated the tangled nature of landscapes with events of the past, literary and cultural associations, and dreams and aspirations for the future,

perhaps then it is the Spirit of Scotland…

Objective: conversation on sculpture

Objective, A Citywide Conversation on Sculpture, is taking place in Glasgow with 16 venues across the city exhibiting sculpture, events and performances in March and April.

Having seen the map showing the locations of the venues, one lunchtime I had a quick conversation with sculpture.  First I visited the Patricia Fleming Projects Art in the Public Realm exhibition at South Block which detailed the development of two projects.

Patricia Flemining exhibitionI then dashed through the streets of Glasgow to the excellent Gallery of Modern Art  (GOMA).  As a bonus I stumbled across a piece of public art I had never spotted before (too many lunches in front of the computer !).  Built into the wall of a restored B-listed building (named The Subirachs Building) is a carved sandstone Bust:

‘The Client’s love of the City of Barcelona was expressed by the insertion of an inverse Bust in the Main facade sculpted by the Catalan artist Josep Maria Subirachs who is responsible for work on Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.’

Subirachs SculptureSlightly out of breath, I arrived at GOMA and passed the Statue of Wellington resplendently adorned with his usual modern hat !

GOMA wellingtonInside GOMA I had time for a brief exploration of the exhibition ‘Every Day’. It comprises sculptures from six Glasgow artists which explore familiar objects, juxtaposing, and reworking them in different media.  A glimpse of these is provided through Tim Steads wooden viewing room ‘The Peephole’.

Peephole views ObjectiveI will not reveal anymore, other than to say that there are some striking and thought provoking individual pieces, together which are well worth a journey to GOMA to explore further.  Further details of Objective can be found at the GOMA wordpress website or downloaded on pdf map.

And if you cant come to Glasgow,

go explore your city, your neighborhood, for sculpture and take part in the conversation….

Materials and Myths

The Minatour's Rock Glass

Lured from the blasted uplands, drawn by the faint green glow,

DSC_0786Industriously, trapped, caged in a landscape of stone and metal,

Narrowing perspectives, fleeting glimpses of forms,

Lost in the Maze

What kind of strange creatures, out of time, out of place,

wander within these mythical walls?

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The ‘Minotaur’ was produced in 2003, by the architect Nick Coombe and artist Shona Kitchen, and is part of the Art and Architecture to be found around the landscape of Kielder Water, Northumberland.  The piece comprises a maze like structure of gabion baskets filled with recycled rock glass (apparently back lit by fibre optics) and local whinstone.   More details of the Kielder Art and Architecture can be found at the website.  The wider landscape contains traces of industry, mineral lines and lime kilns, the historical activity of which perhaps jars with contemporary yearnings for wildness and solitude from our uplands.

Industrial TracesExploration of the maze also provided a rare, albeit brief, sighting of the urban prehistorian* outwith their natural habitat…!

*The insights of the urban prehistorian on the ‘Minotaur’ can be read in a simulblog.

Euro-Local-City Heritage

Stark contrasts, perhaps naively, surprised me in Brussels.

I anticipated encountering the instruments of European governance amongst the European Quarter of Brussels.  As such, I was not surprised to find myself wandering amongst the glistening buildings of the European parliament in Espace Léopold.  The main elements, the Paul-Henri Spaak building and the Altiero Spinelli building, were constructed in the 1990’s on the site of an old brewery and railway yard.

Already these public spaces have been supplemented with a wide range of artworks, interpretative and memorial signs.  The majority of these evoke key moments of the European project: perhaps best well known is ‘Europe’, the Bronze statue of Europa carrying the symbol of the Euro overhead, by sculptor May Claerhout; a plaque to Solidarność (Solidarity); a vast neon heart to Václav Havel by artist Jiři David (which in 2002 was hung over Prague Castle); an arc of banners ‘Out of the Abyss‘ displaying key moments in the emergence of Europe; and many others…

Out of the AbyssLooking to the past, to look to the future, these works presence elements of a common European Heritage.  The continued significance of the past to this ongoing project can be seen in the adjacent Parc Léopold: there is also, the little known, European Union time machine !

Parc Léopold contains the 15th century Eggevoort Tower and also contains one of the last ponds in the Maalbeek Valley: the pre-city land form.  The pond is fed by the Maalbeek river (in Dutch ‘The Mill Stream’) which flows through this part of the city.  The park was established as the Royal Zoological Gardens in 1851, but was closed following an epidemic, and in 1880 was named Parc Léopold after the first two kings of the Belgian state.  The park was subsequently the location for several large public buildings including The Solvay Library and The Pasteur Institute.  Building works are taking place on another large public building in Parc Léopold, the Eastman Building, which is a former dental institute.  It is currently being extended and converted it into The House of European History, within which ‘different viewpoints and diverse interpretations of history’ will be presented.

Such public works could be anticipated, but what surprised me more was the striking contrasts I found in close proximity to the glass and chrome of European Institutions:

Stencils on the boundary of Parc Léopold, beyond which The House of European History is being constructed within…

Parc Leopold, Eastman Building

Abandoned buildings and stalled spaces…

68 Rue de Trèves

The Space Invader…!

Space InvaderWhat struck me most, however, was found on the other side of Parc Léopold.  In the shadow of the Paul-Henri Spaak building (holding the debating chamber of the European parliament) and close to the 15th century Eggevoort Tower in Parc Léopold, there is a patch of ground.

20130125_083434This once derelict ground, situated on Avenue du Maelbeek, has been the focus of local actions which are exploring the nature of relationships (social, political, environmental, historical) in this part of the city.  This process started in November 2010 when Citymine(d) gathered delegates in the European Quarter to explore how, local action can engage with derelict urban spaces, using them as places of imagination and positive action.

A collaborative mapping exercise, that explored the public space was facilitated by MAP-it, in which local residents, European civil servants, artists and neighbourhood groups participated and asked the question:

‘What can small and grass-roots initiatives do to tackle urban issues in the European Quarter?’

MAP-it extract

Extract from Small Initiatives in the European Quarter by MAP-it, PUM Collective and Thomas Laureyssens

Further details of this process can be found at the MAP-it website: where more information about MAP-it tools (which could be used in other participatory mapping exercises)  can also be found.

From this participatory mapping process, emerged a collective response to the creative potential of Eggevoort Wasteland, known as the PUM Project: ‘Projet/participation Urbain/urgent Maalbeek’.  The PUM Project engages creatively with the themes of water and the potential of urban space through a range of small art projects, many of which have an environmental and / or heritage theme, examples of which can be found here, falling under the banner:

‘Small initiatives in the European Quarter :: water, the city, the people and the Eggevoort Garden’

Further details about PUM Project can be found at the project website and can also be found in a downloadable booklet: Small Initiatives in the European Quarter. From MAP-it to PUM

By means of the MAP-it method PUM transforms the analysis of interacting powers and potential of urban spaces into creativity and collective action.’

and hence transforms Eggevoort Wasteland into Eggevoort Gardens.

PUM ProjectThe short time I spent exploring the European Quarter of Brussels revealed an incredible richness of cultural activity, which was permeated with history and heritage, but in some ways ridden with tensions about the vision for this part of the city.

A wonderful reminder that cities, like all landscapes, are contested and dynamic….

and that we all can play a part in maintaining, imagining and creating sustainable cities of the future.

A Peculiar Tree, Indeed

Image

Peculiar Tree

Art, Archaeology and Incavation

A great example of creative participatory place making is Odd Numbers – Making Myths and Milton. 

Wee Creatures

It is an ongoing public art work which has involved artist Nicola Atkinson (with Lee Ivett/Baxdendale and Love Milton Project) working with Milton, a relatively new community that does not have such a deep history as other parts of Glasgow.

One key aspect of the project has been the production of 365 clay animal figurines (wee creatures), whom members of the community have been caring for over the Christmas holiday break.  The wee creatures have just been returned to the artist and are currently on display with a wealth of other materials produced by the community, which begins a process of creating a mythical history of people and place.  There is further information about the project online, where the artist explains the philosophy of the project in more detail, but one aspect worth highlighting is the response to the relative ahistorical nature of place:

It is a provocation to create a new and alternate history and mythology that through participation will connect people with place.

Furthermore, it is striking to read that the artist is well aware of the potency of archaeological practices in contributing to creating both peoples sense of identity and place making.  The wee creatures will be purposely buried (an incavation) at Milton, creating at once an art work, archaeological site and special place for the community. The public art work Odd Numbers – Making Myths and Milton has been funded by AHRC (Connected Communities) and the University of West of Scotland.  You can see the wee creatures, and the community documentation of the emerging history of the place, for the next week at All That Is Solid, WASPS South Block: well worth having a look at.

Finally, seeing this public art work also reminded me of a strand in archaeological practice which emerged about ten years ago which involved reflection on the inter-relationships between art and archaeology.  More specifically, it reminded me of an incavation project undertaken by Cornelius Holtorf in Berlin.  This comprised the incavation of the remains of a shared meal, which subsequently became the subject of an exhibition.

Further information about Cornelius Holtorf’s archaeological incavation can be found at the project website and in the published article:

Holtorf, C J 2004 ‘Incavation-Excavation-Exhibition’ in Brodie, N & Hills, C (eds) Material Engagements: studies in honour of Colin Renfrew. MacDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge.

Creative Junction

This is such a striking example of how we could make our streets far more interesting.

nadfly sinclair town junction

This is a partnership project between Sustrans and Fife Council.

The Sinclairtown Kirkcaldy junction markings are designed to change how this part of The Fairway is viewed by motorists. By creating an unconventional design at two junctions closest to where pupils cross on the school journey the designs are meant to signify to drivers that this part of the street is not an average street and that there is a need to be more alert and aware of the surroundings and other road users.

The Sinclairtown Kirkcaldy junction are design by Nicola Atkinson / NADFLY, an artist who is based in Glasgow, whose approach involved public engagement to arrive at the designs.

nadfly sinclair town junction 1

Are there any other examples of different approaches to junction markings which you can think of ?

(Many thanks to Nicola Atkinson / NADFLY for text and images)

Past Inspired Sculpture 3

Another great example of past inspired sculpture is located on the University of Strathclyde campus in Glasgow.  The sculpture ‘Callanish (Steel Henge)’ by Gerald Laing was erected in 1974.  It comprises 16 steel pieces each 16 high, arranged in form that evokes the layout of Callanish, Lewis.


Its location and further art in the public realm in Glasgow can be found at Active Art Trails.  The monumental scale and nature of material of this piece means it is still a distinctive site in the city, which can be readily found when you look.  However, much art in the public realm does not survive as long as the near forty years of Gerald Laing’s, Callanish.  I wonder how many piece on the Active Art Trails can no longer be found, and are now no more than an archaeology of art…?