This summer American artist Suzanne Lacy did a house swop with Peacock’s director Lindsay Gordon. She left her home on Venice Beach, LA, to spend 5 weeks in the historic Aberdeen fishing neighbourhood of Footdee. Lacy is currently doing research at Gray’s School of Art, laying out critical questions on ‘public art now’. Suzanne Lacy is one of the most prominent artists and thinkers operating in the field.
Footdee, July 2006
It’s impossible not to think of oil (or OIL) when one visits Aberdeen. Even the charity shops bear witness to its presence in the quality of the cast off clothes. After 5 weeks here, falling asleep each night to the sound of waves and the low hum announcing a huge ship on its way into or out of the harbor, I’ve become quite obsessed with it.
Sitting here in Lindsay Gordon’s house in Footdee, each day my writing (I’m here to begin my PhD with On The Edge, the innovative public practice program at Gray’s School of Art) is interrupted countless times by the passing of ships: at first the sea gull activity increases, an announcement of a ship’s passage; next a low rumble, almost imperceptible unless you are listening for it.
There is the sociology of the oil culture, one explored by Eva Merz and other local artists and presented by Peacock and the Maritime Museum; there are the politics of oil, admirably explored by the British group Platform. I pick up the recently published book ‘The next Gulf’ by two of their members, James Marriott and Lorne Stockman. Someone somewhere in Scotland must, as an artist, be looking at the ecological effects of oil? The way in which the advent of oil has affected urban planning? Then there are the ships, great hulking sculptures whose colors change as quickly as the weather (and as a result of same.)
This is linked to Peacock visual arts in odd and unexpected ways:
I look at Eva’s video on oil culture and read the catalogue of the exhibition co-sponsored by Peacock. I am staying next to the harbor in the house of Peacock’s director, and at every hour of every day I can monitor the boats; across the harbor Monika Vykoukal screens films on Saturday night at Campbell’s Bar, films that explore place everyplace; on the way to the pub prominent green silos spell out P E A C O C K.
I meet a Nigerian man walking in the harbor, who switched his studies from ecological conservation to oil engineering because, as he says, that’s where the money is. I look up Nigerian Ken Sari-Wiwa on the Internet, executed on trumped up charges because he was effective organizing the Ogondi tribe against Shell Oil’s ecological devastation to his country. Shell Oil announces a new central office planned for Aberdeen. Someone tells me the housing prices are sure to continue upward. The house next door to where I am staying goes on the market; it is sure to sell for well over asking.
I don’t know what this all means, nor does it matter at this point. Whatever one’s politics or artistic bent, art begins with a fascination, like falling in love. I am learning the names of the boats and how to tell when the harbor is rich and full with them and when it is barren. You might say I’ve become infatuated with the boats in Aberdeen’s harbor and they have come, for at least a time, to represent the City for me.