The Place Where We Live (2015)
As co-founder and director of arts based social enterprise Inverkeithing Arts Initiative, I collaborated with artist Rosie Gibson on part of her project for the Luminate festival 2015. Her project, Trading Wisdom, was based on conversations she held with older local people of her mum's generation (born 1925-35). From the conversations she created a series of 'nuggets of wisdom'. These nuggets were turned into sculpture/installations in various trading places on the High Street in Inverkeithing. They could then be experienced on a daily basis by customers. The project's aim was to celebrate "both the gritty lyrical wisdom of my mum's generation and also the shops and businesses on the High Street. I was curious about what happens if you put the two together."
Rosie wanted to involve the younger generation in her Trading Wisdom project. She asked us to get involved and design a project with children from Inverkeithing Primary School. Their artwork would then be made into placemats for the Mill Brae Cafe. The nugget of wisdom she asked us to base the project on was this memory from Grace:
"My mother's hoose was like a canteen. We went hame fae the mill for breakfast, lunch, then hame for the tea! And my brothers were on different shifts so they went hame at different times tae!"
This memory is particularly meaningful to the people of Inverkeithing as 'the mill' she is talking about is Caldwell's Paper Mill. This was a major employer in the area, as well as a focus for much of people's social lives. It was closed many years ago and the factory left to become a ruin and eyesore. It was eventually demolished but the mill site still sits, open and neglected, like a wound in the town. The Mill Brae Cafe sits atop the path from the mill site to the High Street, and is a popular stopping off point for locals to get some excellent food and a gossip.
I set about designing a project for the p4 pupils of Inverkeithing Primary School's, based around Grace's nugget of wisdom.
Firstly, I was inspired by the imagery of Grace walking to and from work, from the Mill to her mother's hoose and back again, day after day. I knew this would be an experience familiar to the school children as they go out and about every day with their parents or friends, to and from school (and there is something about that repetitive journey which interested me) to the shops, the optician's, the chip shop, or the library.
In preparation for the children's project, I drew two large, basic maps of Inverkeithing, inscribing Grace's nugget of wisdom along the streets where she might well have walked, up Mill Brae, along the High Street, and turning down onto Town Hall Street, which is the road which leads from the High Street to the primary school.
At the start of the project we had an open session with the children where they looked at the maps and I read out Grace's memory. They had a good discussion about it, and imagined Grace as a young woman, many years ago, walking on the same familiar streets as themselves. I asked them, would Grace have seen the same things that the children see today? They were delighted to tell us all about what they see and experience as they are walking through the streets of their town such as shops, buildings, vehicles, animals and people. We asked the children to draw what they remember with coloured pens, on a uniform size of white card. Once they had done several drawings each, they folded over the bottoms of the card - making them into 3D sculptures. We all gathered around the maps and stuck the sculptures down where they belonged on the streets. The choice to have two maps was due to there being over 40 children participating. The repetition of the same routes resulted in two versions of a moment in time. Perhaps they were of the two time frames, the time of Grace's memory and the children's own?
We were very impressed by the the children's enthusiasm, knowledge and creativity. They were incredibly interested and engaged with the concept, and sincerely pleased to be asked to express their own experiences through art.
Photographs of the art works were used to create place-mats for The Millbrae Cafe.. The placemats continue to be used at the cafe (to this day - March 2018). The two maps remain at the primary school, and are regularly and proudly displayed to visitors.