Nov 142011

Old Susannah pays her respects, but is unable to maintain her silence as she takes a look around what has been happening in our vibrant and dynamic city and beyond.

Things continue to be vibrant and dynamic this week in the Granite City.  On Friday 11 November some 4o-plus people gathered for a minute’s silence to mark those who fell in war.  Robert Martin who works nearby in Golden Square told me he first started coming to Union Terrace Gardens for the traditional minute of silence a few years back.
“What better, more peaceful place is there in the heart of the City to have the minute of silence,” he commented.

A gardener tried to tell the group they should be at the war memorial instead – he could not understand that we were all happier in the Denburn Valley.

For the record, this was not a celebration of nationalism, or glorification of war; it was a gesture of respect for those who lost their lives in war.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just stop killing each other, and sort out economic and social problems another way?  Maybe that day will still come.

Then there was the enjoyable opening night at Peacock for its winter exhibition.  The 400 or so works are on show until 23 December and  are all for sale.  Alicia Bruce is offering small prints of her iconic photo portraits from the Menie Estate which had such a good reception when she exhibited at Peacock.  There are abstracts, portraits, beautiful drawings, and even one or two offerings of mine.

A quick word about litter.

During the week I asked an older man who’d dropped litter to please pick it up.  He explained (with some interesting vocabulary words which I must look up) that ‘he didn’t know me’, ‘he didn’t have to’ and ‘I could not make him.’  It was a very impressive display indeed.

Days later I was at Sainsbury’s Berryden, and groups of students (probably just over 20 people in total) had stopped by the store to get their lunch.  They had wrappers, bags, papers, serviettes, bottles and so on.  And as I waited for a bus, I saw each and every student put their trash in the trashcan near the bus stop.

I am pretty sure they were from St Machar.  My appreciation to them and the other people who do the right thing.  It’s not difficult, it’s not brain surgery.  It does however make a huge difference.

But whatever you were doing this week, everyone’s thoughts were with one brave man who is fighting a valiant struggle of his own.  Yes, Stewart Milne’s case went to the Supreme Court on Thursday.

The Press & Journal had no room for this story on the day, due to the breaking news that geothermal energy exists.  This astonishing front page special even had a picture of a volcano to illustrate it.  I had personally expected a story about a cow with a ladder on its neck, but the geothermal story did the trick, and between it and the massive ads for Milne Homes, no room remained for the little matter of our City being called to the Supreme Court.

Then, Friday, the P&J did run with a story on Milne, which leads neatly to a little definition or two.

Negotiate: (verb, Eng) to settle a conflict or disagreement by compromise.

Those of us who read the Press & Journal story will have felt sorry for Stewart Milne.  He claimed the matter could have been settled had Aberdeen City council accepted his offer of negotiation.

According to the P&J, Stewart Milne Group claimed:

“We have offered to go to independent arbitration on several occasions over a long period of time,”

Usually negotiations happen when both sides have a valid argument or case to make.  To refresh everyone’s memory, the City sold land at Westhill to Mr M for far less than it was worth – the City’s clever business plan was not to sell the land on the open market, but sell directly to Milne (I am sure there was a great reason).

He got a great price on the understanding the City would eventually get any sale profit.  In a really clever and not at all dodgy-looking business manoeuvre, the land moved from one arm of the vast Milne empire to the next, at a cost around £500k –apparently more than what the 11 acres cost in the first place.  This was perfectly normal, and could have happened to anyone.  Quite truthfully, Milne then indicated that there was no profit to share.

This giant poster in no way looks like a desperate advertising ploy, but it does paper over some cracks nicely.

The City and subsequent courts have disagreed with Mr Milne’s logic (shocking!), and rather than enter ‘negotiation’ over the £1.7 million under dispute, the City decided to see the case all the way through.  Milne could have accepted the last court’s verdict, but he appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.  If you’ve only got £60 million, then you’ve got to hold onto every penny these days.

The trial was televised, and although Old Susannah is no legal expert, it didn’t look all that great for Stew.

Now we just have to wait for the outcome – at which point no doubt everyone’s favourite football club owner will immediately give Aberdeen the £1.7 million it is owed, plus court costs.  I think an apology is also due, and hope the City are drafting one to Mr Milne for taking things this far.

This expensive litigation obviously in no way impacts on the role Mr Milne plays in ACSEF, the City and Shire’s invention which is helping us out of economic chaos.  Aside from the bang-up job ACSEF has done so far for our city’s shops, it’s created a brilliant logo for itself, and now has a great big vibrant, dynamic mural at McCombie Court.  This giant poster in no way looks like a desperate advertising ploy, but it does paper over some cracks nicely.

In light of Stewart’s logic concerning negotiation, the next time you get mugged or have your wallet snatched, don’t go to the law.  Just find out who’s got your money and negotiate to get some of it back.  Sorted.

Reading this story about how Stew wanted to negotiate, I wonder if I’m not having déjà vu.  This sense comes from the P&J article some time back, when Milne and everyone’s favourite forum, ACSEF, were taking over Peacock Visual Art’s project and turning it into the great City Garden Scheme.

Just before the final, decisive and divisive voting on the project took place, ACSEF / Milne said that Peacock had been offered some kind of 11th hour alternative, but were unwilling to strike a deal.  Of course if you read the full story, you would have eventually discovered Peacock said ‘we were never contacted about any deal.’

I hope in future any Peacock person, Aberdeen City legal rep, etc. will just ‘negotiate’ when Stewart wants something – it will save the taxpayer lots of money to just go along with him from the start.

In fact, when I think of Loirston Loch, the Triple Kirks glass box scheme, Pittodrie and so on, I wonder if we haven’t just started to say yes to him already.

Geography: (noun) study of terrain, locations, types of environments and areas.

If you are out there, Pete Leonard, Director of Housing, perhaps you might consider a geography lesson or two.  Pete insists Tullos Hill is ‘urban’.  The hill is next to all the lovely industrial estates which have helped make Aberdeen the profitable centre of the universe it is, but the hill just isn’t all that ‘urban’.  It’s covered with plants, grasses, wildlife, pre-historic cairns and so on.

Here in Aberdeen, there is a complete separation of contractors and councillors

On the word of Mr Leonard, I went to Tullos Hill the other day assuming it had been urbanised.   I looked for fast food, a coffee or a monorail ride, but there was nothing of the kind to be found.

It struck me that Ms Malone (who has lately been very, very quiet) might want to look for a new initiative to push. Perhaps if she abandoned the ‘tree for every citizen’ scheme and maybe had ‘a monolith for every citizen’ and/or ‘monorail for every citizen’ scheme, it might increase her popularity.  As I hear it, an improvement in her popularity stakes is currently the only possible direction.

Aside from Tullos, other urban areas in our city are easy to recognise by the well-maintained roads and footpaths, the general cleanliness, the complete lack of any crime, and all the many open local shops.

Corruption: (noun, English) a state of dishonesty, lack of integrity, self-interested behaviour of a person or body in a position of trust.

Edinburgh has faced accusations of council corruption. (“At least it couldn’t happen in Aberdeen!” I can practically hear you say.)

For openers, according to the BBC, the hospitality records are incomplete. ( This contrasts with our city’s up-to-date, perfectly set out, fully inclusive records which seem to indicate some councillors went to absolutely no events whatsoever in 2009 and or 2010).  But that’s the least of Edinburgh’s problems.

Edinburgh’s councillors are in the firing line for ‘possible fraud and serious wrongdoing’ with regard to building works and property.

Audit Scotland could not decide if the city was just a wee bit disorganised, or if there was a whiff of corruption

It also looks like a city councillor had a holiday paid for by a contractor.  Here in Aberdeen, there is a complete separation of contractors and councillors.  In those rare occasions when a councillor is somehow connected to a contractor, then they stay well out of any possible conflict situations.

Some years ago we had our own little trouble with Audit Scotland, you may remember.

They had a few uncertainties after a detailed investigation of our city’s property selling activities.  There were questions as to why so many properties were being sold below value.  Audit Scotland did tell the city to stop selling property at knock-down prices, and otherwise pay attention to details – like who is actually buying your property and what it should sell for.  In the end, Audit Scotland could not decide if the city was just a wee bit disorganised, or if there was a whiff of corruption.  In the end, they invited our local police to look into the issues.

After a completely thorough, detailed investigation, the police found nothing untoward.  Old Susannah is not sure when the investigation was conducted.  Then again, I’m not sure when exactly Stewart Milne Group started advertising on police cars, either.

Next week hopefully a Milne court and FOI case update; a fond look back at the careers of John Stewart and Neil Fletcher, who are not going to run for re-election in May.

Stop press Christmas Gift Solution:  Tired of the usual old boring gifts – the handbag-sized bottle of vodka, the city council carriage clock or branded pen?  Look no further for your gift requirements:  The City is selling photo prints of its greatest moments.  Rather than taking a picture of St Nicholas House or the ACSEF logo yourself to make a welcome gift for a loved one, just go to the City’s website.

What is the most popular subject on sale?  Why the Lord Provost of course!  There are only about 750 photos of him in action this year but fret not: there are two other years of Lord Provost photos as well.  Make a lovely print on canvas, or can be sent to an artist to create a portrait in oils.  I just might buy a photo of the Lord Provost handing over a gift and turn it into a mug, a mug for some reasons being the first thing that springs to mind.

Stop press 2:  there will be a further extension for getting your entries in for the Union Terrace Gardens art competition  – more news soon!


Feb 112011

With thanks to Kylie Roux.

In collaboration with New Moves International, Peacock Visual Arts and Citymoves Dance Agency present ‘This Is Performance Art’ (TIPA), a four-day festival featuring some of the most exciting and influential performance artists in the world.

Black Market International, in residence as part of TIPA Europe 2011, kick-start everything here in Aberdeen. The collective, featuring Alastair MacLennan, Boris Nieslony, Elvira Santamaria Torres, Jacques Van Poppel, Jürgen Fritz, Lee Wen, Miriam Laplante, Norbert Klassen and Roi Varra, will be travelling to the city for the very first time for the four-day programme.

The festival includes performances, installations and a workshop, as well as an opportunity to meet the artists on their arrival into Aberdeen at a discussion chaired by Lindsay Gordon, Director of Peacock Visual Arts

Wednesday 16 February – Saturday 19 February, Various Locations
For more information, click This Is Performance Art’ (TIPA)

Ongoing events.

ALICIA BRUCE // Menie: a portrait of a North-East coastal community in conflict
Award winning photographer Alicia Bruce spent the summer of 2010 collaborating with residents of the Menie estate, an area of outstanding natural beauty and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) situated 20 minutes north of Aberdeen. The residents’ homes are under threat of compulsory purchase as Trump International starts construction of a golf course, hotel and housing development with plans to re-name Menie ‘The Great Dunes of Scotland’.
The exhibition showcases a stunning array of photographic and moving image works that present a humane story about people and place – an observance of conflicted territory and those who inhabit it.

Ongoing until 26 February

ANITA JEAN STEWART // Mounthooly in May
Last May Mounthooly roundabout has a change of identity. Artist Anita-Jean Stewart, along with her trusty mobile studio, took up residency on Aberdeen’s renowned traffic island bringing with her; shadow-shows, tea-parties, poetry, glitter-balls, gigs, hula-hoops and artist’s talks. Stewart successfully transformed the roundabout into a creative bubble for the month of May, the results of which can be seen at Peacock Visual Arts in January. So if you missed out last spring – there’s another chance to relive the excitement of Mounthooly in May.

Ongoing until 26 February

TASTE BUDS // Jay Koh + Chu Yuan
Sweet, sour, bitter, salty, pungent…what does each taste evoke for you? Artists Jay Koh and Chu Yuan invite you to join them in this public participation art project to discover the multi-dimensions of tastes. They will be at Pad Thai café in the Aberdeen Market every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, from 8 February – 3 March, to discuss the diversity of different tastes.This project is part of a Cultural Diversity Fellowship by Peacock Visual Arts with support from Creative Scotland.

Tuesdays & Thursdays until 3 March , 1.30pm – 4.30pm, Pad Thai Cafe, Aberdeen Market

Upcoming events.

Screenprinting Weekend Workshop with Ailsa McWilliam
Explore the possibilities of this colourful, graphic and immediate approach to making repeat prints. No experience is necessary – just a few images and a bit of creativity.

Saturday 19 & Sunday 20 February, 10am – 4.30pm,  £130/95 conc.
Call 01224 639539 or email to book.

Etching Weekend Workshop with Michael Waight
Learn the techniques and processes that are involved in the traditional art of etching. No experience necessary.

Saturday 19 & Sunday 20 February, 10am – 4.30pm, £130/95 conc.
Call 01224 639539 or email to book.

Photo Etching Weekend Workshop with Michael Waight
Ideal for those with some etching skills. It will show you how to work with transparencies, photographic or hand drawn, and to work in more direct and playful ways with the plates you make.

Saturday 5 & Sunday 6 March, 10am – 4.30pm, £130/95 conc.
Call 01224 639539 or email to book.

Jan 212011

By Suzanne Kelly.

Peacock Visual Arts is hosting two exhibitions at present; Aberdeen Voice was on hand for the opening on 14th January of “Menie:  a portrait of a North-East coastal community in conflict” photographic portraits by Alicia Bruce.

To describe in simple terms the method of working used to create the images in this show, Alicia Bruce takes iconic painted portraits from art history and re-creates them.
In this instance she spent time with the inhabitants of Menie who have lived under the threat of being displaced by the Trump golf development.

As she acknowledges, she is neither the first nor the only photographer to use past art as source material for recreations, but as an essay on the exhibition by Catriona McAra explains (and as the work demonstrates) Bruce stamps something personal and clearly reflective of Scotland on her portraits.  The subjects have lived with the stress caused by the Trump development for quite some time, and their faces reflect this in varying degrees.  All of the subjects have several characteristics in common which Bruce successfully catches – different kinds of strength and earnestness.

There is strength and defiance wonderfully captured in the powerful re-creation of the iconic Grant Wood ‘American Gothic’ painting.  In this reworking featuring Michael and Sheila Forbes, Michael’s folded, tattooed arms block the would-be adversary from taking the land and farm he stands before, confrontationally facing an invisible Donald Trump, and the gallery viewer is put in Trump’s place, staring in Forbes’ eyes.  When the Voice team arrived early at the show, this piece was the first thing we could see as we peered through the gallery doors – powerful, immediately both familiar and new and it made a bold statement of strength that is still fresh in my memory.

The striking desolate beauty of the Menie Landscape is ever present in the photographs, and,  like the lost ways of life the original paintings captured, the viewer is left wondering if these portraits are capturing a people and environment doomed to soon be lost themselves like the art they are re-creating.  It is this idea that takes the photo of Molly with a gaggle of geese and changes it from a whimsical re-creation of a happier time but instead something poignant.

The show was well attended, and feelings inside the gallery ran high.  Molly Forbes said she was ‘most pleased’ with the work; she seemed somewhat overwhelmed and genuinely impressed.  Comments given to the Voice and other media present were all powerful; Gordon Maloney had this to say:

At its heart, this is not a question of what benefit this development could bring to the North East, although it’s very questionable that it would bring any. The question here is how much are we willing to sacrifice for economic gain. Do we want to live in a world where people are evicted from their homes and unique and beautiful stretches of land are ripped up to make way for hotels for rich tourists? I don’t. That’s why it is crucial to show the human side of this story; we can never forget that these are people’s lives, not just what economists derisively call ‘externalities’“.

Along with the Bruce portraits, the back of the gallery area had been used for a projection of the grey north sea waters.  Bruce also created a series of shots of boundary markers, taken at different points in time.  Near a visitors’ signing book there was a small collection in a simple frame of cards that had been sent in support to the Menie residents.  Perhaps the most poignant and heartfelt message can be found on a Christmas card sent to Molly Forbes.

My recommendation is to go to this exhibit and think about what will happen to these people and their world.

Peacock Exhibition

Image 1 of 7

Credit: CSD Images

Jan 142011

With thanks to Kylie Roux.

An Exhibition by award winning photographer Alicia Bruce,  showcasing a coastal community in conflict launches at the Northeast’s Centre for Contemporary Art, Peacock Visual Arts on Fri 14th of January, 6pm

Alicia Bruce spent the summer of 2010 collaborating with residents of the Menie estate, an area of outstanding natural beauty and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) situated twenty minutes north of Aberdeen.

The resident’s family homes are currently under threat of compulsory purchase as Trump International starts construction of a golf course, hotel, and private housing development with plans to re-name Menie ‘The Great Dunes of Scotland’.

Through socially engaging and interacting with the residents of the estate, Bruce has produced a stunning body of photographic and moving image works that present a humane story about people and place – an observance of conflicted territory and those who inhabit it.

A number of the works within the exhibition are staged photographs referencing artworks from Aberdeen Art Gallery’s permanent collection. With the Menie estate in the background and the residents as the subjects these respond to the subjects and create not only a reference to the original artworks, but a portrayal of the subjects in the photographs and the ordeal they are currently facing.

Bruce, an Edinburgh Napier University 2006 PFI Graduate, was previously awarded an Artist in Residence at Aberdeen Arts Centre in 2008 where she spent her time creating new work responding to the city of Aberdeen as well as teaching a series of community based workshops.

Her photograph Flood in the Highlands after Sir Edwin Landseer, has gained international recognition winning several awards and bursaries.  This image has been exhibited at the City Art Centre, Edinburgh, Aberdeen Art Gallery and Rhubarb-Rhubarb International Review. Made possible with the financial assistance of the Aberdeen Visual Arts Award, Bruce now returns to the Northeast to exhibit in the city’s centre for contemporary art – Peacock Visual Arts.

This exhibition is a humane story of a conflicted territory and those who inhabit it

With support from Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow, Bruce predominantly works in photography and moving image. She describes her work as a collaborative process with the subjects she  photographs, with the photographic portrait being a key aspect of her work.

“This exhibition is a humane story of a conflicted territory and those who inhabit it” says Alicia.

“I was deeply upset to see the harassment the residents of Menie undertook simply for wishing to remain in their family homes. If these compulsory purchase orders go ahead no home in Scotland would be safe.

“Menie is a stunning piece of coastline and, in spite of living in constant threat the residents welcomed me with hospitality and above all dignity.

“We short listed paintings we saw in Aberdeen Art Gallery and restaged these as large-scale photographs outside the resident’s homes with them as the subjects.  We drew parallels with the artworks and the current situation in Menie. The image in the show of 86 year old Molly Forbes was her tenth day without running water.”

Kylie Roux, Marketing Manager at Peacock Visual Arts told Aberdeen Voice:

“Peacock’s exhibitions often highlight very relevant topics and with this exhibition Alicia has managed to capture the stunning landscape of the Menie Estate whilst sympathetically telling the story of the residents who live there. At a time where the future of the area is such a pertinent topic we feel bringing the issues of the development to the attention of our audience to be very important. The exhibition can be appreciated by all, from those interested in the current situation to those who just want to view the captivating works that Alicia has produced.”

David Milne of Hermit Point, Menie comments:

“This exhibition shows us the real residents of Menie, around our homes and in the environment we love and cherish and now have to fight for the basic right of staying in.”

Running in conjunction with  ‘Menie: a portrait of a North-East coastal community in conflict’, is an exhibition displaying the results of an off-site project carried out on the city’s renowned traffic island, Mounthooly Roundabout.

Last May artist Anita Jean Stewart changed the identity of the roundabout by taking up residency, along with her trusty mobile studio, and bringing with her; shadow-shows, tea-parties, poetry, glitter-balls, gigs, hula-hoops and artist’s talks.

Stewart successfully transformed the roundabout into a creative bubble for the month of May, the results of which can be seen at Peacock Visual Arts from January 14th. So if you missed out last spring – there is another chance to re-live the excitement of Mounthooly in May.

‘Menie: a portrait of a Northeast coastal community in conflict’ and ‘Mounthooly in May’ both launch on Friday 14th January, all welcome.

Exhibitions run from 15th January to 26th February 2011.