Desire Lines are the paths that human and animal footfall creates over time, taking the shortest and easiest desired route from one place to another.
Desire Lines was a public art project I designed and worked on from January 2010 until 2011. As an idea it grew out of a short public art project intended as part of the 3rd year Environmental art course at Glasgow School of art. In which all of the students were invited to make a public art work for Bellahouston Park in Glasgow and provided a work space with in House for an Art Lover and connection to the Glasgow City councils Parks department. I continued to work on this for the months following this initial project and was fortunate to secure the means and support towards making this a permanent public art work. It is located in the south of Bellahouston Park (near the join of Mosspark Boulivard to Dumbreck road, Opposite Hazelwood School.)
This project is about addressing and embracing the many roles artists can take on, working within the public environment. It is about following an instinct which starts by telling me that this is a group of people or a community that interests me and that I would like to build relationships with.
It started with the art of conversation, the art of making friends. Learning, listening and trusting.
I’m interested in the what happens next? What is remembered? How as artists we can pick up on the subtle things, a missing gate, and become completely consumed by the belief that we can change that.
And so followed, the art of negotiation, the art of research, the art of consultation. The art of imagining and creating. The art of expanding contacts and making that subtle thing something realistic.
To understand this project fully, I must tell its long story…
On arrival as a stranger to the park, I found myself curious about the people using the park and those bordering it. The project grew from discussions and workshops I organised at Hazelwood School for multi-sensory impaired pupils, bordering the park beside Dumbreck court, which I had decided open mindedly, would be my starting point. I wanted to understand how this community used and experienced the park and make something that would be relevant and sensitive to this. Only to discover that neither the two multi story tower blocks of Dumbreck residents nor the school (who specially focus on the use of outdoor space as incredibly valuable in the teaching of their pupils) had direct access to the park, which was only the other side of a fence. Perhaps due to the relationships and interest in these people which I was building and in my own way to push the boundaries of what public art could be defined as, I made it my project solely about this lack of access.
As a small political stepping stone towards gaining some kind of permission to provide access I installed a handmade ironic structure, cardboard step ladders, along different locations at this border for a week in march 2010. The structure aimed to draw attention to the lack of access as the cardboard ladder was impossible to practically use. Its form hinted at the possibility of finding a ‘creative’ solution to this problem. This was consolidated through a full and successful day of community consultation, discussing locations, practical and artistic aspects of the future gate with around 100 local people, under a gazebo and over the fence. From this my project was injected with local people’s stories of how they had tried to make their own gaps in the fence, this later informed the final design.
Following the consultation I prepared a meeting between members of the Parks council, Glasgow Housing Association (who own the tower blocks), and Hazelwood school, presenting my research. In generous response together they gave me permission and funding to design and make a gateway.
My initial designs, I presented at an event within House for an Art Lover in the Park, as part of the Glasgow International Visual arts festival 2010, using a gazebo consultation format again I had fascinating discussions with people about which designs worked best, which were art, which were design and why. The final design I chose, through meetings with the key figures involved in the project, it is a simple opening inspired by a sentence shouted out of the 8th floor of the tower block one day very cold and snowy day when I was shivering and staring at the fence in search of inspiration. The voice shouted “if you want to get out there’s a gap in the fence…” and a hand pointed to a small gap someone had made removing and slightly bending the upright bars, so you could squeeze through. The snow revealed the ‘desire line’ of tonnes of different sized foot prints made by the morning traffic of people who had squeezed through.
By now, very fixed on the community and local value of the project, I decided I wanted to make the gateway locally and was fortunate to be able to negotiate a way to work at the GalGael Trust in Govan, whose work ethos really inspires me. I worked here together with an 80 year old blacksmith and over 2 months, hundreds of old stories, many cups of tea and cheese toasties made and eaten over the anvil, we made the whole gate way by hand, in the traditional forged method of craftsmanship. It is impossible to fully share this experience and the incredible relationship we built working this way but I will always cherish this time as a special, unique and significant part of the project.
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Following its final installation into the park and many more meetings, further support and funding was provided to design a threshold stone to sit at the entrance. I worked with a graphic designer to produce the layout and had a fascinating trip to choose a piece of stone from near Aberdeen. Finally returning to GalGael I worked with a wood-carver there to make a plaque which I embedded into an oak tree from Bellahouston Park and it sits to the side of the gate, providing the title and names of all of the contributors. Just before the opening event it was with much sadness that the housing officer for Dumbreck courts whom I had worked closely with passed away and in memory of him we added another plaque onto the side of the tree stump and the local community raised the funds for 2 memorial benches they chose to locate next to the gateway.
(Click on image to enlarge)
This gateway has taken over a year to complete. It has taken the efforts of over 100 local people and the dedicated efforts of some generous, supportive and determined individuals from six local organisations;
My personal special thanks to the following people, without whom this project would have been impossible;
Mark Beever, Justin Carter, Richard Collinson, Jimmy Cosgrove, Dennis Donnelly, Andy Elliott, Alex Gordon, Gavin Jackson, David Leslie, Tom McDonald, Peter McCaughey, Julie McKenzie, Tam McGarvey, Monica McGeever, Lesley McGregor, Ryan McMullan, Pete Miller, Steve Rudd, Omair UlHaq, Ian Wade and Andy Waring.