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Spring Public Art Musings

From Public Art Lead Katie Anderson

Public art isn’t always the big things.

Sometimes it happens in the small scale: intimate interactions, one to one conversations, temporary actions; the testing out of ideas can happen in many forms and take on different guises.

The Stove’s public art practice roams between the two – scaling large productions for our annual festivals and events, creating spectacles such as The Tower of Light last December, but also taking a moment to mark the small changes in our calendar – welcoming the return of the swallows, re-visiting familiar spaces in the town, and occupying space for conversation and exploration.

Helen Walsh’s installation, Swoop! fell into this category. Following a call for ideas and artworks that explore or encourage a renewed awareness of seasonality and in response to our need to better adapt creative working in response to the needs of our environment and wider climate, Helen’s proposal invited participants and audiences to take the time – through construction of our felt flock to discovering them in situ – noticing our avian neighbours arrival, and signalling the transition towards the summer months. Working with volunteers and HNC students from Dumfries and Galloway College who contributed to ‘the swoop’ (collective noun for swallows, of course), the birds made their temporary appearance in the rafters of Dock Park’s Victorian bandstand at the weekend.

Welcoming the swallows opened up a wider conversation about how we open our doors here, to all from the seasonal return of transitory populations like the swallows, to tourists and visitors, New Scots and folk moving here for work, safety and inspiration. Our Migratory Routes trail mapped out routes in miniature around the park, inviting visitors to walk routes taken by visitors and residents from both current and historical lives in Dumfries.

We printed postcards to send out a welcome from Dumfries, chatting about icons and monuments that represent the town and the people we would like to welcome to the town. Small conversations to measure the undercurrents.

The bandstand stands witness to the comings and goings of the park, occupied occasionally by children playing games or looking for an impromptu ball game court, but predominantly standing empty – waiting for the start of a performance. The HNC students were also invited to imagine their own public art installations for the bandstand as part of the public module element of their coursework, and during a return visit they shared a dazzling collection of ideas, from community weaving projects, to projections, found object mobiles and light works – their proposals moved through similar scales of spectacle to intimate, personal experiences, inverting the space and exploring the edges of their practice and ambition. Inspiring stuff!

Public spaces like the bandstand hold incredible potential: as a platform, a soap box, a space of celebration, announcement, and declaration. As we enter the summer months our outdoor spaces come into their own, but who are the voices we should be hearing from these platforms?