Published on 26/07/2017
PUBLICLY COMMISSIONED art is of variable quality; some of it is dubious and some is simply dire. Some of the worst examples seem to be in public projects where a specified percentage of the building costs must be spent on art. Sometimes, it seems, money is just thrown at a project for the sake of it and the resulting commission bears no relationship to its setting.
There is some truly bad public art but occasionally you come across a wonderful piece of public art in a surprising location, which perfectly suits its context and is beautifully uplifting.
Aberdeen does not have a wealth of recently commissioned public art but if you find yourself at Aberdeen Railway station, do take time to look at the etched glass wall to the north of the concourse, installed in 1990. The glass was commissioned and funded by The British Rail Community Fund; the design was created by Elizabeth Ogilvie and produced by Peacock Printmakers. It is well worth seeing but it does not seem to be valued. The flower displays before it rather detract from its impact and it is little noticed.
Elizabeth Ogilvie was an ideal choice for this commission. She is fascinated by the sea. She was born in Aberdeen and her father’s family were ship builders. The sea is also in her blood from her mother’s side, her family came from the island of St Kilda. As a note on the screen reads, ‘Elizabeth Ogilvie symbolises the combined delicacy and power of the station architecture and celebrates Aberdeen’s historical link with the sea'.
Elizabeth Ogilvie studied sculpture at Edinburgh College of Art from 1964 to 1969. After spending a further postgraduate year working on plaster reliefs, she turned to making pencil drawings on paper. She has used this medium ever since and time and again has turned to the sea. She explores its mythology, rhythms and the abstract forms and patterns it creates.
The wonderful, huge etched feather echoes the structure of glass and steel which forms the roof of the station. The central part of the design celebrates ship building in the city and the great days of sail as it shows the famous tea clipper, Thermopylae, which was built in Aberdeen in 1867 for the Aberdeen White Star Line.
Many of the world’s fastest sailing ships were built in Aberdeen, in the Footdee yards of Walter Hood, Alexander Hall and William Duthie. In 1839, Hall devised a sleek hull-form with an extreme bow that came to be called the ‘Aberdeen Bow’. Aberdeen clipper ships were at the forefront of the tea races of the 1860s and ‘70s, and challenged each other to bring the first tea home from China. In their time, these tall ships were highly advanced sailing vessels, manned by experienced crews from the north east who could rig every aspect of the ship for maximum speed.
Etched handwritten text frames the images. The text is worth reading but quite difficult to make out on an unusually sunny Aberdeen afternoon. Definitely worth a return on a dull grey day.
Elizabeth Ogilvie describes her approach. "I work with a fusion of art, architecture and science, with water as the main component in most projects. The work embraces universal and timeless concerns, offering innocent pleasures, but underlining critical ecological issues. My installations are a meditation on water, and my philosophy is simply to provide a sanctuary within the work, such as when we engage with the natural world."