Thursday, 11 November 2010

Something to See at the Traffic-Free Fernie Lea.

The fernie-lea. No ferns, though.

Cycling along the pedestrian-and-cyclist-only hyperspace-shortcut-bypass that is Fernielea Road, overlooking the broad shallow valley of the Denburn at Summerhill, our eye was caught by a piece of public art - a mosaic - embedded in the wall of Hazelwood special needs school.

Out of the corner of the eye...

We were first put in mind of the Nasca desert lines and the characters which they depict. We were secondly put in mind of Hindu imagery.

Here's the whole thing - but a photo doesn't really do it justice.
And it put us, thirdly, in mind of an award-winning piece (it turns out, by the same artist) which we saw at the Aberdeen Artists exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery a few years back. Investigating closer, we see that the artwork is composed of many smaller ceramic artworks and found objects (or are they things made to seem as if they are found objects?) making up visual puns and cultural references which can be read and interpreted on several levels.


It's entertaining and thought provoking. We were surprised, amused, engaged, challenged and, to an extent, unsettled. The piece is signed (cryptically and pictogramically) and so, just a little Googling delivers us to the artist's - ceramicist Stephen Bird - website.

On his profile page you can read details of the project at Hazelwood and learn that it was one part of a commission which also included work done at Woodlands special needs school. The Woodlands piece was a 'huggable vase' which has been described as a "fascinating blend of childhood pleasures and fantasies".

Pride, achievement, ability - priceless.
The commission which resulted in the creation of the mosaic and vase explored the fundamental issues of disability and inclusion; the pieces having been created by the artist working alongside the pupils to use art as a means of two-way communication. Some children with special educational needs find it difficult to communicate and express themselves, and these artworks use the unique nature of art to communicate and stimulate; to empower and enrich  - thus transcending the linguistic and social difficulties which some of the children suffer, and giving them a great sense of pride, achievement and ability. So these pieces have an inestimable value (which is not the monetary kind!)

The site of the Woodlands special needs school and hospital has now, of course, been comprehensively redeveloped into a prestigious, exclusive, upscale development of aspirational housing for the affluent: "Woodlands at Pitfodels".

PaveParking at Woodlands at Pitfodels
The special needs school has relocated to Regent Walk in the north-east of the town, where we're told (thanks very much to the curators of Aberdeen Art Gallery for this essential information) that the 'huggable vase' can still be seen. We'll get along there at some point and report back.

The results of the commission (which was funded jointly by Aberdeen City Council and the Scottish Arts Council - now "Creative Scotland") received a Scotland Visual Arts Education Award which celebrates creativity and well-being. The awards panel recognised the transformative nature of the project: "Together, the artist's and children's sensitive collaboration produced artworks of deep meaning for the schools, the participants and future audiences." It would be a great pity if - in their quest for savings - national, regional and civic government were to make less funding available for similar commissions and awards in the future. That would be to mistake cost for value; to confuse money with wealth. The two things are, of course, quite different.

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