“Before you get a sustainable future you need to go through a process of change, and everything is very unsustainable”

  Dr David J Blackwood

Liminal Cities is an exhibition of artworks created for the NEoN Digital Arts Festival in Dundee, Scotland and presented at the Hannah Maclure Centre at Abertay University. Responding to the Festival’s theme of ‘Spaces in between‘, the exhibition investigates the space between the ambitious Waterfront urban planning and the role of the community  in the regenerative process of Dundee.

Having visited the city over a period of 2 months, I conducted research on the historical heritage of the city, the cyclic physical changes that have taken place over the centuries, past and present urban redevelopment plans for the Waterfront and current infrastructure development. Integral to the project has been engaging with the local community, the city council, developers and waterfront sustainability assessment researchers at Abertay University to inform my understanding of Dundee’s vision.

What attracted my fascination since my first arrival has been the ‘gap’ between the 3D renders of the future, as pictured on Waterfront posters and online, and the current state of the city as the redevelopment continues to gather pace. My investigation expanded on the actualmaterial agencies involved in the city’s transformation since over centuries water and concrete acted as tangible forces through which the city has been cyclically reshaped.

The relationship of the community with water has been in fact crucial to sketching urban plans for the Waterfront area. The ’60s were a pivotal moment in the rearrangement of the city centre, with the Earl Grey Docks being filled with waste materials and transformed into reclaimed land, the Victorian Arch taken down, and the Tay bridge taking over the central waterfront area and therefore cutting the direct connection between the historical centre of Dundee and the Tay river. Such redevelopment seemed to close the chapter of the historically crucial role of the harbour for jute trade, shipping and whaling industry. After 50 years of ‘disconnection’ to the waters of the Tay, the new development plan aims to to ‘Reconnect Dundee to the water’, with an ambitious 30 years scheme as stated  in the  V&A @Dundee page.

Concrete has played a similarly decisive role in the transformation of the city over time. With the end of the jute  industry many of the jute mills scattered around the city were demolished and their remains recycled as filling materials for the Earl Grey Docks, to create land for the construction of Tayside house and Tay bridge. Strangely enough, both constructions were recently taken apart, crushed in smaller parts to be recycled as filling material for the new V&A foundations.

With the intention to re-enacts these transitional material processesand to recreate a sense of time in the gallery space, I used water as transformative force, reshaping artifacts over time through a corrosive process of soluble material elements. At the same time, by re-appropriating and re-purposing recycled concrete collected from the construction sites – and finely crushed at the Concrete Lab at Abertay University-, I aimed to re-enact once again the process of regeneration and degeneration of the construction materials.

The exhibition becomes therefore a space of discussion on the city’s past, but also on its future; a reminder of the liminality of the digital models developed by the city council and the crucial role of the community in crafting Dundee’s vision.

“The models were always intended to communicate with the community rather than to represent the actual future development”

The translation of the original 3D models developed by the council into 3D printed artifacts transforms in fact such virtual realities into tangible artifacts. Likewise, the organic paper sculptures bring to life the ‘ghostly figures’ present in the digital visualisations of the waterfront development, human representations which are not as perfectly rendered as the buildings they walk through and inhabit.

The high-tech low-tech techniques used to produce these sculptures explore the same conceptual leap between virtuality and materiality, rendering physical objects through a layering process of sheets of paper and extruded plastics. In addition, the use of the innovative PVA material as soluble sculptural element challenges the notion of concreterepresentation, creating liminal shapes, continuously re-crafted by water. Working within such porous boundaries, these artifacts interface the tangible with the imaginary, future and memory, representation and abstraction.

Ultimately, Liminal Cities aims to trace connections between past, present and future heritage of the city of Dundee, emphasising on the themes of imagination, expectation, reality and uncertainty.

Special thanks to:

InstantMaker Ltd  for spon soring the development and production of the 3D printed sculpture and the experimental use of PVA material

Dr. David Blackwood – Sustainability Assessment Visualisation & Enhancement (SAVE), Abertay University

Dr. John Isaacs – Sustainability Assessment Visualisation & Enhancement (SAVE), Abertay University

Mr. Daniel Gilmour  – Sustainability Assessment Visualisation & Enhancement (SAVE), Abertay University

Mr. John Gray – Public Art Officer, Dundee City Council

Nilupul Foundation

Mr. Ian Norrie

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