What else can you do when invited to embark on a treasure hunt but tie up your boots straps and set off on the adventure, keeping your eyes open at every turn. Marching down the main street in Aberdeen city centre a couple days ago I set off with a smile on my face and an open mind ready to get engaged.
Promising to “challenge the way we all see the Granite City“, the Look Again Festival has certainly done just that and I must write to the organisers and pass on my congratulations. Subtle yet creatively conspicuous in the city, the diverse programme of exhibitions and events spread out beyond the confines of the city centre to one of the university campuses and a number of art spaces in the surrounding area. As a pedestrian this was the perfect introduction to the small galleries whose existence had been unknown to me prior to this weekend, with the keen volunteers at hand to offer directions and navigate highlights at the different sites.
Starting my cultural trail with perhaps the most accessible project, the ‘Mirrored Pavilion’ situated was in the Castlegate and beautifully reflected the historical architecture of the area. Designed by Lucy Fisher, second year architecture student and winner of the Look Again Architecture Design Competition, the bold and elegant sculpture caught the eye, draws the attention of the public into the festival vibe, as well as played the pivotal role as information hub for the festival and exhibition space for the Look Inside Design Collective. I found the ‘Mirrored Pavilion’ to be charming, prominent without being ostentatious and I saw how it caught the attention of members of the public more often inclined to keep on walking whilst minding their own business; the perfect focal point to catalyse enthusiasm and promote the ethos of the Look Again Festival.
Sharing the Castelgate location, the ‘Diabolical Dance‘ installation found particularly poignant staging at the Mercat Cross. Shelagh Brown, a final year Contemporary Art
Tactics student at Gray’s School of Art here in Aberdeen, created a hauntingly moving spectacle which drew inspiration from the history of the city. Twenty-four pairs of shoes, embedded in concrete, were position around the Mercat Cross to represent twenty-four named witches in Aberdeen in 1596 and 1597 accused of ‘dancing round the Mercat Cross as Halloween’. I was unfortunately unable to make it to the official talk with the artist at the Town House but had the good fortune of meeting Shelagh Brown herself at the actual site of the installation and a short discussion with her gave fascinating insight into the thought process behind the piece.
Little fun fact, a number of the pairs of shoes used as moulds were the artist’s own, including the fur lined boots she was wearing when we met. The cast and sculpted pairs of concrete shoes actualise the ‘impossibility of defence against the accusations’ and cleverly invite an audience to feel the weight of such persecution and empathise for the victims, centuries on but not without forbearance on modern times. By asking the public to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, I think Brown wonderfully connected with the sentiments of Look Again Festival and I applaud her for doing so in such a modest and gracefully striking way.
I set out today to my favourite spot to write, a little café tucked down a side street in the less fashionable end of town. Stationed on a large, wooden up-cycled communal table I set up office with black coffee and a delicious wholemeal scone as big as a man’s fist. The weather outside had subdued from intense hailstones coming at you at a sideways tilt to thick, fluffy flakes of snow giving a whole new meaning to the image of April showers.
I do not love the city that I live in. I do the best with what I have, if you put out positive vibes in life you’re more likely to feel positive vibes back in return, but Aberdeen is lacking as cities go. Where other Scottish cities are applauded for their integrated and dynamic cultural heart amidst a hubbub of commerce and trade, Aberdeen is like the poor relation in the family tree. In recent years something has gone awry, and the Granite City has lost her sparkle.
I set out this morning to have a day to myself, to get out of the house and to go find inspiration. And lo’, inspiration I did so happily find in the form of a poster advertising a festival of visual art and design here in Aberdeen this very weekend. The by-line for the Look Again Festival: “become a tourist in your own city”, caught my attention hook, line and sinker, and before I had even finished my coffee I had looked the festival up online, plotted out a map of the projects sites around the city centre, and set off on a treasure hunt. Seek and you will find.
The Look Again Festival premiered in 2015 as part of a three-year project to showcase the best of visual art and design from the north east of Scotland. Recognising that the region was “crying out for a large scale festival celebrating its innovative visual art and design projects” the cultural community combined forces and resources. The festival seeks to encourage creative connections locally, nationally and internationally, and support and promoting the existing and next generation of artists and designers here in the north east.
Having spent many years looking at this city in a certain light, I want to give it a chance to change my mind a little and open my eyes to the creativity and cultural atmosphere that I always felt Aberdeen has been missing. I intend to follow the motto in the by-line, to become a tourist in this city and the Look Again festival is a fantastic platform to help me see the potential Aberdeen has to offer. I hope to write another post in a couple days to reflect upon the exhibitions and creative spaces which I come across over the course of this weekend, and from what I’ve seen so far, I already have so much positive words to say.
For more information on the full festival guide take a look at the Look Again Festival website linked here.
As is so often the way, it came to mind seemingly from nowhere tonight, a memory which opened a door to another memory which sparked nostalgia for a moment of shared novice romance and silliness.
A number of years ago, whilst lying in the dark and still talking long passed the decision to turn out the light, my dear friend E. told me how she always loved the moment in our teenage years when I told her of how, when I grew up, I wanted to have a room in my house which would be near empty of furniture. In this room with wooden floorboards would sit a good sound system, a record player, and some really top notch speakers. The vision I had as a teenager, to spend my spare time in my future adult life zoned out of reality whilst lying on the ground zoned in to music, lived on long passed the teenage dreams, as well as the prematurely nostalgic reminiscing of my early twenties, to my far more ‘together’ mid-twenties and I still want that room in my own house. When E. told me then that she remembered something that I had said no doubt in adolescent off hand conversation about our hopes and dreams for life, I was touched that she thought that it was a significant remark, and that she was right to think so. I think it would be heavenly, and that’s just a little just something about me.
Tonight, I lay on the carpeted living room floor of my parent’s house at twilight, the daylight lingering thanks to the long anticipated Scottish spring. Track of choice to start the spiral of absorption into music was ‘Really Love’ by D’Angelo. Closing my eyes, with a smile on my face and in my heart I remembered the night he (the crush of the moment) first played that track to me as we hung out in the wee hours in his garage, after a night of ridiculous dancing and fairly hilarious unsteady cycling in the dark. Surrounded by beer cans, garden furniture and surfboards, me and that blonde man with the best smile in town, it was the Australian dream. We talked, we laughed, we shared music and the memory will always be special to me, that track will always take me back to that summer of fleeting novice romance and silliness.
It’s okay to find yourself cast adrift,
No one said so but you’ll see.
If only I had known that sooner.
Why opt for the storybook sequence of life,
A blueprint making no mention of the grittier details.
Give me the grit. Life is for living.
Pull down emotional barriers and just let the rest unfold.
Listen, stop talking. Stop over thinking your way through uncertainty.
Oh, to have an ocean full of oysters.
Always look on the bright side.
Smile, it might never happen.
You’ll never know if you don’t give it a go…
Give me the grit. Life is for living.
I spent a couple weeks at the end of last year in and around New York City, the city where dreams are made of. The city was shining at its festive brightest bedecked with twinkling lights and decorated to the nines in festive “holiday” cheer. It wasn’t my first visit to the big apple, so there were several sights I sought out to return to and a great number of new things yet to discover.
When visiting destination cities such as New York, I have my own little “must”’ for what to see and do, not the obvious tourist sights but the little rituals which for me really give a place its own identity. In London, I’ll stroll around a museum and find a little café to indulge in tea and a slice of cake; Paris calls for falafel pockets in the quirky third arrondissement with a glass of wine after shopping and perusing the book stalls along the Seine, and Bangkok cries out for trying pad thai bought on a busy street corner after spiritual contemplation in a temple and relaxing in the luscious, tropical gardens. With each little ritual in a new place, I imagine what it could be like to live solely in that moment and how life might unfold. It’s fun to connect with a place in this way, even if my time there is limited, taking in each detail and feeling very je ne sais quoi, very “insert location here”.
Engaging my imagination in this way opens my heart and mind to other possibilities not just for travel but in all aspects of life; a little self reflection goes a long way. If life can be likened to the longest journey we’ll embark upon, then we need to remind ourselves not to be unsettled by uncertainty nor fear change that will inevitably occur, but to dive in and embrace it all. On a small level this might mean we make the choice to try something new, we might be pleasantly surprised and we may even like it. Perhaps we’ll meet someone new, we’ll listen and learn from them and let them make an impression on our heart and mind. It becomes a very playful way to live life.
We will undoubtedly find ourselves face to face with serious and unalterable realities on our journey through life. Surely the only way to counter balance these sometimes harsh realities is to allow our minds to wander from time to time, to simply imagine what life could be like if we allowed it to unfold in a different way, even just as a supposition. So I invite you to pause, to relax for a moment and switch your mind off from what you’re doing to muse over how things could be…