(Scots Law) A common; a piece of land in which two or more persons have a common right.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Castle Square, Stranraer....Public Opening

Tuesday 22nd February saw the public launch of the newly refurbished Castle of St John and the surrounding square. The overall project was by Edinburgh architects Smith Scott Mullan – integrated into the design are work by D+G artists Matt Baker and David Ralston and poetry by Castle Douglas’ own Mary Smith. 
More info about the art commissions here
These commissions were organised through Jan Hogarth and Emily Dunn for DGArts
Mary Smith's Poem 'Ocean' is carved into the coping of a low retaining wall
Detail of the lettering of the inscribed poem
Matt Baker's design model of the retaining wall that has the poem on top - the poem described the creation of the local Whinstone rock and the Southern Uplands - which were both formed by the closing of an ocean that existed between Scotland nad England 400 million years ago. The ocean literally became the hills - the wall starts at an 'ocean' end with chains and a slatey form of Whinstone and the stones increase in size along the length before becoming big boulders on the 'hill'
The 'hill' end of the wall (part completed)
The 'ocean' end of the wall
Matt Baker's model of the 'bubbles' performance area
Bubbles artwork seen from the Castle of St John at the opening

Amazing 360 degree panorama of Castle Square taken from the middle of 'Bubbles' 

Stranraer Youth Theatre performing at the Opening
David Ralston - Collection Rock
The Collection Rock is a 3 tonne granite boulder from the local landscape - this commission was developed to make a replacement for a Wishing Well charity collection feature that was previously in the public space. David's artwork also functions as a collection box and is operated by the Stranraer Rotary Club
The coin drop


  1. So long Sybille!

    Three pieces of public art were created and installed by Sybille von Halem only 15 years ago in Stranraer's Castle Square. She was artist-in-residence at the time and undertook extensive public consultation for the project. The works celebrated the 400 anniversary of the Burgh and cost £9,000. A major commission in today’s money.

    What happened to the sculptures commissioned from this internationally renowned artist? Were they not good enough? Is it a fashion change? Has 'she' been consulted or even told?

    How does this match with D&G wish to, “present our region as a national centre for Environmental Art” and “placing culture at the centre of how D&G thinks about itself and promotes itself to others“?

  2. Dear Anonymous
    Of the three pieces created by Sybille van Halem, as far as I am aware, two remain exactly as she installed them. Of the third the situation is as follows:
    The architects Smith Scott Mullan have created a design blueprint that runs from Castle Square down South Strand Street and takes in the proposed waterfront development. They consulted with the Town Council and it was agreed that Sybille's work adjacent to the Castle of St John be integrated into the new public realm on the waterfront. The sculptures have been carefully removed and are being stored in the council depot.
    It was an integral part of the design for 'Castle Square' that the area of ground on which van Halem's work stood be lowered by 1.5 metres to create the new public space.
    As I see it, the vision of 'environmental art' that D+G is promoting is one that is context-led..any artist working in this way is sensitive to the idea that places are in a state of flux...I genuinely hope that Sybille van Halem has been consulted about developments to date and that she will be part of the decision-making process of re-siting her work on the waterfront

    1. I have read this correspondence today with amazement - since I have not lived in Scotland for 8 years now I did not even have any idea that the Castle Square has been changed in any way! And I have indeed NOT been consulted about the removal of my artworks, not in any way, shape or form.
      Please inform me of the whereabouts of my work, and the plans for it.

      Sibylle von Halem

    2. Hi Sibylle - I was asked by the client for this project for your contact details because he wanted to get in touch with you about your work in Stranraer. I suggest you contact him directly

      best regards
      Matt Baker

  3. Thank you indeed Matt. That is reassuring news of Sybille’s work and I also hope she has been contacted and will be consulted about its furure location.


    I am still considering what you say about the “state of flux..."...

  4. Dear Anonymous - have to admit to feeling rather daft speaking to someone about public art who is 'anonymous' - we are just people talking after all

    I also have to own up to the fact that my comment about all places being in a state of flux is a personal point of view. I will not go into this at great length now...but I have written about what I consider as the foundations for work in public space here:
    I believe that an artist working in public space makes a reading of the momentums that are at work in any place (rural...urban...I believe everywhere has an inbuilt momentum)- then they make a piece of work that will interact with that momentum in a meaningful/useful/unexpected way...that is the art of working in public (in MY understanding).
    Having made that work there is a necessary handing over of the work to the that point the artist makes an emotional 'contract' with the work and the place about how much or how little they will continue to be personally involved in the exchange of momentum between the place and artwork.
    I do not believe that just because I have made a piece of 'art' for a place that this has anymore inherent value than anything else in public space (eg a bus shelter, a building etc). As an artist you then have to trust in the work and 'the place' to make the right decisions about your work.

    In the case of Sybille van Halem's work in Stranraer - as far as I am aware this was a public place and a public process - I am not aware that there was any call for a wider public debate about the relocation of the sculpture from its original site...I am not aware that the meaning of the work relied upon this particular site? In the circumstances that such a work was utterly dependent on its site for its meaning then the responsibility for pointing this out would surely be the local artistic community who understood this....again I am not aware of any such objections being raised.

    What I am, very clumsily, trying to say is that any public place is subject to a complex array of checks and balances (a state of flux) the artist has to pass ownership of their work to this system. For this to be a genuine process of integration means that the artwork should not claim a 'special status' (ie a reverence as an 'art' object) because claiming such a status means the work is unable to wholeheartedly function as part of a public place.
    If I were in Sybille's situation I would be trusting the initial relationship I formed with the town would carry through and someone locally would make it their business to ensure that the next manifestation of the sculpture was as effective and meaningful as the previous one.

    In Stranraer the story of the movement of the fountain cast in memorial of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee is a good case in point...originally on George St, the townspeople have seen fit to re-erect it on Castle Square (it too vanished for safe keeping for a while)