ABSENT VOICES: SUGAR ARCHIVE
McLean Museum & Art Gallery, 15 Kelly St, Greenock PA16 8JX
Saturday 22nd November – Saturday 20th December, 2014
Monday – Saturday, 10am-5pm
SWEET TASTE OF SCOTLAND'S INDUSTRIAL HERITAGE
AN archive created by artists and musicians who have been exploring the heritage of Scotland’s once-mighty sugar industry is set to be handed over to the people of Inverclyde.
Sugar Archive, which is currently on display at The McLean Museum and Art Gallery in Greenock represents the culmination of a year-long public art project chiefly inspired by the A-listed Sugar Sheds at James Watt Dock, Greenock.
The Absent Voices Sugar Archive is an actual and virtual collection featuring a range of mediums, from paintings to drawings, stained glass, photography, poetry, film, songs and soundscape.
The archive, which includes a brand new poem reflecting the loss of the sugar industry by Scotland’s national poet, Liz Lochhead, and a short filmed soundtrack of the Sugar Sheds, called Out of the Strong Came Forth Sweetness, will be formally handed over to the McLean Gallery when the exhibition ends on 20th December.
Artists involved in the Absent Voices collective are:
Alan Carlisle, Alastair Cook, Alec Galloway, Ryan King, Yvonne Lyon, Kevin McDermott, Anne Mckay & Rod Miller.
The exhibition highlights a broad range of work produced by the group as well as visual art, music and film-based imagery produced in collaboration with the wider community in Inverclyde.
The sugar industry shut up shop in Greenock in the late 1990s after more than 300 years continuous operation in the town.
Lead artist in this Heritage Lottery Funded (HLF) funded project, Alec Galloway, was inspired to create the project by his own family connections to the sugar industry in Greenock.
He said: “By focusing on the historic sugar sheds at James Watt Dock in Greenock, the artists have created a lasting archive of material for current and future generations to come.
“As well marking the importance of the sugar industry in Scotland, the archive shows a remarkable outpouring of creativity on the part of each and every artist involved.
“We have all been inspired and delighted by level of community participation in Absent Voices’ workshops and also the way in which the project has reached beyond Inverclyde. It’s been fantastic to see national figures such as Liz Lochhead, and fellow poet John Glenday get involved through the wonder of Alastair Cook’s innovative ongoing Filmpoem project.
“We worked with schools and community groups, conducted drawing and photography tours of the sugar sheds and songwriting workshops at the Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock.
“Through all these events, the level of interest in Absent Voices grew and grew. There was a real desire from the wider community to discover – or rediscover – the stories which surrounded sugar refining in Inverclyde. It re-enforced our feeling that it was important to create this archive.
“My family all worked in the sugar industry and it has been very moving for me personally to see this project unfold. One of the artworks I have created is a glasswork featuring my grandmother, Mary Galloway, who worked at The Glebe, a well-known sugar refining warehouse, in the 1920s.
“I’ve also been working on glass-works relating to my great-grandfather, Alexander Cochrane, who was killed when Walker’s refinery in Greenock took a direct hit during the Greenock Blitz of 1941.”
ARTISTS’ OWN SUGAR STORIES:
ALASTAIR COOK Photography and filmmaking
During the summer of 2014, award-winning artist, Alastair Cook, was artist-in-residence at Dutch Gable House in Greenock as part of Absent Voices. He was commissioned to create four projects for Absent Voices: Every Memory, Everything We Have Ever Missed, McArthur’s Store and three new films for Filmpoem.
He has also collected and curated the creative response to the sugar sheds in a new book, titled Absent Voices. This book shows the new work of a number of Absent Voices artists, alongside others who visited over the past year, with new poetry and writing by Scotland’s National poet, Liz Lochhead, as well as fellow Scots poets, John Glenday and Jim Carruth (Glasgow Poet Laureate), among others. The book will be available at the exhibition in the McLean Museum.
Throughout October 2014, Alastair exhibited Every Memory at The Beacon Arts, unveiling In order to win, you must expect to win, a new series of documentary and portrait photography with Greenock Boxing Club, alongside new large format photography for Absent Voices.
From September until November, he exhibited Everything We Have Ever Missed at Dutch Gable House, showing large format print photography for a book with accompanying work by poet, John Glenday.
Alastair produced double exposure photographs made using 35mm film: there is no digital trickery, the film is sent through the camera twice, hiding the resulting images until processing. All this work was made in the Sugar Sheds; working with the poet in Greenock over a period of months. Limited numbers of the book will be available as part of the exhibition.
To reflect Greenock’s origins as a fishing village, Alastair is also exhibiting McArthur’s Store at 6Art in Greenock, running concurrently with the Sugar Archive exhibition at the nearby McLean Museum. McArthur’s Store is a series of wet plate collodion tintype portraits of fishermen who work from McArthur’s Store, a creel store on the Old Harbour in the small east coast fishing town of Dunbar. This photographic process dates from 1851 and was used until the 1880s.
Alastair was also commissioned to make three new films for Absent Voices: Alba, Greed and The Fishermen and the Weather Wife. These films will screen in Greenock at a special event to be announced.
ALEC GALLOWAY Glass artist and painter
Greenock-born Alec has a deep family connection with the sugar industry in his home town. An award-winning stained glass artist and lecturer in architectural glass, most of his glass creations develop from ideas taken from sketches and observational drawing. As part of Absent Voices he has looked at how the craft of traditional stained glass has declined as an expressive art form and contrasts the profile of stained glass in the 21st century with Victorian Scotland when the art form flourished.
Alec hosted stained-glass workshops in Greenock in which participants were taken on an historical journey to observe windows in the town made by the finest exponents of the art-form; including Edward Burne Jones, William Morris and Gabriel Rossetti. His hands-on workshops went on to explore traditional glass painting techniques, with students creating their own works in the spirit of those important artists.
He has also explored his own personal links to the sugar industry which employed most of his family from the 1900s onwards. This included researching the story of his great grandfather’s death while working at the Walkers refinery on the night of May 4th 1941 when Clydeside was targeted by German bombers during the blitz.
Alec has unearthed images and stories relating to this incident and produced a very personal body of work exploring themes linked to both family and the wider sugar trade.
As well as creating works in glass and paintings, he has projected images shown directly on the interior walls of the sugar shed building.
RYAN KING AND ALAND CARLISLE Soundscape
Alan and Ryan, who play in The Alphabetical Order Orchestra together, began working on a soundscape for Absent Voices at the beginning of 2013. Focusing on the community, history and the trade that connects them, they set out to give the Sugar Sheds ‘a voice’.
Using the sounds of the building, the rhythms of the trade and lives of the people who passed through the doors (including Ryan’s grandfather, Jim King, who worked at the sheds), they have researched the sounds the building makes.
Ryan says: “We’ve taken sounds we've bounced around its walls and recorded them. We've interviewed and collected interviews with members of the community, and had discussions to understand what life was like around the dock and in the sugar trade. We enlisted the help of sound engineer and musician, Jim Lang, and another member of our band, Gary Deveney.
Together we formed an experimental and exciting group approach to writing and recording. We have recorded music in the studio and taken it to the Sheds and sent it out into the building and re-recorded it, used fusions of Caribbean and Celtic rhythms, and evoking moods and atmosphere though sound. Ultimately we hope to encapsulate the sound of the sheds to record the past, present and future of the building as a soundtrack, giving it a voice.”
YVONNE LYON Singer and songwriter
Greenock-based singer-songwriter, musician and teacher, Yvonne, has been busy writing new material based around the sugar industry while encouraging aspiring songwriters of all ages to make and create their own songs.
Together with Anne Mckay and Kevin McDermott, she took part in a series of workshops with P5/6 at Whinhill Primary in Greenock throughout March/April 2014. The theme was The Folk Of The Sheds, bringing characters that would have worked in there in 1900s to life through songwriting and visual art.
She said: “We have been encouraging imagination as a form of learning about the history of the sheds and touching on subjects such as the slave trade, trade triangle, working songs and folk songs of Africa, Scotland and the Caribbean. To date, five original songs, incorporating English, Gaelic and Scots have now been recorded with the P5/6’s as featured singers.”
The children also showcased their songs at an Absent Voices pop up event at the Beacon to resounding success.
In collaboration with fellow AV artist, Alastair Cook, Yvonne composed a Filmpoem score to poems by Angela Readman.
She hosted songwriting workshops for the community throughout September to encourage songwriting as a form of uncovering stories related to the sugar industry; looking at working songs, slave songs, folk songs as forms from which to write. Compositions are also being recorded to form part of the archived work.
KEVIN MCDERMOTT Singer and songwriter
Born and raised in Maryhill, Glasgow, Kevin started working life as an apprentice with Yarrow Shipbuilders before signing to Island Records and going on to forge a successful career as a musician with his band, The Kevin McDermott Orchestra, and as a solo artist. His anthemic Voices (from 2008 album, Wise to the Fade) has become the theme song for Absent Voices as the year of creating the Sugar Archive progressed.
Currently working on an album of songs which draw inspiration from the global reach of the sugar industry, Kevin has played several gigs this year, including one with Pretenders guitarist, Robbie McIntosh as part of Celtic Connections 2014 in Glasgow, and at The Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock.
He has also performed at two primary schools, Whinhill and All Saints, both based in Greenock. At Whinhill, Kevin took part in songwriting workshops with fellow Absent Voices artist, Yvonne Lyon and Anne Mckay, while at All Saints, he was involved in a sugar inspired project which saw the pupils making ‘sugar loaves’ and creating murals.
ANNE MCKAY Painter
Gourock-based Anne has collaborated with various community groups in Inverclyde, ranging from primary-aged children to the elderly.
Working with All Saints and Whinhill Primary Schools, through drawing and painting, children produced murals and 3d sugar loaves, investigating their heritage, through images and by looking at artists, Stanley Spencer and Joan Eardley, and depicting scenes relating to the sugar industry.
Together with with fellow AV members, Yvonne Lyon (and guest Kevin McDermott), the Whinhill project incorporated music and art as a means of describing the Folk of the Sugar Sheds.
Anne lead a number of Walking Drawing Tours of the Sugar Sheds with Rod Miller as well as hosting figure drawing, portrait classes at the McLean Museum, using their exhibition as source material.
Mural workshops were undertaken with Your Voices Community Care in Greenock. This group included middle-aged to elderly locals who have bee dealing with such issues as depression.
Anne also interviewed and drew 100-year-old Bertie, who worked in the sugar sheds as a boy. In her own own work for Sugar Archive, Anne is considering those who worked in the sugar industry and the processes involved in the refining process. Her work features the workers as spirits and their interaction with nature. She is also collaborating with poets, who are writing poems based on her personal AV drawings.
ROD MILLER Painter and photographer
Together with fellow Absent Voices artist, Anne Mckay, Rod has worked with P6/7 pupils at All Saints PS in Greenock on a project in which the children made ‘sugar loaves’ from sugar paper and painted them with designs/stories/images.
The inspiration for this was a series of talks which he delivered on the history of sugar from its initial discovery, ensuing world wide trade and its implications for slavery and the effect it had on our local town.
Anne Mckay and Rod also led Walking and Drawing Tours of the Sugar Sheds at James Watt Dock, together and then separately. On these tours, Rod gave a talk on the history of the building and challenged the participants to record the building using different drawing techniques such as thumbnail sketches, line drawing, shadow drawing and full detailed drawing using graphite and charcoal.
Rod also held figure drawing classes with models posed and dressed based on historic photographs of sugar refinery workers. Various drawing techniques were used including line drawing speed drawing, with attention to perspective and body proportions.
He also led photographic tours in and around the sheds.
Rod has been working on a series of oil paintings as his personal contribution to the Absent Voices archive. Influenced by his research into the history of sugar story, these paintings have a surrealist narrative which talks out the less-than-savoury aspects of the sugar story.
ABOUT THE SUGAR SHEDS
The A-listed red-brick and cast-iron former sugar warehouse sits alongside Greenock’s Titan Crane at James Watt Dock, Greenock. A local landmark with its distinctive zig-zag exterior, it not been used for sugar-making since the 1960s.
Prince Charles is a known supporter of retaining it and even visited the building in 2002 to add his voice to a campaign to save it from demolition.
Despite several attempt to demolish it, and a fire which almost destroyed it in 2006, it is now wind and watertight.
The building was used as a venue during the 2011 Tall Ships Race, which opened many eyes to its potential as a space which could be used for public events. It was also used during part of Glasgow2014, the celebration of culture which ran alongside The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this year.
Built between 1882 and 1886 to designs by Walter Kinipple, the 700-ft long sugar warehouse was constructed in four red-brick sections with arches and pilasters in yellow brick.
It is recognised as an example of early industrial architecture, with an unusual feature of a colonnade of cast iron columns forming a sheltered unloading area next to the quayside. Currently owned by Clydeport, the warehouse operates as a storage facility in tandem with the James Watt Dock Marina.
Absent Voices is supported by Heritage Lottery Fund, Inverclyde Council and Riverside Inverclyde.
Colin McLean, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in Scotland, said:
“The sugar sheds of Greenock are a symbol of the central role the town once played in the world’s sugar industry, an industry which brought with it jobs, housing and economic prosperity. The Heritage Lottery Fund is delighted to be part of a project which brings the community together to explore, record and celebrate this important industrial heritage and the legacy that it leaves in the town today.”
THE HISTORY OF SUGAR IN GREENOCK
Trade began between Greenock and the sugar exporting colonies of the West Indies around the early 1730s, but very little of what was imported stayed within the area. Glasgow had been refining sugar since the 1660s, and so much of what was brought ashore at Greenock and Port Glasgow was shipped up river by cart.
It is possible that there were a number of small refining industries operating in the area at this time. However, the first commercial refinery was not established in Greenock until 1765, at the foot of Sugar House Lane, close to where the Oak mall now stands. It was built by Mr Mark Kuhl, and employed just a handful of men. Other refineries quickly followed and by the 1820s there were at least eight operating in the area.
By the 1870s, there were 14 or 15 large refineries in operation, producing a quarter of a million tons annually and employing thousands. At this time, there was no town in the Empire, outside of London, carrying out the trade so extensively and Greenock earned the title of Sugaropolis, sugar capital of Scotland.
The sugar industry in Greenock came to an end when sugar giant, Tate & Lyle, closed its Westburn Refinery in 1997.