LAGI: Glasgow

The Watergaw, 2016

In 2015 I was invited to be lead artist in one of three teams competing for the LAGI Glasgow commission – LAGI stands for Land Art Generator Initiative, and you can see more of their work here. The brief was to create a scheme that combines public art and renewable energy technology for a site on Dundas Hill, by the canal. 

In their working lives artists’ happen on such unexpected opportunities. In recent years I have been asked to create a memorial to organ donation, worked with people who have brain tumours, studied marine renewable energy, and worked with Gaelic place-names. There is no formal or skill-based professional training for such varied subjects; there is only being an artist. Each situation requires one to think through problems, around constraints, into issues and, above all, listen imaginatively, to what’s being said and what’s being concealed.

Early word-drawing sketch for LAGI Glasgow, AF, 2015
Imagining Dundas Hill from a name and aerial photograph doesn’t prepare one for the patchwork of abandoned industrial buildings, new build grey hangars, railings, and brambles. Dreaming is brought to an abrupt halt by problems, and much of the work is solving and salvaging the damage of the past. The hillside was leeched with a mixter-maxter of toxic matter, the leavings of two centuries of industry. The first issue we saw was how to guide rainfall off the hill. Now, this could have been left as a problem for the site developer to solve, but in my experience the attuned artist tried to solve each problem, even if it seems to have no bearing on aesthetics. This skelf in the fabric of the site came to define the essence of our concept: flow of water, flow of energy. 



Early system diagram for LAGI Glasgow, AF, 2015

The organisers defined the aims of the project as the application of ‘interdisciplinary creative processes into the conception of site-specific, solution-based public art interventions,’ proposing ‘a creative inquiry into the aesthetics of renewable energy, which would balance art and energy production’. The three proposals are being exhibited at the Lighthouse this June.

My collaborators were Rolf, Felicity and other members of erz, Glasgow, who I knew from the hidden gardens, and a new friend, the architect Riccardo Mariano, who is based in Berlin. Riccardo devised the fragment of rainbow which would have been projected in the sky every few days, its beam triggered by energy output, and I suggested the title, the watergaw, after MacDairmaid’s poem. From the off the discussions flowed in a way that was a pleasure to share, without any of us being restricted to our professional roles or training. The initial concept came together within the space of a weekend, with the help of Ben Spencer, as an interlocutor and encourager. We all remain proud of the proposal in terms of its ambition, scope, and the integration of energy production, technology, and community.

We were of one mind in our determination to avoid the BIGness that dominates such competitions – some previous LAGI schemes include architectural geegaws, in which the technology is simply an add-on, as with the solar armour plate on this floating duck. 

 ‘Energy Duck’, Pochee, Khan, Leger, Fryer, 2014 LAGI Copenhagen

Taking the risk of interpreting the brief in a generous way, and choosing to believe the expressions of concern that the community – a new housing estate is planned for the hillside – should be a priority, we considered other energies, such as wellbeing, and the slower effect of the sun on flora and foodstuffs, as well as kwh output.

The result was a combined energy system which utilized every resource on the hill: wind turbines (wind-callers) – a given in a site such as this – a water source heat pump (the give-and-take), a micro-hydro installation (water-caller) in the Monkland canal pipe, and, while the hillside was still bare, the potential of planting willow as biomass (the willow field). The other teams proposed schemes with one energy output. Our technologies were integrated with newly conceived artworks, iterations rather than decorations, the most pleasing, to me, being Riccardo’s wind-callers, adapting the highly efficient QR-wind turbines into Ossianic harps.

In our view a scheme such as this had to feature a district heating system – common on the continent but regrettably rare here – if it was going to be serious about energy conservation. Following the flow, and utilising every possibility the technology offered, we also incorporated an innovative growing space for the community, using the warm water produced by the heat pump. A thicket of issues around diet, wellbeing, mental health and poverty has reached such a crisis point in Glasgow that, again, we felt the scheme had to address this directly.

Wind-caller, 2016

Of course, we spent far too long developing the project given the small amount of funding available, but, as with any truly integrative scheme, we learnt much from one another, and that knowledge will be carried forward. The three teams proposals take their place in a much larger discussion about how art should function in the civic realm, how energy technologies relate to communities, and what the future of social relations and health are in a contemporary city.



I was struck by one of the judges’ comments in the feedback that the watergaw, the most visible of our artworks – visible in the LAGI-sense – would have less impact because it would only appear intermittently. Experience tells me that the fate of all static sculptures is to fade into the background of time, simply by dint of their immovability, whereas a fragment of rainbow appearing periodically on the skyline of the city would be a wee delight, giving folk a surprise, and no doubt garnering a Glasgow nick-name. If anything, the project confirmed my resistance to large-scale objects.

It was odd, in a project that stresses engagement, that three of the judges, including the chair, didn’t attend the interviews, but perhaps that’s the nature of working in the public realm today?

There is a description of our project below, and after that I have included a few of the draft poems that I composed on the burns and rivers of the watershed of the canal. The winning project can be viewed online. It features a new kind of bladeless wind generator that has been coloured shades of green.

the watergaw

The watergaw is a luminous ephemeral artwork that matches LAGI’s ambition: its breathtaking generosity will delight visitors and, coming and going as lightly as the weather, the excitement of seeing it light up the sky will become an ever-present possibility for the people of Glasgow. It represents energy usage in an iconic manner; symbolises the potential of the water cycle, which mediates all living things, and translates the passage of time and the elements into an inspiring measure of renewable energy generation. The watergaw is the centerpiece for a system-based scheme of landscape design, energy production, and public artworks that support regeneration at a city and neighbourhood scale.

Watergaw is a beautiful neglected Scots word meaning a patch of rainbow in the sky. The plan and diagram show Dundas Hill transformed. The water cycle and energy circle form an integrated system combining to release the generative potential of the site. LAGI projects strike a balance between striking visual impact and successful energy generation: blending ingenuity and generosity – ours combines gallus wit with a hint of sober Scots common-sense. The system diagram maps our Land Art Generators – wind turbines (wind-callers), water source heat pump (the give-and-take), micro-hydro installation (water-caller), and potential biomass planting (the willow field)– all integrated with newly conceived artworks. 

The proposal meets the challenge of producing energy within an existing network, designing a utility scale renewable system that is also an iconic destination. The practical issues pertaining to water-flow guided us. The canal yields energy via the water-caller, a micro-turbine installed in the Monkland pipe, at Pinkston Basin, and heat, produced by the give-and-take, a water source heat pump. The water cycle ingeniously combines cold water, piped up the watershed, a new public walkway, to the pools that feed the watergaw, and warm water, piped to the growing glass, which produces fresh produce year round, and provides a ‘village hall’ for the community and welcome for visitors. The hot pipe emerges en route to warm two espalier shelters offering protection from the wind for fruit trees, and warming heated benches. There is scope to support the creation of a district heating system. 

the water-callers

The water-callers were listening devices that would have been installed by the Monkland canal inflow pipe. The pipes would have resembled a waterside organ, and broadcast audio recordings of the watershed burns blended with voices performing the poems. Inscribed river names give the meaning and linguistic origins of the names.

(I) Kelvin

“Thir dyvers springs joyned beneth the kirk of Monyabrigh, begins to be cald Kelvyn and fals in a litle loch”
(Geog. Coll. 1644)

my course is habitual
though I remain prone

to erasing my line
on the floodplain

if you forget to plan
for a long day’s rainfall

reedy river, bawling water

Kelvin: possibly a Brittonic name, ‘to rise, stand up’, or Old Irish ‘sprout, shoot’, like the Welsh calaf, ‘stalk stem’. For much of its upper course the river is slow-flowing through a marshy reed-infested floodplain. The name could also derive from Kalona, Old Irish for ‘to shout, cry’, giving ‘shouting river’. Two men died in the great spate of December 1994 when their car fell from the shattered bridge at Gavell. 


Geographical collections relating to Scotland made by Walter Macfarlane,
ed. A.Mitchell (3 vols. SHS, Edinburgh 1906-1908)
Peter Drummond: An analysis of toponyms and toponymic patterns in eight parishes of the upper Kelvin basin.

(2) Finglen Burn

where the bank is steepest
pale grass strips

   show where the snow
   was moored the longest

take yourself a seat soft
as those that furnished

   Caronia, Scarey Mary,
   The Empress, and The Queen

shining glen water

Finglen: from Gaelic fionn ghleann, ‘white valley’; probably referring to the banks and grass colour, rather than the water. The burn rises in the Campsie Hills and joins the Glazert Water. Harris Morris established a furniture company near Lennoxtown in 1884: well respected, the Morris company made chairs and cabinets for liners, including the Clyde-built Cunard line with their famous red-striped funnels – The Caronia (nicknamed ‘The Green Goddess’), Queen Mary 2 (‘Scarey Mary’), The Empress of Scotland, and The QE2 (‘The Queen’). The factory ceased production in September 2015.


Peter Drummond: An analysis of toponyms and toponymic patterns in eight parishes of the upper Kelvin basin

(3) Aldessan Burn

all water being water

I find myself a riddle

for I will lose all trace

of identity when

I force the whin-

stone linn and fall

through my name

while I will remain

all the same stream

the force

Aldessan: from Gaelic Allt Easain, the waterfalls torrent. The burn descends from the Campsie Fells and, shortly after the Spout o' Craiglee waterfall, it becomes the Kirk Burn.

Peter Drummond: An analysis of toponyms and toponymic patterns in eight parishes of the upper Kelvin basin

(4) Doups Burn

from Cauldstane Slap
to The Cloven Stone
the path is a loan

from Stone Close
to Doups Burn
the drove is a debt

from Siteasy
to Berry Muir
the tryst is in sight

backside burn

Doups Burn, from Sc doup, ‘fundament’, the polite term for the buttocks. The Doups Burn flows into the Castlerankine Burn.

A drove road leading to the famous tryst – sheep and cattle fair – at Falkirk passes Doups farm, visible in the remains of a double-line of stone dyke, typical of Lowland drove loans – a loan is Scots for a driving path for cattle. From here the drover would have seen his destination, Falkirk, for the first time. The names are taken from a local Banton estate map (1805), except Cauldstane Slap, which marks the old Borders drove road at the north edge of the Pentland Hills. The Cloven Stone resembles a hoof, being split in two – it is now concealed by thick forestry. The innovation of banking loans, introduced by the old Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank of Scotland in 1728, was a great help to drovers; many bills would circulate through different hands over long periods before being cashed at the tryst at Falkirk.


Peter Drummond: An analysis of toponyms and toponymic patterns in eight parishes of the upper Kelvin basin
Heritage Paths: The Cauldstane Slap and Cross Borders Drove Road
ARB Haldane: New Ways Through the Glens

(5) Craigdouffie Burn

take me down
over and over

so that I can feed
over and over

this body of water
over and over

which will sustain
over and over

the narrow channel
over and over

between sea and ocean
over and over

dark-crag water

Craigdouffie: from the Gaelic creag dubh, anglicized to ‘duff’, refers to a small cliff above the ruined farm, the dark crag. The burn has two sources: the western rises in boggy ground near the Tak-Ma-Doun Road; the eastern rises from a spring near the ruins of Craigdouffie farm. It then runs through the Boiling Glen to join the Banton Burn. The Tak-ma-doun road is steep in places, so the sense may be a humorous “take me down safely”. It is popular with cyclists and motorcyclists.

The Craigdouffie Burn feeds Banton Loch, a reservoir constructed in 1778 as the main water source for the Forth and Clyde Canal. The canal still depends on the daily flow of millions of gallons of water from the reservoir, which is also fed by Banton Burn and a lade running from the Garrel Burn.


Peter Drummond: An analysis of toponyms and toponymic patterns in eight parishes of the upper Kelvin basin

(6) Bonny Water

“Great economy in point of fuel
great economy in point of cleanliness”

(Esse stoves motto)

the best range in The Wild West, made in Bonnybridge
when the furnaces belched smoke on the water



the hollow spring

Bonny Water: interpretations of this name vary: Bony, derived from a Celtic root, possibly connected with Gaelic bonnag, ‘a jump, a spring’, (Johnston); Bonnyrigg, from the Scots Bannockrig, a bannock (Dixon); Bonnyfield, Bonnyrig: place in a hollow, and slope at a hollow; or the Gaelic bonnan, little hollow, and ruigh, slope, (Milne).

James Smith emigrated to Jackson, Mississippi, where he established a metal works producing stoves. He later returned to Bonnybridge, where, together with Stephen Wellstood and George Ure, he founded the Smith and Wellstood Columbian Foundry by the Bonny Water. The firm produced the Esse stove, featuring a variety of designs, including Moariess, Sultana and Kitchener. The recent Ironheart model combines cooking and heating, while “going back to Esse’s earliest, mid-19th century design principles.” Smith and Wellstood closed in 1994.


Peter Drummond: An analysis of toponyms and toponymic patterns in eight parishes of the upper Kelvin basin
Norman Dixon: The Placenames of Midlothian, Phd thesis University of Edinburgh, 1947
James B. Johnston: Place-names of Scotland
John Milne: Gaelic Place-names of the Midlothians


The Lighthouse
9 June - 29 July 2016

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