Our Thesis explores ways in which people can meet with Govan Graving Docks, through direct material engagement. Growing on a rhizomatic structure, these explorations are set in the context of the Posthumanist and New Materialist philosophies and critiquing the capitalist objectification of landscapes.
Graving Docks is one of the last remaining organs of Glasgow’s shipbuilding industry but due the increasing effects of climate change, soon they too will disappear under the Clyde. While the memory of the shipbuilding industry is remembered with pride and great sense of loss, its history is tainted with both human and nonhuman objectification and exploitation.
Since their abandonment in 1987, Graving Docks have transformed their bodily image through dereliction and opened up towards a multiplicity of nonhuman actants. Could this be an invitation for rehabilitation?
Despite the fact that the body of Graving Docks is marked with contamination, organic life has returned to the once bare and torn lands. The sensory experience of their landscape blurs the boundaries between life and death, human and nonhuman and culture and nature. But proposals for redevelopment disregard the existence of this newly emerged ecosystem and they desire to tame the Docks once more.
Through care, kindness and nonhuman kinship, our Thesis explores multiple ways in which the human body and the body of Graving Docks can become entangled and form an assemblage of mutual becoming.
With the current progression of climate change, the area of the Govan Graving Docks is predicted to be under water within the next 30 years. In the meantime, the increasing water level could cause occasional flooding events, effecting the lower areas of the Dock. In my these this area is titled the Tidal Plane and it is an exploration of the flooding not as a negative phenomena but as a transformative action.
Through the opening of the Caisson gates, the Clyde could freely enter in and out of the docks, bringing sediment and nutrient with themselves. Through this continuous act of breathing and through the inclusion of the floating islands, the docks could be reenvisioned as places of repair and recovery but with the focus on the river rather than on the hulls of the ships.
Through the regular overlap between the river and the ground of the Docks, a new marshland could form, providing with much needed wildlife habitation spaces within the city.
Walking around the Graving Docks it’s hard not to notice the large patches of red paint, leftover from the time when the place was still used as a ship repair facility. But some of this paint can still contain large amounts of lead, toxic for both human and nonhuman health. Studies of the Clyde and Clyde estuary shows the presence of large amounts of heavy metals, some of which came from the shipyards and possible from the Graving Docks.
Quote from Ruth Olden’s Phd Thesis Work:
“The menial workers (the ‘red leaders’, ‘panel beaters’, ‘tankies’, ‘lead shotters’) had the dirtiest and most toxic jobs in the facility. A number of the ‘red leaders’ explained that their health had suffered badly following a lifetime working with lead, chrome and bitumen paints, and the ‘tankies’ too had not had it easy cleaning out the ship’s diesel, oil and sewage tanks from the inside. Whether it was due to their memories of the toxicity or the spartan industrial ground, these menial labourers all spoke of their wonder at how nature had taken over – that a contaminated place like this could recover and become so green – and many of them continued to visit. Then there were the tradesmen who lamented the lost language, the lost skill, getting lost where they live now even, amidst the chaos of urban change in Govan. Those that hadn’t already given up fighting the change hoped to see the heritage of the Graving Docks respected… ‘I was a painter, a red leader. It’s a dying breed. Fucking dying right enough. I think
I’ve only got another five year. Everyone’s dying of cancer. Red Lead. Chrome. Bitumen All of them. They’re all full of lead. You were only meant to go in there at 18 but I was in at 16 and a half, and I left when I was about 21… Do you know about the plans to develop it?’ ‘Aye I’ve heard’ … ‘And what do you think?’ … ‘I think it should be left as a wildlife place. To be quite honest with you. I definitely dae.” (http://www.rutholden.scot/)
While the flooding of the Graving Docks is both a practical and a productive exploration, it is also a ritualistic. Through the development of the Floating Islands, my aim was to create rituals of rehabilitation, which are in sync and in relation to natural phenomena like the movement of the Moon.
Taking inspiration from Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Materialism:
“This sense of a strange and incomplete commonality with the out-side may induce vital materialists to treat nonhumans – animals, plants, earth, even artifacts and commodities – more carefully, more strategically, more ecologically. But how to develop this capacity for naivete? One tactic might be to revisit and become temporarily infected by discredited philosophies of nature, risking “the taint of superstition, animism, vitalism, anthropomorphism, and other premodern attitudes.”
The questions which I were asking through this part of my Thesis: What kind of rituals would the making and nurturing of the floating islands induce? And if we think of the floating islands as the children of the Graving Docks and the Community who builds them, can we extend the notion of parenting to include nonhumans?
Floating Islands (Phytoremediation)
Growing from the concept of Mutual Care and The Poisoning, the question which I have started with: Can the rehabilitation of a landscape become an opportunity to recover a community and to recreate a sense of belonging?
The shipbuilding industry and prior to that the dredging of the Clyde has severed the connection between the city and its river. Currently there are very few places from which the river can be accessed and due to the large amounts of toxins (see Polmadie Burn) the water of the Clyde isn’t safe.
With the construction of the concrete and steel retaining walls, the edges of the river cut straight, providing little to no surface on which wildlife can take habitation. Through the use of floating islands, the edges of the river could be reconstructed, creating not only places for recreation but also places for wildlife and through the use of plants like water reed, the water if the Clyde could be further filtered and cleaned in the process.
Floating Islands also makes a relation between The Flooding events and the Lunar influences of the Clyde. The construction, launching, caring and departing of the islands could take on a more ritualistic form. Can the development of new rituals and habits form a new identity? An identity which is based on care, responsibility and mutual becoming?
The concept and development of the Mutual Care was the starting point for the development of the Village and the development of the Floating Islands. The model below is the manifestation of this exploration and has two main trajectory within my Thesis narrative.
Firstly, it explores the building as an in-between actant, where the person is cared for by the building through its ability to provide shelter and protection, and in return, the person cares for the building through maintenance and construction. Can human to nonhuman relations formed through construction?
Secondly, through the act of tea drinking, the physical body of the building and the person is blurred, where the bark of the willow tree (from which the model is made) is digested by the person who sits within. Willow tree bark has a medicinal property similar to aspirin and therefore can be used as natural remedy. What is the relationship between the health of a building (or landscape) and the health of a human being?
While the concept of Mutual Care helped to move my Thesis forward, eventually it reached the end of its life-cycle. But the end here is not marking the disappearance of the concept but the transformation of it into a new one. As a metaphor and manifestation, the model too had to pass away in order to allow for something new to grow out of it.
Born from the willow tree branches of the Graving Docks, the broken pieces of the model were cremated through the development of the Social Eating concept and the body of the model become the literal and philosophical fuel for the tea making.
In relation to the Govan Graving Docks; Can we think of the dereliction and decay of this space not with a sense of loss and grief but as a celebration of change and transformation? Govan has lost its identity with the closure of the shipyards and didn’t manage to properly recovery since.
Through the burial of the Graving Docks as a ship repair facility, could Govan enter into a search for a new identity? And what are the tools, materials and spaces which the community would needs for this process?
The concept of the Village grows from the development of Mutual Care, Non-Native to Native and the various material explorations. Responding to the question set out in Mutual Care, the Village has become an exploration of a building typology.
My aim was to develop a building which could be constructed by the community itself who will later use the building. Through the process of extension, the building can grow similarly to the rhizome but unlike a philosophical exploration, this growth is limited and directed by the context of the Graving Docks. In my current plan I explored two variations of this building, the Kitchen and the Community Workshop but the function of the building is ambiguous, the focus is on its materiality and method of construction.
One the one hand side, the building relies on building elements like traditional sash and roof windows and on the other it provides with an opportunity to practice responsible foresting, growing new construction materials like mycelium bricks and possible develop new industries in which people can participate. Through the process of construction, the building could become a training ground for construction and could provide with the opportunity to reinvent old methods like thatching.
From a philosophical point of view, the Village explores community based agency, in which the residents of a neighbourhood can take action and ownership of their surrounding and practice a responsible and care based approach. Taking this one level further, the idea of the community can be expanded with nonhumans and the building itself and its materiality could be considered as part of this assembly. In this way, the concept of the Village explores a relation with Glasgow the puppet, in which the materiality of the building and the materiality of the human body is blurred through the act of construction. Similarly to how the human body contains millions of microorganisms which helps us to stay alive, the body of the building encloses the human occupants, providing shelter in exchange for maintenance.
Through this symbiotic relationship of human and building, the Village takes one more step further and creates a relation with the Carcass. The process of construction starts with deconstruction as the old building is extended further. This process leaves a mark in the structure of the building, signalling transformation and change through the materiality and the composition of the building itself. The Village is never finished and it never meant to be.
Relations between the human Body and the body of the Graving Docks
Through Glasgow the Puppet I explored the connection between the human body and the body of the landscape. Building on Posthumanist and New Materialist philosophies, the human body can be seen as a porous assemblage, effected and influenced by natureculture. Glasgow the puppet is therefore a play with the blurring of the human and nonhuman, an ambiguous exploration in which the body becomes entangled with the landscape and where various materials can express their vibrancy towards the shapes and forms of the human organs.
Through the scenes acted out bellow, I would like to draw attention to the vibrancy and vitality of the Govan Graving Docks.
“To walk among a clutter of multiple objects and fragments is to move within a material environment which continually engages bodies, distracting and repulsing us, attracting us to unfamiliar textures or peculiar shapes, coercing us to stoop and bend to make a path around and through stuff. As Gay Hawkins and Stephen Muecke assert, this sort of “waste,” this rejected and neglected matter, “can touch the most visceral registers of the self – it can trigger responses and affects that remind us of the body’s intensities and multiplicities” (Tim Edensor, Sensing the Ruin)
Experiencing the Graving Docks is not hazard free and unlike the regulated and safeguarded streets of the rest of the city, derelict lands challenges the ways in which our bodies move through and interact with spaces.
Working in collaboration with the Govan Graving Docks for an entire year allowed me to experience this place in all four seasons and to meet with the multiplicity which makes up the body of the Docks through direct material engagement.