My immediate family have lived in Dundee for as long as we can remember. Sure there are some of us who have moved away and others who moved here from other places, (my Mum is technically Glaswegian by birth) but we have all grown up in Dundee, and are as closely tied to the recent history of the place as any other family in Dundee.
Dundee itself has been changing recently, and our family exemplifies the change. In just one generation we have transitioned from the manufacturing history Dundee has been world renowned for into the creative industries where it seems like more of Dundee’s future is focused. This change is visible all over Dundee, but never so clearly defined as in my family.
My Parents are both bystanders in the de-industrialisation of Dundee. My Mum worked at the NCR factory until compulsory redundancies were brought in, and then the same fate befell my Dad in this years closure of the Michelin site in Dundee. Yet here I am, one generation on from them, a graduate of Duncan of Jordanstone, having lived in Dundee all my life and now working as a professional artist. Never has a cities change in direction been more perfectly distilled in one family.
Another way Dundee is punching above its weight is in the terms of scientific research and development. We are world-leading in the development of treatments and potential cures for cancer, and even here the link to me and mine is clear.
The truth is that the changes in Dundee are reflected in its population, and the generational divide reflects our changing direction, built on the industrial history of the past. No Dundonian has to look far into their past to find someone who worked in the massive bygone industries. Grandparents who worked in Jute Mills, Aunties who worked in sweet production or denim manufacturing or Uncles who worked at the boat yard are more common than not. The closure of the Michelin, and with it the last of the large manufacturing industries based in the city was the closing of a chapter felt all across the city.
It was with the echo of this change ringing in my ears that Dundee City Council announced their Dundee Windows Project and asked for project proposals. The aim of the project was to provide six artists with an empty retail space for them to display a work in the window while the council looks for someone to occupy the space on a more permanent basis.
I crafted a proposal that explained my situation, and my relationship with Dundee and emailed it in expectantly. I was quietly confident. Surely nobody would be able to craft as emotional and responsive a narrative in their proposal as I could. I was voted Dundee’s Most Beautiful Baby in 1989. How could they not give it to me?
I didn’t get it, and I’m not entirely convinced it’s not because I didn’t remind them that I was essentially the face of Dundee for the first year of my life.
The idea I had for the project wouldn’t leave me alone however, and I kept thinking, planning, researching and sketching it. I had a note in my phone where I would jot down ideas for it on the sly. Friends who knew what I was working on were sending me messages from around the world with things I should include, and the stories from their families on how they connected. The more I thought about it, the more I decided that even if my proposal hadn’t been selected, I was still Dundee’s Most Beautiful Baby in 1989 and I was going to do it!
I also thought that, as an artist online, it’s so easy to look around and think that everything is going great for everyone else, because we’re all posting our successes and not our ‘failures’ so I thought it would be helpful, maybe, for people to see that it’s not always smooth sailing.
So here it is; my latest work; We’re Ah Dundee, I hope you like it. The file’s huge so click the image to open it full size in a new window.
I would love to know what you think, can you list all the Dundonian things in the image? Was there anything I included that surprised you?
On a final note, I’ll also be uploading a process piece over on my Patreon where you can see a step-by-step of the drawing and I talk a bit more about the work that went into it. You can become a Patron from as little as £3 a month and I’d be incredibly grateful for the support!