End of the Line

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By Catherine Marshall:

This is a story of a rather unusual bus journey to the end of the line in Edinburgh, a discovery of an industrial museum witness to centuries of change and my own transition in moving to a new city and country.

I have always been drawn to the theme of transition both in my private life – often moving flats, cities, countries – and in my photography – which often features urban spaces undergoing change. When I first moved to Edinburgh from Germany, I had a reverse culture shock. I had to relearn a British culture that I had left behind fifteen years ago. To be honest I was happy that I had washed up in Edinburgh and not South of the border. It felt closer to Europe, the tenement-style buildings also reminded me of Berlin. As an English person, it was also nice to still feel foreign, to learn Scots phrases, hear poems read in Gaelic and learn about Scottish culture through my sons' school education. 

When it came to taking photographs and negotiating the city I was less comfortable. I almost felt that as an English person I didn't have the authority to go out there and reframe the landscape through my camera. Apart from that, I had no idea of the geography of the city and didn't know where to start. Then I came across came across (g)Host City, a kind of sound-map of Edinburgh to download where you can hear a story or a poem set in a particular location of the city. I decided to take an 'unreliable bus tour' by Japan-dwelling Scot, artist and musician, Momus. It gave me the framework (and courage) to set off to those mysterious sounding destinations on the front of buses I had seen in town: Wallyford, Ocean Terminal, Hyvot's Bank and Bonally. I cannot really describe the surreal, dark and funny tours he gave, as that is something to discover for yourself.

On one journey I wasn't sure if the bus had actually reached the end of the line. It seemed to circle back so I just decided to get off. The audio tour had ended, my google maps app was not working and suddenly I found myself off map. Two bus stops stood baldly on opposite sides of the country road, the only punctuation marks in an otherwise unreadable flat landscape. Should I go left or right or take the bus back? I decided to follow my nose. Walking down a winding B-road I saw another marker in the landscape, an exclamation mark of an industrial chimney stack. I was alone, not having seen another pedestrian since I had left the bus, and was glad to see some sign of civilisation. A pit head winding-gear came into view. As I walked closer I saw a bricked wall with tiles with illustrations of former industries; fishing, pottery, coal, and brickworks. Through serendipity I had found the Prestongrange Industrial Heritage Museum located on the north-east coast of East Lothian. For centuries this area was the centre of intense industrial activity, with a busy harbour, Morrison's Haven. Now you can just see where the harbour used to be, a rectangular outline on the grassy bank, marked with a sign on the ‘bygone years’, the sign itself nearly faded away through the erosion from the sea air. 

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At the museum I found myself donning my headphones again, this time to listen to an audio-tour of the outdoor exhibits narrated by the late artist John Bellany who grew up nearby, conjuring up, not so different from Momus, an alternative world to the one you see with your own eyes. From Bellany’s stories of Prestonpans you visualise a lost industry; the smoke billowing from the Beehive Kilns that once produced bricks for the buildings of the New Town. Or you find yourself at its mid-eighteenth century heyday with ships loaded with salt, oysters, ceramics, sulphuric acid and coal, or bringing silk, furs from Canada, whalebone and French brandy in return. In the nineteenth century, Irish workers, who first arrived in the West of Scotland, are brought with their families and their traditions to the East by new investors, Summerlee. These new owners also improved workers' conditions, installing indoor plumbing to the mining workers’ housing. Electric generators replaced the steam engines in the powerhouse and electric street lighting was brought to the area. Today the powerhouse houses art exhibitions. I was so taken with the museum, and the fact that I was free to wander with my camera making my own discoveries of an overgrown railway bridge and train tracks in the surrounding forest, that when I returned to the visitor centre the assistant said that she had been thinking of sending out a search party. 

As I left Prestonpans, walking west along the coastal path towards Musselburgh, I came across a quite alien landscape. This was not the Edinburgh that I could have imagined existed when I had set out on my 'unreliable bus tour' that morning. I had found, however, something equally strange. A vast cracked grey landscape stretched out before me towards the sea, made infinite by the fog that was closing in. These are called 'lagoons', a salubrious name for a place where Scottish Power deposited waste ash from the now closed Cockenzie power station. 

In these coastal areas, the delicate balance of man and nature is most apparent. The oysters that the Edinburgh population once enjoyed with their French Claret disappeared towards the end of the nineteenth century overfishing, new dredging methods and pollution from sewage and industrial waste. As industry disappears, nature reclaims, and also in this case offered opportunity for recreation. Bellany recounts several generations of Prestonpans children using the disused harbour as their own swimming pool after the 1930s, conveniently heated by the water dispersed from the pit boilers. Now this coastal area is a destination for walkers and bike enthusiasts. There are also plans to create a nature reserve on the site of the lagoons. Although the lagoons in themselves are dead, they have provided a sanctuary for both sea and wading birds and there are three hides for birdwatchers in the area. In the photographs I took that day, I was drawn to the themes of transition and change, nature reclaiming land itself. But I also wondered about the transitions that families had to go through in the passage of time when industries that had sustained them for so long, came to an end.  

About the author:

Catherine Marshall is an artist and writer based in Edinburgh. She studied photography at the London College of Communication and Glasgow School of Art. She has lived in different countries and cities including Berlin, which she made her home for a decade.

www.catherine-marshall.com

Should've Gone

Edinburgh to London2 May 2015.jpg

By Sibyl Kalid:

We’re standing at the top of Carlton Hill and there’s a fire burning at the oil rig across the water. It doesn’t look like a fire; it is too whole, like someone has trimmed its edges. It’s almost Christmas. M is leaving tomorrow, and I’m going back to London next week. Neither of us is sure when we’ll be back. The city is indifferent.  It winks obstinately, as it has done for four years, cars beating down tracks through the long stems of buildings, pace unflustered by M’s stifled tears. In the time we’ve been here Scotland hasn’t left the UK, the UK has decided to leave Europe, and the Starman has left the earth. We’ve been living on the endless rumble of national events, registering them with the stable acceptance of a barometer. It’s unnerving to discover that now we’re the thing moving, and it was this tumbling collapsing city that was the constant all along.

Last night I had that strange feeling of sleeping in a different room to the one I’m used to – my flatmate’s, mine having been taken over by its new tenant and her green bed-sheets. Most disorienting were hearing footsteps to the bathroom and not being able to place them. I had the realisation that, through the past year, night-steps have been like little sonic messages, bouncing back from a friend to my half-asleep consciousness, orienting them in an identity and route through the mumble of slipper on carpet. Eternally scornful of those with a domestic inclination, I’ve discovered nesting instincts I never knew I had.

In October we started receiving packages from Specsavers addressed to someone called Hannah Steeds. We knew nothing about Hannah Steeds, other than that she was, presumably, either long or short sighted, and had at some point lived in our flat. The Specsavers boxes piled up next to the front door, as poor Hannah must have found everyday tasks increasingly difficult, and our shared apathy halted us from either contacting our landlord or returning the boxes to sender.

The mystery then spooled when a postcard arrived from someone self-determining as ‘Mumsykins’. We assessed from this moniker, and from the quaint stone-walled house featuring on the front of the postcard, that this wasn’t just a gaffe from a friend who had fallen out of touch. The writer of the card indicated that she was looking forward to seeing Hannah at home, that she had recently visited a small rural town in the West Country that she thought Hannah would have liked. The baffling thing was how a mother cosy enough with her daughter to call herself ‘Mumsykins’ could have not kept abreast of her daughter’s address. Using the digitised Yellow Pages we tracked a Hannah Steeds to a family address in Bristol.  It’s not an uncommon name, but we were worried about Hannah’s eyesight and didn’t have anything else to go on, so we were prepared to take the punt and send Hannah’s accoutrements on to that address.

One day Hannah Steeds herself turned up at our door. I wasn’t in when she arrived, so it was my flatmate who passed over the postcard and contact lenses. He reported her as ’25-30, tall, but quiet and shy with the body language to match. Glasses. No Bristol accent’. And, apparently, absent-minded; she lived at 26/4, the flat below ours. She had just given out the wrong address, both to her mother and to Specsavers.

As with the solution to most mysteries, big and small, I found this disappointing. Hannah’s post wasn’t the imprint of collateral scattered in transition. Simply a casual mistake of the misplaced mind, as it unwittingly misplaces the body. There was no great conspiracy of illness, or amnesia, or filial alienation. My bank statements and reminders to renew my National Galleries of Scotland membership still roll into my flat in Edinburgh. But I don’t get the same wistful satisfaction from these forlorn reminders of my past inhabitancy as I did at the prospect that Hannah Steeds once lived in that flat, and that in the lost universe of some long-delayed postcard, or long-neglected mother, still did.

That endless pouring in of ancillary admin also seems like a taunting wink from whatever household god has observed the wearying tugging up of physical anchorage. The sentimentality of moving is always quashed by the picking up of detritus, as we concern ourselves with box sizes and bubble wrap and the turbulent ownership history of a frying pan. Every time I shift I am bewildered by my astonishing ability to explode myself over all available surfaces. My handwriting scrawled over paper pinned to the wall. My broken dvd player, rejected from my family home. Flour I bought for a cake I didn’t make. The fruit bowl with my name carefully painted on it above a picture of kiwis. Four mugs. Three cacti. A duvet. One pillow with case. A soup bowl. Matching coloured spoon. Shampoo. Half empty gin bottle. My desire to become a monk alternates with an impulse to gather everything up and attach it to me in a memorialising shroud, as I assess the ghostly inventory of the things I did do, and the things I could have but didn’t. That’s always the real sting of leaving anywhere. That gnawing concern that you didn’t live a place well enough. The minute you start walking away time horse-shoes and you remember your initial expectations of a place, before you first arrived. What you thought you’d do there. Who you thought you’d meet. Who you thought you’d be. I also start to mourn every grumble, and remember the sense of guilt I felt when my uncle came up for my graduation and commented on how beautiful the city was, how many levels there were to it, as if there were two cities sloping on top of each other. My vision of the city had plateaued into my daily grudge across the meadows, and now I felt like I needed to touch every corner, to make sure I’d appreciated it properly.

On the way home from Carlton Hill M and I climbed up into the alcoves in the wall that faces a graveyard. We felt like statues, whose only duty was to watch, that if anyone walked by we’d be offered the privilege of being an invisible onlooker, eternal and impassive. But no-one did.

Sibyl Kalid’s website

Edinburgh and Elsewhere at the Artists' BookMarket

We are extremely pleased to be taking part at the Artists’ BookMarket at the end of this month, a two day celebration of books and artist-led publishing that is hosted by the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh. We are being represented on a stall titled ‘Edinburgh and Elsewhere’, and as well as the many different stalls featuring a wide variety of artists and publishers, there are also talks and workshops to take part in.

‘Edinburgh and Elsewhere’ at the Artists’ BookMarket brings photography, illustration and publishing together with a special emphasis on place in all its forms, including the imagination. Edinburgh-based artist Catherine Marshall will be launching her book Fleetway, an imaginative story based on a failed roll of photographic film taken at the Cammo Estate in Edinburgh. Elaine Robson will be showing her artist book inspired by Japanese urban landscape and found text, Under City. As the Scarrow press co-founder, she will also present the contemporary photography 'zine Simulacra.

Husband and husband team O'Brien & Chiu will showcase their illustration and photography projects. 'Drawings in a Time of Dreaming' by Gerald O'Brien, features tiny mixed-up buildings and invented structures, humorously subversive in their resistance to daily life norms and expectations. In 'An Unexpected Return on my Journey to the West', Yi-Chieh Chiu embarks on a personal photographic journey in his partner's home country. He finds an Ireland suffused with colour and abstraction, finds poignancy in the everyday; a way back home even as he is far from his real home in Taiwan.

We are extremely pleased and proud to be in such company, and we think that if you are going to be anywhere close to Edinburgh on the 25th and 26th February you should certainly check it out.

The Artists’ BookMarket at the Fruitmarket Gallery
25-26 February 2017
Sat: 11am – 6pm
Sun: 11am – 5pm
Free Entry
Website