I have been going on about UTG+Peacock for ages and Alex Hetherington has responded here.. I am not a writer and as such, I feel very inarticulate and don’t know quite what to say.. except pls read this.

Thank you Alex

Also available on my BLOG>

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The Orchid Thief, For Rachel, reflection, On Union Terrace Gardens

By Alex Hetherington

Dear Rachel:

This is my text for you and the campaign; I had a draft but felt it awkward and in the light of your passionate accounts of the 10-year long commitment by Peacock and their remarkable team and your own narrative, your life-story, within in this, I felt it would be like a voice unheard in a scream.

So I’m writing this like Adaptation, by Charlie Kaufman, as played by Nicholas Cage, as he tries to adapt The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean from page to screen, and in doing so becomes, at the same time, a character in a fictional narrative and a real person, with pain, and frustration and disbelief, which I think are some of the collective and individual feelings exposed by this ongoing fight between Alpha Male Big Daddy, Sir Ian Wood and a population of people bulldozed into a kind of marginalization. The sub-line to the book by the way is: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession. I don’t have all the fact and figures and I don’t want this to be about speculation and rumour, because that’s poor writing, I’m not a journalist, I’m an artist, who writes sometimes and curates, occasionally. I want to add my voice because I believe that’s all I have.

Nicholas/Charlie struggles to interpret Susan’s writing, about a Southern orchid thief, whose life has been damaged by a terrible incident, that he forever blames himself for. He drove his car out of his driveway, without seeing an oncoming car, he got distracted and the passengers were killed; later on a tornado hits his hometown, his house is destroyed and he’s left with nothing.

What I’m saying is I am struggling with what the motivations are here; I am struggling to interpret this, because, well the bottom-line is in its title Union Terrace Gardens. Union. Gardens. I think Sir Ian Wood is a kind of orchid thief, I’m not saying his activities are criminal, but he’s by-passing something significant that’s right under his nose. I think also he’s missing out on a debate between what is public and collective and what is private and exclusive. But maybe I am letting feelings get in the way. Here’s a metaphor: Orchidelirium is the name the Victorians gave to the flower madness that is for botanical collectors the equivalent of gold fever. Wealthy orchid fanatics of that era sent explorers (heavily armed, more to protect themselves against other orchid seekers than against hostile natives or wild animals) to unmapped territories in search of new varieties of Cattleya and Paphiopedilum. As knowledge of the family Orchidaceae grew to encompass the currently more than 60,000 species and over 100,000 hybrids, orchidelirium might have been expected to go the way of Dutch tulip mania. Yet, as journalist Susan Orlean found out, there still exists a vein of orchid madness strong enough to inspire larceny among collectors.

Anyway, back to Union. And art. I have to acknowledge something here: I lived in Aberdeen for four years, I called it my home, I fell in love there and grew up there, was nurtured there, given a chance: I studied at the city’s art school, out in Garthdee, a kind of periphery, but potent nonetheless to Aberdeen’s cultural glow. And it does glow. It made me who I am now, an artist with some success. I sensed then and I know now a kind of division in the city, and I think its that division which sits at the heart of this unrelenting tug-of-war.

I looked at the public consultation web site and I am astonished that its representatives are exploiting global examples of similar proposals without citing their corresponding cultural significances, the art of these places as an activation of public unity. That are unique to these places. And kind of universal too. It’s sloppy. An idea that experience may well be more significant than more shopping bags.

Anyway back to the screenplay: Cut to Donald Fisher, recently deceased founder of the Gap, you know the clothes store, with jeans and t-shirts. So here he is in San Francisco and he’s decided to build himself a mausoleum that will coincidentally hold his enormous contemporary art collection. He decides he’s going to build this museum in the Presidio area of the city, close to the Golden Gate Bridge. This museum is “sprawling” by all accounts. The Presidio is a park, and “is characterized by many wooded areas, hills, and scenic vistas overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean”. Donald Fisher’s net worth at the time of his death was said to be about $3 billion. However, the plan engendered widespread scepticism and even outright antagonism among some historic preservationists in San Francisco, not to mention the vast majority of the city’s inhabitants. You can maybe understand why. It’s a beautiful spot in the city. It may be that its uses or its significance were underestimated or devalued until someone came along, a very rich someone came along and threatened to tear it down, build a freeway through it and site a museum in the middle of it. Cut to Donald Fisher abandoning his plans. In the interim something happens, the force of objection makes him change his mind, perhaps, or that his tactics may affect his business, or that he understands the content of his collection, the art he has amassed and wishes to display may have more significance than his obsession to get his own way, no matter what. I am speculating here. It’s only a film/true story.  Cut to: his collection being annexed as part of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Where it belonged in the first place. Happy Ending. Fade to black.

I was going to put in a little piece here about Naomi Klein’s text The Shock Doctrine, but it felt too melodramatic. But the good folks of Aberdeen might want to read up on it, its an interesting read.

Anyway Rachel, I was moved, more than you’ll ever know, about what you said about your city. I am also thinking about the V&A coming to Dundee, what that will do to the city, or the DCA and what that has achieved. Or what the new Riverside Museum in Glasgow, built by Zaha Hadid, will do for there. Its awe-inspiring.

I’m looking right now at the plans for Peacock and its so beautiful, a jewel. I’m also looking ‘through’ it to see effort, sustainability, enquiry, experience, fortitude, promise, a solution. It kind of requires though a bit of vision and trust.

There’s probably another agenda here. I’m thinking about Eva Merz, and her book/project Get A Fucking Job. And Aberdeen’s council’s attitude to homelessness. Or to its general social problems, affecting broad parts of Aberdeenshire. I guess that’s part of the mix too. All I know is people cross oceans to see art. I’ve transported myself to Bilbao right now, I’m inside Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim. Now I’m in Herzog & de Meuron’s Philharmonic Hall being built in Hamburg, to regenerate the underused waterfront area, falling into dilapidation. I guess right now someone, lots of people, are shouting out about elitism. But you know what I think, its more about ambition and aspiration. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We can get over it. I think maybe Sir Ian Wood is being elitist. You probably can’t say these things though, the arguments always go the other way. Anyway I was just thinking about that famous collage by Richard Hamilton: “Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?” The answer being: open planning and being bold (the text is from an advertisement). I think these two sentiments are worth bearing in mind. So. “What makes Aberdeen so different, so appealing”?  I think I’ve said enough.

I am livid at a sense of cultural failure, that this could slip through our fingers so easily, without dialogue, or thoughts about compromises, or that its my-way-or-the-highway mentality, that this reeks of, but am inspired by a condition of resilience and all of its audaciousness, its potency.

I’m sorry if this isn’t what you expected me to write, but I think maybe its readers will take something more away from it than another set of facts and figures or a rant about DOING THE RIGHT THING.

I don’t want to write a piece about the merits, values, sustenance, intelligence of art, people have to find that out for themselves. The deal here is something is being denied for a vaster population than Sir Ian Wood will ever know. And is that is theft.

Best for now

Alex H


ALEX HETHERINGTON: performance/visual artist/curator/writer