The Tay and the Jute
Connections and Reflections
Arriving in Dundee on a cold winter’s day with an unknown bug bothering me, I had the opportunity to keep a watch on the river Tay and its bridge throughout the night and into the small hours. I just could not sleep, so I observed and videoed, (whenever possible and or capable), the amazing changes of movement, sound and light played through my window.
Having arrived in Dundee by rail, knowing about the original bridge’s collapse in 1879, and being aware of its connection to Edinburgh and from there through to London and down to the south of England, probed my curiosity about connections. However my focus was for a particular reason unbeknown to me, poised on the other bridge framing the Tay, maybe its proximity to my hotel window? But no, that was too obvious, there was a mixture of fascination and intrigue in its physical appearance, slight curve, in the way it appeared and disappeared throughout the night. Each car that crossed it was like a single little torch pinpointing its structure and projecting a passage on the Tay. The sound however was massively overpowering, overwhelming, an all-embracing physical phenomenon I was too weak to shake off and or dismiss.
The week progressed with my continuous interest and curiosity in relation to the Tay and its Road Bridge, so I videoed, photographed and took sounds from it throughout the days and during the nights, especially night fall and dawn. The sunlight falling on the Tay projected some special and intriguing reflections, shades and shadows, which kept playing and changing during daytime. Each night was also different with a particular quality distinct from the previous night.
Although I did focus my attention to the overall view from the window in my hotel room, (I was still not feeling very well), it was through the process of walking right up to it and on it that this incredible structure really took form and fully impressed on me its incredible physicality and dare I say ‘musical resonances’. The sounds emanating from this construction are so varied, rich and ‘orchestral’ that I became completely enthused by them.
The Jute Factory was also a point of interest, for a possible visit/exploration. So I went up to the redundant William Halley & Sons Factory. I was particularly interested in the enormous vacant spaces, now covered in water, where the structural elements became diluted in reflections, together with the verticality of its columns, which defined space. Although terribly derelict, full of graffiti and immersed in water I could sense an incredible history, which was only vaguely known to me at this point. Later I discovered that a great number of women were driven out of Ireland in the mid 1800s by the potato famine, caused by blight, upon arrival and by finding themselves a job, they’d be exploited by the jute barons, who owned these enormous jute factories. They’d be working under appalling conditions of noise and in an atmosphere full of minute particles of fibers that filled their lungs. By the middle of the 19th century the jute industry started to decline, coinciding with the fall of the whaling industry, which had been crucial as a supply of oil used to soften and process the raw jute.
To me the connection between these two aspects of the town, the river with its bridge and the now abandoned and ‘graffitified’ jute factory was of extreme interest. I wanted to bring these elements into focus, and to contextualise them within the overall framework of my research. Places, habits and objects in transit, issues of temporality, memory and history are the guiding lines within all my investigative work. Dundee’s river Tay, its bond to these two industries now defunct, the whaling and the jute, which were still present in their absence, were questioned and embraced in the various footage I took through my window as well as at the jute factory.
“History is harvested and collected, to be assembled, made to speak, re-membered, re-read and rewritten, and language comes alive in transit, in interpretation.” – Ian Chambers.