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Looking Back on Mick Peter’s ‘The Regenerators’

by Laura Williams, May 7, 2018

Looking Back on Mick Peter's 'The Regenerators'

As GI 2018’s final day draws to a close, Laura Williams reflects upon Mick Peter’s ‘The Regenerators’, considering its engagement with the city, with Dalmarnock, and with the recurring theme of regeneration.

Mick Peter, 'The Regenerators', 2018. Photo: Keith Hunter, via mickpeter.com Mick Peter, ‘The Regenerators’, 2018. Photo: Keith Hunter, via mickpeter.com

Mick Peter’s 80-metre-long billboard, fronting an old gas purifier shed just behind Dalmarnock train station, utilises a comic strip style to satirise the idea of urban regeneration, which has played an important role in Dalmarnock’s history. From the young people involved in ‘The Regenerators’ to the site, the materials, the piece’s message and its status as a non-exclusive work of public art, regeneration penetrates every layer of GI 2018’s largest public installation.

The project began to take shape in October 2017, when the Glasgow School of Art Widening Participation programme, commissioned by the Year of Young People (YOYP), organised free workshops run by Peter for 20+ young aspiring artists. The participants were encouraged to discard preconceived ideas about art they may have acquired from an academic-focused art education and take a more creative approach. The young artists were asked to create drawings and miniature sculptures in as little as 30 seconds. There was no time for them to think about where these artworks would sit in marking schemes.

Emma McIntyre – the GI Associate Producer who worked closely with the project – noted that she saw a growth in confidence of the young artists from the first workshop. A comparison between the early artworks produced and the final billboard construction shows this clearly.

During the workshops, the young artists collaborated to create a manifesto for the work they were producing and what they wanted it to achieve. Many of the speech bubbles throughout the billboard are direct quotations taken from the young people. Peter wanted to ensure the young artists’ voices were heard by directly quoting them within the work.

The regenerative aspect of the project became apparent when I had the opportunity to speak with Erin Barclay – one of the young people involved – at ‘The Regenerators’ book launch, where she was selecting some of the work she’d created for the exhibition to take home. Erin, an aspiring art school student, told me how the approaches she had learned as part of the project differed from the ones encouraged at school. As she witnessed her own drawings being recreated and incorporated into the epic 80-metre long construction, her faith in her talents increased.

Artwork by Erin Burden (Instagram: @art_thinz_) Artwork by Erin Barclay (Instagram: @art_thingz_)

A site-specific commission, ‘The Regenerators’ engages with the history of architectural regeneration in the Dalmarnock area, focusing particularly on the huge regeneration work that was carried out for the 2014 Commonwealth games and the largely detrimental effects this had on the local area and the community.

As a work of public art, Peter wanted people to be able to “understand it quickly”. Although he hopes that each interpretation is different and personal, the theme of architectural regeneration is one he hoped would resonate with everyone. ‘The Regenerators’ has been visited by artists from all over the world; by the thousands of football fans who gathered at nearby Celtic Park for an all-important Old Firm match during the second week of GI; by the many children who’ve played on the grass in front of it; and by countless others from all walks of life. Peter’s ambition to keep the work open to different audiences and different interpretations has therefore been fundamental to its success.

Even the recycled materials sourced to create the project engage with the ideas of renewal and regeneration. After the work’s deconstruction, they will go on to be recycled once again by Glasgow Autonomous Space. The billboard and the hidden scenes within it are merely a small segment in the ever-evolving tale of the plywood’s history.

Mick Peter, 'The Regenerators'. Photo: Jamie Simpson Mick Peter, ‘The Regenerators’. Photo: Jamie Simpson

As GI 2018 draws to a close and ‘The Regenerators’ is pulled down and reborn as something new, the future of its site – the derelict Dalmarnock Gas Purifier Shed – remains undetermined. Suggestions put forward for the site have included a local market and a hub for promoting culture. During the artwork’s installation, the building’s roof was being reconstructed, and so the  building itself was undergoing a form of regeneration. It will be interesting to see whether the site’s potential will be utilised, and if so, how. Will developers reflect the spirit of ‘The Regenerators’ by considering how best to engage with the interests of the community, or will those that regeneration affects the most once again be overlooked?

Mick Peter, 'The Regenerators'', 2018 Mick Peter, ‘The Regenerators’, 2018

Regeneration is defined as “the action of coming or bringing into renewed existence; recreation; rebirth or restoration.” ‘The Regenerators’ renews the existence of the derelict gas-purifying site in Dalmarnock; recreates and incorporates the work of the next generation of artists; resurrects materials previously seen as rubbish; and is housed on a site that’s undergoing restoration. Regeneration has underpinned this project, and regenerated is exactly how I felt every time I visited it over the course of GI 2018.

‘The Regenerators’ was commissioned by Glasgow International, Year of Young People 2018 and Festival 2018 — the cultural programme of the Glasgow 2018 European Championship. Supported by Clyde Gateway and Glasgow School of Art’s Widening Participation Department.

More about Mick Peter