Publication: The Times
Sue Jane Taylor is well known as a documenter and interpreter of the technology, engineering and people of the Scottish offshore energy sector. Much of her work has focused on drilling platform and rigs in the North Sea, as well as the construction yards at Nigg, Ardersier and Stornoway. Her memorial to the 167 men who died in the Piper Alpha fire in 1988 stands in Hazelhead Park, Aberdeen and is a focal point for those affected by tragedy.
The current show is Taylor’s response to the latest development in offshore energy, the renewables sector – specifically the construction of two experimental deep-water 5-megawatt wind turbines in the Moray Firth, designed to supply energy to the nearby Beatrice oil production platform. The Beatrice project ran for five years, from 2006 and was a precursor to the controversial proposal to site more than 500 other turbines in the firth.
Taylor has said that the role of the artist is to help us see things differently. This new perspective is an important one, especially in an area so fraught with environmental and social concerns. With the construction of multiple wind-farms – and their associated infrastructure ¾on land and at sea, the artist’s involvement is both topical and necessary.
As part of her research Taylor was granted access to construction sites in Denmark, Germany and Scotland where the blades, turbines and towers, respectively, were made. An incident in Denmark where film and other material was confiscated underlined the febrile political and industrial atmosphere associated with such work.
Taylor’s notebooks, sketches, prints and paintings comprise a substantial body of achievement. Her skills as a draughts-person are clear and she excels in drawing and the construction of what might be termed ‘composite’ prints – where different elements such as figures, geology and engineered structures are combined.
Taylor is an artist in thrall to the ingenious, raw beauty of these structures but one who is also keenly aware of the equally exciting visuals provided by the continual energy of the wind and sea where they meet the land. Geos, cliffs and other fabulous wind-eaten rock formations combine with the crafted curves of turbine blades, huddled cliff-top croft houses, deck-houses and giant cranes.
Taylor’s world, which she inhabits with passion and measured observation, is dangerous, often noisy, dirty and, in Scotland at least, almost wholly masculine. Her diary extracts, which are fascinating to read, contrast the cleanliness and order of the European manufacturing sites, where clean technologies prevail, with the raw energy of the Scottish fabrication yards and their workers.
A series of portraits of workers – both male and female – from all aspects of the industry provides a kind of visual punctuation to the other work in the show. Here Taylor is on rather less solid ground – the figures can appear staged and immobile, with a repeated and formulaic posture. An approach which portrayed the figures in some animated role would prove more satisfying.
That said, this is an important visual document which deserves public exposure and scrutiny.