Dundee: unicorns and robots

North Carr Lightship with HMS Unicorn behind to the left

Our second day in Dundee was as wet and cold as the first. Fortunately, we weren’t planning to go far. Our hotel, the Apex, was right on the old Victoria Dock where our first target for the day, HMS Unicorn, is moored.

Making our way past North Carr, the last remaining Scottish lightship, and Chandlers Lane with the Tay Road Bridge visible at the end, we boarded the Unicorn to be met by the rather buxom lady in the gallery below.

HMS Unicorn was built for the Royal Navy in the Royal Dockyard at Chatham and launched in 1824.  She is a rare survivor from the days of sail, the sixth oldest ship in the world, and Scotland’s only representative of the sailing navy. On board there are unicorns everywhere, including a list of other Royal Navy ships which have borne the name since the 16th century, and many cannons.

It was interesting to see how the ordinary sailors slept and ate (guess who tried out the hammock) and to contrast the officers’ quarters. I was also intrigued by the information about musketry phrases. A flash in the pan and going off half-cocked I knew about, but not sideburns.

After exploring the Unicorn we made our way along the waterfront to the V&A where we had tickets for the exhibition Hello Robot. We found an intriguing geometric street sculpture about which I can’t find anything online, though the rope running along the wall is part of Stitch in time by Jeremy Cunningham.

We climbed this viewing platform and noticed that the concrete monument next to it was part of the Dundee Women’s Trail – too high to read the plaque from below and too far away to read from the platform! However, with the help of the zoom lens we established it was to commemorate Bella Keyzer, one of the women who took over the jobs of men who were away fighting in World War 2. She became a shipyard welder.

We passed under the Tay Road Bridge, and detoured onto it for a view of the V&A before arriving at the museum itself. This gallery shows how dreich the weather really was! With the exception of some painted pillars and a glimpse into a bright office it was totally grey.

Finally, a few shots from Hello Robot itself. In the entrance was this amazing wooden sculpture, Up Sticks. I would find it difficult to paraphrase, so have included the explanation in full.

I also liked this colourful wall of sayings, though I can’t say I agree with all of them.

My favourite item was probably the print Mobile Relationship by Manu Cornet, with which I could definitely identify, and just to prove there were some exhibits that actually looked like robots I’ve included one of those. Overall, the technical stuff interested me much less than the sociological stuff, and I was looking forward much more to the V&A’s next exhibition on Mary Quant which, like so much else, is currently postponed.

Having explored the Unicorn and the V&A, and had lunch, we still had quite a bit of wet afternoon left. We went back to the hotel to pick up the car and headed for Broughty Ferry, but I’ll leave that for my next post.

Dundee: the V&A and the McManus

V&A Dundee and RRS Discovery

London’s V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum) claims to be the world-leading museum of art and design, so there has been great excitement waiting for its Scottish branch to be completed. V&A Dundee opened in September 2018 and the main purpose of our weekend trip in November was to check it out. The ship next to it in the image above is RRS (Royal Research Ship) Discovery, the last traditional three-masted ship to be built in Britain (in 1901). We visited the following day, so more on that in my next post.

I always assumed the exterior of the V&A was meant to represent a ship, to complement Discovery, but I read it was intended to look like sea-cliffs. I can see both things in it. Architect Kengo Kuma has also said he wanted to create a “living room for the city” for everyone to visit and enjoy and I think he has succeeded in that too.

 

There are two main parts to the museum: a gallery for temporary (paid) exhibitions and the permanent collection. While we were there, the exhibition was Ocean liners: speed and style (now ended). I thought this was very well done: spacious and with a clear path through it so that, although busy, you weren’t falling over other people. The large hall with models dressed elegantly for bathing and dining was superb.

 

This panel from the Titanic also caught my eye (click to enlarge explanation).

 

On emerging from Ocean liners we decided to have lunch, but both the café and the restaurant were packed full so we ploughed on to the permanent exhibition, the Scottish Design Galleries. I admit to recoiling in horror when we opened the door. After Ocean liners the space seemed small and cramped with no obvious route through it and people everywhere. There were two things we really wanted to see: Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Oak Room, a tea room interior created in 1908 which has been in storage since the 1970s, and the set for The Cheviot, the stag and the black, black oil (1973). This was a play by 7:84, a theatre company which took its name from the fact that 7% of the world’s population owned 84% of its wealth. Playwright John McGrath wrote of the exploitation of the Highlands between 1746 and 1973 which artist John Byrne illustrated in the form of a giant picture book which could be carried from venue to venue strapped to the roof of a van. The cast turned the pages as necessary – in the museum in November it was open at a war memorial scene (more info here).

 

We need to go back to give the permanent gallery more attention when it has been open longer and is (maybe) quieter. In the meantime, to recover from cultural overload, we went into the city centre for a quick lunch – and then went to another museum! The McManus is Dundee’s civic art gallery and museum, and it was much quieter – I hope it’s not going to suffer too much from the competition of the V&A. The building is Victorian Gothic and quite spectacular (photos taken the following evening as we don’t seem to have any day time ones).

 

Nor do we have many interior photos, and the ones we have I can’t remember what they are! One picture below might give me some ideas for my Scottish words feature. The coloured glass bottles in the other were an installation running from top to bottom of the building’s stairwell.

 

We truly were punch drunk with culture by this time, so we returned to the hotel for a reviving cuppa before heading out again for dinner. The following day we had plans for two more museums. Would we last the pace?