Conversations with the city

  • Published: 19 Jul 2019

We speak to MFA Art & Humanities student, Nick Brodie, about his Masters Show work, which elevates the ordinary and showcases the beauty in the ‘offcuts’ of the city of Dundee…

When was the last time you paid much attention to a discarded bus ticket or a piece of chewing gum stuck on the pavement? You probably can’t remember, because they’re just detritus; low value discarded objects. Nick Brodie, an MFA Art & Humanities student at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, aims to change that – by elevating these ordinary objects and transforming them into art for his Masters Show. In this way, a sculpture of waste wax is presented on a plinth and immediately intrigues, and discarded cigarette butts, plucked from the city streets, are bronzed and turned into something precious. In doing this, he hopes to show how these objects tell the story of the city.

Nick, originally from Surrey, only moved to Dundee to study his Masters last year, and so the way he got to know the people and the place was by walking the streets and documenting what he found in the process. It was when he first visited Verdant Works that he realised he wanted to explore this idea of transforming objects of little value, a theme which runs throughout his work.

As a lens-based artist, he initially focused on photography, but as the year has gone on his practice has evolved and now incorporates sculpture, sound installation and bronzing – working as “layers of perspective” and offering a multi-faceted view of the city. However, as Nick explains, it is the photography that will provide the main narrative thrust for the viewer in his show.

The image chosen to represent the Masters Show this year utilises one of Nick’s photographs which was taken at Halley Stevensons’ factory in Dundee, known for manufacturing waxed cotton. It is this single image which sums up Nick’s own relationship with the city; “I’m really interested in the people and the place, but there’s a respectful distance between myself taking the photograph and the person that’s being framed. It was important to me to be able to take that image without invading the man’s privacy. The image shows the quiet moments that can be overlooked in everyday lives. He’s stood outside on his break, and I wanted to document that small moment of time in my work.”

A similar idea is found in another one of Nick’s pieces; bus tickets which have been preserved with wax. These discarded tickets represent a duration of time and a journey, which Nick suggests work as a way of getting to know a people and place. “I’ve collected bus tickets that have been scrunched up by the people on the buses in Dundee, who’ve been folding them and squeezing them in their hands during their journey. They work as a really indirect way of getting a sense of someone through how they’ve shaped or sculpted something that is, again, usually considered to be detritus.”

His sound installation work, which includes recordings from the city centre, elevates the status of background noise “These sounds are the ‘offcuts’, the noise that no one ever normally pays much attention to, but I’ve collected it in the same way that I’ve collected objects that are thrown away on the floor, that are considered to be throwaway material. I’m interested in elevating the significance of that noise, by playing it in a gallery space and listening to the conversations. You can’t hear what people are saying, but you can hear the intonations, and the accents; all those things that are unique to Dundee. For me, it’s about really hearing that and giving it more significance, because it’s unique to the city.”

One of the most interesting parts of Nick’s practice is the fact that once he’s created his art he then reintegrates it back into the city, by putting up posters in various locations around Dundee. As he explains, this is all part of having a conversation with the city. “As I’m walking through the city I’m taking things away – photographs, sound recordings, detritus – and so it’s important to me not to just take, but to also give back. By giving back what I’ve taken, once I’ve changed it and made it into my art, I’m giving it back to the people and the place. That’s a really important part of my practice.”

So what has Nick most enjoyed about living in Dundee? For him, it’s all about the people, and the fact that the project allowed him to engage with numerous locals that he might not otherwise have had the opportunity to speak to. “I had to ask permission for all of the photographs I took and that meant I was able engage in lots of conversations and meet some really interesting characters. Nine times out of ten people just wanted to have a chat and were genuinely interested in my project.”

The Masters Show opens on August 16, with the exhibition continuing from the 17-26 August.

"As I’m walking through the city I’m taking things away – photographs, sound recordings, detritus – and so it’s important to me not to just take, but to also give back."

Nick Brodie, MFA Art & Humanities student