Friday, June 04, 2010

At the Fergusson Gallery

Any of the old pictures of Perth skyline that you find online - or in the library, will show this distinctive chimney. In any early pictures taken from the turn-of-the century, smoke can clearly be seen pouring from the curious 'flower-pot' shaped chimney pot, which adorns the stack. It's a very distinctive building, one I have walked past countless times - but one I had never been in until last week.

Now known as The Fergusson Gallery, the building was a Victorian construction which housed a large static steam engine. It was used to draw the very pure water found underneath the gravel beds of Moncrieff Island in the Tay, up into a vast tank in the dome - the towns water supply. Having fallen into disuse, first as a pump-house and subsequently as a tourist office, it is now a museum dedicated to the work of J. D. Fergusson and his partner Margaret Morris.
I'm no art connoisseur (!), and so my opinions on what Fergusson did are as entirely subjective as they are ill-informed. Some of it was OK, a lot of it very evocative of early 20th Century atmospheres, some of it was a bit odd - and none of it moved me much! As for Margaret Morris and her pioneering modern dance - this was most odd. The whole idea of 'medical gymnastics' sounded quite funny - in fact some of the grainy black and white film clips from the 1930s of young people doing the movements felt quite uncomfortable. I was there with 'Vlad' - and he had a similar reaction to it too. On discussion we reckoned that although what we were seeing was self-evidently innocent, such images have become all-too-often seen in the context of the Hitler Youth and other such nefarious fascist groups. As such we were unable to fully separate these images of regimented youth in the 1930s, from that context.

The disappointment of the visit is that there is so little about the history of the building on offer! I would love to have learnt more about the pump-house, the engines and enginemen who gave Perth its pure water, of architects, designers and engineers who worked on it - and of the transformation of the building over time. Even more - I would love to have been able to climb up onto the dome, or look out from the windows in the top of the cupola - but this is all closed to the public. Still - it was good to have been and explored this museum on my doorstep, and to ruminate about its contents with the always unique Vlad.

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