Angus Farquhar, creative director of Glasgow-based public art agency NVA, looks to secure the future of the abandoned, yet inspirational, St Peter’s Seminary
"I woke up in January 2008 with the realisation that NVA should take on the ruined St Peter’s Seminary as a long-term project. We’d had many discussions about the 'worth' of our work at NVA. After completing the Hidden Gardens at Tramway in 2003 and seeing its continued importance to the community and the public at large, we wanted to pursue something permanent again—instead of doing a temporary or durational work. There have been various campaigns to raise public awareness of the site and we wanted to act while the buildings were still standing. The process has been intentionally been slow. St Peter’s Seminary has a marked history with so many plans to preserve and restore it having come and gone. So, we went through a long period of development outwith the public eye. Our methods aren’t based on traditional regeneration models—we identify a way of working before we define final outcomes, as that seems to be most productive for us. To do this I have been working closely with Rolf Roscher, director of Erz (one of the best landscape architects in Scotland), and Gerrie van Noord, who worked on the first Scotland and Venice presentation in 2003.
Over the last year we have developed an approach to public art that will underpin our thinking. It is important to see the site within the wider landscape, which has a 500-year history within a geologically unique setting, which over time has reflected often conflicting ideologies. We are also working around ideas of radical rural arts practice with Adam Sutherland from Grizedale Arts and the practical site negotiations are gently progressing. Given 25 years of failed attempts to resuscitate the building you have to be careful about the steps you take. We want to develop a productive landscape with a strong educational remit that will consolidate the building in its current state before incrementally bringing it back into partial use. Each step has its own value, merging local aspirations with internationally relevant issues."