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WATCH: Controversial new public artwork The Gathering Place unveiled by Highland Council

By Val Sweeney

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The Gathering Place has been unveiled.
The Gathering Place has been unveiled.

A riverside artwork in Inverness has finally been unveiled.

The Gathering Place has been designed as an amphitheatre with curved walls on either side of the River Ness near Bught Park.

The project, promoted by Highland Council, has attracted some opposition and safety concerns but members of the ICArts working group approved the detailed design in December.

It was co-created by the collaborative team of Sans façon and KHBT .

The artists were tasked with creating an artwork which "re-connects the city with the river, drawing out its stories, engendering a sense of place and creating access to the river".

It was an opportunity to revisit the river's social role within the fabric of the city and celebrate its distinct character.

Framed on both banks, Clashach stone encircles a portion of the river along the water's edge.

The structure transitions from a bench-like platform to a pier offering views upstream and back towards the castle and heart of the city.

Echoing the shape of the river banks, the council says the artwork is designed to maintain a low, horizontal presence so it does not dominate the landscape while views are unobstructed to ensure the river itself remains the focus.

Tristan Surtees, of Sans façon, said: "The work in many ways is a monument to the social and natural heritage of the river, so important to keep and protect.

"It is a space to celebrate the sense of place, to interact, to enjoy the theatre of the river and to perhaps see the familiar anew."

Karsten Huneck, of KHBT, added: "After the intense research including the collection of many stories from the people of Inverness, it felt appropriate to create a minimal gesture that enhances the notion of the river being the main actor whilst creating a tangible connection between the spectators from both embankments."

The Clashach stone was selected for its beauty and the proximity of its origin in Moray to the site which has historically made it the material of choice for many important local buildings including Inverness Town House and further afield, the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and the Sagrada Família, Barcelona.

Given the artwork's proximity to the river and the sensitivity of the site, the artists, engineers and construction team liaised closely with NatureScot (formerly Scottish Natural Heritage), Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, Historic Environment Scotland, Scottish Forestry and Land and the flood risk management team to ensure the piece has the durability to withstand use and weather events with minimal or no impact on wildlife, natural habitats, or trees.

In a statement, the council said the project was indebted to the craft and skill of Beauly-based Simpsons Builders which undertook construction of the work and the people of Inverness who participated in the design process and stuck with the project throughout the pandemic delays to make the permanent addition to the historic River Ness for all citizens and visitors to enjoy.

Iain Munro, chief executive at Creative Scotland, said The Gathering Place would bring people together and create a space for contemplation and reflection.

"The impressive new work of art from award winning, world-renowned artists, Sans façon and KHBT will enrich the riverscape for both residents and visitors," he said.

Chairwoman of the ICArts Working Group, Councillor Isabelle MacKenzie, said it was an exciting new public artwork and she was delighted to have international artists sans facon and KHBT involved in the project.

"Their unique artwork has taken inspiration from the River Ness incorporating the shore and water creating a truly individual urban architecture using local company Simpsons and locally sourced stone, with its connection to other well-known public buildings," she said.

"The Gathering Place will allow the pubic to access all around the trail of the river, which is what was the original brief presented to the City Committee back in 2012.

"I would like to express my huge gratitude and appreciation to all those involved in this project – the working group, fellow councillors, council staff and outside representatives to allow us to be unveiling this new public art installation to Inverness."

Inverness Provost Helen Carmichael said: "The Gathering Place provides hope for the future as we continue through a recovery from the pandemic. People are once again able to meet up, interact and start to feel more of a sense of normality returning to their lives.

"It’s been great to see the artists listened to the range of views and delivered a piece which built on people’s stories and memories of the river.

"I hope that it will not just be an asset to our city, but a place where people will be able to come together to pause and reflect on the joy of human interaction within the amphitheatre of the river."

Professor Jim Mooney, who chaired the evaluation panel which selected the artists, was delighted to learn the structure had been completed.

"Public art can provide a new perspective on the world, offer up the unexpected and deliver original views that endure," he said.

"This art is not only thought provoking, but is life-enhancing, engaging and equally importantly, forward looking and contemporary."

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