Gisilberht and George Visit the Wellgate Centre, Dundee

At the entrance to the Wellgate Centre in Dundee city’s High Street, Gisilberht and I pause to listen to the clattering doors, the footfall and squeaky wheels; a shiny toy car drones it’s pretend motor and a television plays rolling news. We also hear voice, the local dialect has maintained its strength and the song of it rings out all around us. Gisilberht claps to the rhythm of our new surroundings and I compose notes in my moleskin journal. A perfumery sits to our left and I follow Gisilberht as he peers through the windows at boxes of smells – the shiny packaging and eroticised images. Beckoning me over with the energy he usually displays in times of creative fervour, Gisilberht encourages me to widen my nostrils,

“Sniff Jorge, open your nose to this stuff, just sniff!”

I’m at once immersed in aromatic waters, heart notes of sandalwood and head notes of coconut. We stand together in this place surrounded by the sillage of liquid wax and ethanol watching the faces of the people, and I experience the deep vibrations of what it means to be a common man. A shop assistant steps out from behind a glass counter and approaching us asks if we need any help, to which I reply,

“We’re merely enjoying your air.”

Which is of course the purpose for our journey: to embrace the scent, the sonic, the visuals of this building and the people in it, for this is the true centrepiece of the city of Dundee.

As we approach the television, we’re again engaged in conversation but this time with two men both wearing t-shirts with the word Sky emblazoned on their backs. They ask if we have Sky television, and I assure them that we do not. They encourage us to hear about their latest package and intend on offering us a deal until I inform them that we don’t live locally but are merely visiting for the day in order to ascertain some sense of this shopping centre erected on the historic site of the Wellgate Steps. The gentlemen both understand our purpose but encourage us to go online on our return home to peruse the deals they’re offering and they give us their names repeatedly, and their cards. I ask them, incidentally, if they have any information on the building and one of them recalls visits as a child and informs us of the now expunged waterfall feature where he had the happy occasion to throw half-pence coins for luck while his Mother was shopping. The other gentleman tells us about a time when he and his school friends stole a cassette from Virgin Records and two security guards chased him down the High Street until unfortunately, he was captured and brought back to the Wellgate to return the album which he precisely recalls being R.E.M’s Automatic for the People. Local police and his parents were informed and he was banned from the Centre for over a year. When he recounts this tale we listen with great interest and I record his narrative on Dictaphone while Gisilberht adorns a black hood and re-enacts the scene with his collection of Bunraku puppets. Its impossible to say the effect of such an experience on a young mind but as this man tells us his story I see in his features the excitement and pleasure of that chase, and behind his eyes I witness a flicker of loss. Now in middle age, he stands day after day in the place where he was caught mid-flight in a bid for freedom after an act of theft during his youth. It appears to us to be a very unfortunate tale given his current position, and for our London exhibition we decide to present his story with the melancholic slant it deserves, as though this man has been imprisoned in the Centre forever.


You can read the full story in Dostoyevsky Wannabe Cities Dundee