Embedding the arts in the North Sea oil industry

The students were given a brief to document thecommunity tomark the end of production onBrae Bravo.
The students were given a brief to document thecommunity tomark the end of production onBrae Bravo.

The image of the North Sea oil industry has been completely reassessed by a group of talented art students who spent time working offshore to capture and experience the environment for themselves.

A group of ten students from Gray’s School of Art have been working in collaboration with RockRose Energy to document decommissioning and reassess the stereotypical image of the industry.

The project has had a very positive outcome from the staff onboard the platform, the students, and fromtheir mentors.

The project has had a very positive outcome from the staff onboard the platform, the students, and fromtheir mentors.

To fully connect art with industry, six of the students were put through their paces and underwent Offshore Survival Training and even worked on board the platform Brae Bravo, where they got fully immersed in the working environment. The students also spent time at Rock Rose Energy’s Peterhead facility and onboard an Emergency Response and Rescue Vessel (ERRV).

The students, a mixture of photography, contemporary art practice, painting and communication design from Gray’s School of Art, were given a brief to document the community to mark the end of production on Brae Bravo.

Their final work is currently on exhibition at the Look Again project space in Aberdeen’s town centre. ‘Embedding’ showcases a mix of work from all ten students, bringing together photography, sculpture, painting, sound art and graphic designs.

David Wilson, decommissioning manager at RockRose Energy said “With the Brae Bravo platform coming to the end of its economic life, and as we prepared for decommissioning, we wanted to celebrate and recognise the Brae Bravo platform and the hundreds of people who have worked on the platform during its 30+ years of operation.

“We wanted it to be about the people working on the platform and the strong sense of community and camaraderie that has developed over the years. We thought that inviting students from Gray’s School of Art to be involved in the project would be a novel approach with a somewhat unconventional link between industry and academia, but we saw the potential mutual benefits for both parties in the commission.

“We have completed two projects with Gray’s over two years, the first was a series of photographs which resulted in publication of a book, and the second was a mix of artistic forms representing the platform. Some of the students had the opportunity to visit our facilities to record images, sounds and research their subject.

“It was a great experience for the students but also for our own staff who thoroughly enjoyed having the students at our warehouse and on-board the platform where they were able to share their stories and experiences of their time on the platform. The students delivered and the resultant artwork surpassed our expectations - the photographs, paintings and installations are proudly displayed in our offices in Aberdeen and Peterhead.”

Callum Kellie, technical services officer at Gray's School of Art who has overseen the student's participation in the project, said the partnership between the students and RockRose Energy has shown the industry in a different light, and really celebrated the life of the workers onshore and offshore.

“By placing students within the workplace, and challenging them to respond to the threads that connect the people that make those places what they are, both the students and employees have reassessed the image of the North Sea oil industry,” he said.

“Where the stereotypical image may be one of heavy industry, the outcomes the students have produced have seen it squarely through the lens of a people centric workplace. The project has had a very positive outcome from the staff onboard the platform, the students, and from their mentors.

“The works they have produced shows the industry in a very different light, they showcase the community feel and tell individual stories of the people who spend a lot of their time offshore away from their families. Now they have something they can show their families in the form of artwork.

“The exhibition is the perfect stage to celebrate those who have made the platform what it is. We are delighted by the response the student's work has received from both RockRose Energy’s on and off-shore staff.

"RGU has very strong links with the global energy industry and this project is another great example of collaborative working that allowed our students to showcase their creative design as well as project management skills at a professional level."

Speaking about her experience offshore, Gail Drummond-McMillan said: “I was very pleased to work on this commission alongside other fine art students. The process of working through a corporate commission was very valuable and rewarding. The enthusiasm and passion from the Staff at Rockrose Energy was infectious and I believe we all responded well to that.

“I am lucky to have a background in oil construction of five years in the early part of the 1980s, this has given me insights into offshore life and culture and the structural aspects of the platforms. After visiting the Peterhead operations base and the visual archive I had a good insight into Brae Bravo culture.

“It was wonderful to see Engineers and Project managers in the same room as Artists talking about the same things, such a wonderful collaboration from industry and the Art School, I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to be a part of it.”

The project is a continuation of a long-term strategy engaging the arts to document the industry in collaboration with RockRose Energy.