Part of the vast Pelamis building in Leith Docks has been opened to the public for the first time – more than two years after the collapse of the marine energy developer.
A temporary exhibition is expected to pave the way for regular use of the building by artists – even though it is part of the working docks.
The exhibition was created by Edinburgh-born artist Kevin Harman more than a decade after an ill-fated plan emerged to turn the building into Scotland’s answer to the Tate Modern in London or Bilbao’s Guggenheim. Architects who worked on the Scottish Parliament drew up designs after talks between dock operator Forth Ports, the National Galleries of Scotland and the Scottish Government, only for the plans to be shelved.
It was built in 2000 at a cost of around £30 million for engineering firm VA Tech, but closed with the loss of 225 jobs four years later. A further 56 jobs were lost after the collapse of Pelamis.
Mr Harman, who has worked with homeless and vulnerable people in Edinburgh to create his show, was offered the use of more than 50,000 sq ft of space for a series of installations and live performances after asking Forth Ports if it had any available space.
The firm joined forces with the Edinburgh Art Festival to transform a former lighthouse vessel into a modern-day “Dazzle Ship,” similar to those used in the First World War. A group of artists have also been allowed to take over an old paint store – the last surviving remnant of the historic shipyards in Leith – and an old shipping container. Part of the docks was also used for filming on T2 Trainspotting.
Stuart Wallace, chief operating officer at Forth Ports, said: “We try to accommodate these kind of things whenever we can, bearing in mind that we are a commercial port and there are security regulations that we have to abide by.
“It’s an unusual space, but we’ve shown that an exhibition can be managed there. While that shed is not let out, or fully let out, we’ll continue to engage with people who are interested in using the space.”
Mr Harman said: “I didn’t even know that this building even existed. When I was offered the space I thought it was perfect. I put the show I was planning back by a year to build installations that would really occupy the space. It was one of the biggest I’d ever been in. I was a bit taken aback by it.”