Early Warning Signs

Democracy House

Democracy House

PA27 8DD

The blue on white sign was adopted by artist Susan Garde Pettie to be displayed outside her Democracy House project in Strachur, Scotland for the whole of 2018. At the end of the year, the sign headed back down to Glasgow for the first time since its year at GoMA in 2014, to take up residence outside Kinning Park Complex.

End of Year Report

By Susan Garde Pettie and Zoë Pearson, Democracy House

Bruce Arms aka Democracy House was delighted to host an Early Warning Sign (white background, blue writing) for 2018. Our cottage is a self-catering holiday let with a difference. A legacy project from the life, ideas, property and resources of a Renaissance man.1 The house is sustained by commercial letting, and then offered on a barter basis as ‘room to think’ for folk furthering democratic innovation.

The sign’s presence:

• democratised the awareness of climate change; it was placed by the public pathway along a straight stretch of the A886, a well-used commuting route, where the words ‘climate’ and ‘change’ caught the eye of all who passed.

• harnessed human nature; drawing attention and provoking curiosity and conversation.

• acted as an anchor to the environment; bringing those who interact with it into focused attention with their surroundings.

Word on the street...

Our Head of House picked up the sign from Atlas Arts, end of December 2017. From January 1-8, heralding the new year, the sign enjoyed a brief airing on the shores of Loch Hourn, bordering the Knoydart peninsula which is billed as “Britains’ last wilderness”. The sign caught the eye of Hogmanay holiday makers and local residents alike. Prompting conversation, “that’s a very clever sign”... “absolutely we need to do something about it”.

By January 12, the sign was on the shores of another sea loch; this time Loch Fyne! Attached to a concrete slab outside Democracy House, chained to our wooden gate, where it spun for the rest of the year. Stimulating the local demographic; retired middle & upper class from central belt, holiday lets, and an ancient village.

Our advert in the January edition of the Strachur and District Newsletter asked for volunteer ‘guardians’ for the sign, and explained a bit about the project to ease the shock of the new word on the street (see below).

End of Year Survey Results

Our Housekeeper, the shop keeper, a local GP and our roofers, all agreed to keep an eye on the sign over the duration. Tightening & loosening the turning bolt in relation to the wind, securing & maintaining the sign, and answering any questions folk had.

On February 10, we held a gathering in the house to explain more. Delighted to have Ellie Harrison with us we spoke to local GPs, Councillors, community organisers and residents.

Reports quickly came in that the sign was prompting discussions locally. This got us thinking that a leaflet was needed.

In collaboration with the ‘Renaissance man’s’ family and Ellie, we designed the leaflet to give more information on the Early Warning Signs project and Democracy House, including the threat of sea level rise to our property.

Researching printing techniques we decided to use Risograph - a type of printing which uses soy-based non-toxic inks and plant-based fibre stencils. We found Edinburgh-based social enterprise Out of the Blueprint... and so our leaflets were ready for the public by July (see below).

Leaflet Front

Leaflet Back

We had great ambitions for more events and activities, stymied due to unexpected calls on the capacity of our Head of House.

Though we were pleasantly surprised to get feedback on sign spotting by people from various sectors of our contacts in Glasgow. Seems like many more folk holiday on Cowal than we previously thought; including Emma Thompson, we wonder did she see it?

In December we said farewell to the spinning kindler, and delivered it to the Kinning Park Complex, Glasgow, for its next residency.

Our stewardship of the sign has inspired us to consider how the outside of our house, not just the activities that go on within it, can be used to animate and illustrate our ambitions!


1. The notion that the human ought to embrace all knowledge and develop their own capacities as fully as possible.