Subcon Laser and Donovan & Siegel have teamed up to bring a garden of letters to life in Edinburgh. Commissioned by Edinburgh Printmakers, The Rust Garden was conceived of and designed by Donovan and Siegel to transform a neglected area in Edinburgh into a space for reflection and interaction and features a pathway made of tiny rusted steel letters made specially by our team at Subcon Laser.

laser cut letters

Image: Edinburgh Printmakers

Thomas Flanagan, speaking on behalf of Edinburgh Printmakers, said, ‘the garden has been a hit with members of the local community. Passers-by have used the letters to fashion words, phrases – even short poems – and have left their creations behind for others to discover. With its range of newly-installed flowering flora, the site has really sprung into life – and this sense of renewal has been mirrored by the people of Fountainbridge and beyond, who continue to update and refresh the garden with their messages.’


Edinburgh Printmakers programme operator, Judith Liddle, commissioned artists Matt Donovan and Hallie Siegel to draw upon the local area as they developed the concept for this public art project. She hoped that they would allude to the history of the surrounding area and to the current regeneration projects in and around Edinburgh, particularly in Fountainbridge. As a result, Donovan and Siegel wanted to create a garden as a space that ties the project to the local community and make it accessible to all.

As Donovan and Siegel are well known for their interest in print and visual text, they were an obvious choice for the garden. Another interesting aspect of their art is it’s movability and potential for interaction. A good example of this is their Haikube, which, ‘marries a Rubik’s Cube with the haiku’. The combination of these attributes made them the perfect designers for the Rust Garden.

One of the main purposes of the garden is to give locals a chance to interact with a space that has been derelict for some time. The main idea for the Rust Garden was to create a path made up of tiny rusted steel letters that visitors can play with, walk over and even put in their pocket to take home. It is this idea of being at risk that fascinated Judith as it shows how an area can change and gives the sense of the rise and fall of industry in the area.

On their website, Donovan and Siegel describe their project:

“Unfixed from plaques and walls, and instead jumbled underfoot as one passes into the garden, their original meaning is deconstructed and becomes unrecognizable. Yet while the rusted letters area tangible and solemn reminder of our ultimate transience, they also remind us of our immeasurable creative potential. In this way, Rust Garden becomes an ephemeral bridge that straddles two places in time.”

Laser Cut Letters

Image: Donovan and Siegel

Here’s a video in which Hallie discusses the garden:

Hallie Siegel : The Rust Garden from arts-news on Vimeo.


How we made the letters

At Subcon Laser, we love new and interesting projects and the idea of the Rust Garden held an immediate appeal. We usually create pieces that are designed to resist rust and use a special treatment to ensure the longevity of the laser cut pieces but in this case, an integral part of the garden would be the rust.

In this case, we did not treat the mild steel so that the natural oxidisation process would begin. This meant that by the time the letters arrived in Edinburgh from our Nuneaton factory, they were already starting to shift in colour.

While we are used to steel being bright silver and reflective, and stainless steel is certainly the most popular material we use, in this instance, the oxidisation brings out purples and oranges that have been mirrored by the careful planting choices in the garden. This design adds a further layer to the garden as the plants will gradually take over as the steel rusts and disintegrates into nothingness leaving only a hint of it ever being there in the colour of the leaves.

Artist Hallie Siegel said:

“Prototyping and working closely with the manufacturer is a critical component of the design process, and essential for ensuring that the final product is aligned with our artistic vision. Given the added challenge that we were collaborating from overseas and across multiple time zones, having a good rapport with the Subcon technicians was key to the success of this project. They were in touch every step of the way, providing detailed photos and videos so that we could document the process for our records and have confidence in the delivered product. In the end we received exactly what we were looking for. “

Launch and exhibition

The Rust Garden was launched last Friday to locals and guests as well as spontaneous attendees. Over a hundred people came to walk over the path and interact with the space that for so long has been a no-go area.

Launching the garden to the locals was a vital part of the project as this particular part of Edinburgh had fallen into dereliction to the extent that people had stopped going. The new garden aims to bring people in the community together as a place of reflection but, perhaps even more importantly, as a safe and clean environment that can be enjoyed by everyone.

Many of the locals who attended made use of the laser cut letters to show their gratitude to the artists and The Edinburgh Printmakers and left messages of thanks around the space.

At the moment, the garden will be a part of the Edinburgh festival until August 28th and will be open for anyone and everyone to enjoy but the team hope that the garden will become a fixed feature. Matt Brown, Sales Director for Subcon Laser said,

“At Subcon Laser, we love to work with clients to achieve the best results for their project. The Rust Garden is a really interesting concept and the design reflects community values as well as the natural rise and fall of the area industrially. It is unusual for a client to request that their product should start rusting immediately so it was strangely pleasing to send the letters up to Scotland already turning deep orange. The artists, Donovan and Siegel, and Edinburgh Printmakers were a pleasure to work with and the resulting garden is a truly special place. We look forward to seeing the garden developing over the coming months.”

Laser cut letters

Image: @JohnLord52