I was asked by ATLAS Arts to blog BLUE:SKYE LAND, an afternoon of music which they programmed at St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh. This was part of the larger SCOT:LANDS event which took place at a number of venues across Edinburgh on the afternoon of New Year’s Day.
Coinciding with the lunar eclipse on 4 April, and following the recent solar eclipse, David Faithfull’s ‘Moon draws Sun / Earth draws Moon’ has been projected onto the side of Castle Mill Works in Fountainbridge. As part of the Dark Matters project, we discussed in situ the installation and its connections with Enlightenment Edinburgh. (Thanks to Judith Liddle for the photos below.)
The Encyclopaedia Britannica was founded in Edinburgh in the 1760s, and early editions were printed in in Fountainbridge. The city at the time was just beginning to expand from the old town huddled for protection beneath the castle; and of its home city the EB states approvingly that “a plan of a new town to the north is fixed upon, and is actually carrying into execution with surprising rapidity, and with an elegance and taste that does honour to this country.”
I read parts of the ASTRONOMY ‘treatise’ from the first edition of the EB from 1768. While telescopes had given us a sense of the size of the universe, we had as yet no sense of geological time – that had to wait until James Hutton’s Theory of the Earth, elaborated in the 1780s and published in book form in 1795. And the author’s belief in a benevolent deity led him to this, to our minds certainly, surprising conclusion:
[There is] no room to doubt, but that all the planets and moons in the [solar] system are designed as commodious habitations for creatures endued with capacities of knowing and adoring their beneficent Creator. (…) From what we know of our own system, it may be reasonably concluded, that all the rest are with equal wisdom contrived, situated and provided with accommodations for rational inhabitants.
This, the author contends, extends even to comets:
The extreme heat, the dense atmosphere, the gross vapours, the chaotic state of the comets seem at first sight to indicate them altogether unfit for the purposes of animal life, and a most miserable habitation for rational beings ; and therefore some are of the opinion that they are so many hells for tormenting the dammed with perpetual vicissitudes of heat and cold. But when we consider, on the other hand, the infinite power and goodness of the Deity, the latter inclining, and the former enabling him to make creatures suited to all states and circumstances ; that matter exists only for the sake of intelligent beings ; and that where-ever we find it, we always find it pregnant with life, or necessarily subservient thereto ; the numberless species, the astonishing diversity of animals in earth, air, water, and even on other animals ; every blade of grass, every leaf, every fluid swarming with life ; and every one of these enjoying such gratifications as the nature and state of each requires ; When we reflect moreover, that some centuries ago, till experience undeceived us, a great part of the earth was judged uninhabitable, the torrid zone by reason of excessive heat, and the frigid zones because of their intolerable cold ; it seems highly probable, that such numerous and large masses of durable matter as the comets are, however unlikely they be to our earth, are not destitute of beings capable of contemplating with wonder, and acknowledging with gratitude, the wisdom, symmetry, and beauty of the creation ; which is more plainly to be observed in their extensive tour through the heavens, than in our more confined circuit. If further conjecture is permitted, may we not suppose them instrumental in recruiting the expanded fuel of the sun, and supplying the exhausted moisture of the planets? However difficult it may be, circumstanced as we are, to find out their particular destination, this is an undoubted truth, that wherever the Deity exerts his power, there he also manifests his wisdom and goodness.
Reading this, I am surprised Edinburgh was not also the founding city of science fiction literature.
Come dusk, the generator was switched on, and David’s installation played over the wall of the Castle Mill Works, a former rubber factory, earmarked to become the new home of Edinburgh Printmakers Workshop in a few years time.
And come dusk, we were all feeling the cold, and were glad of a chance to warm ourselves around the bonfire.
I started another blog earlier this year, documenting monthly visits to the Japanese garden at Lauriston Castle in north-west Edinburgh, just in from the coast and with fine views over the Firth of Forth to Fife.
a springtime ash, whose leaves emerge from black
an unlocked ash, so profligate with keys
a mourning ash, its branches heaped on pyres
a lettered ash, in the alphabet of trees
a hedgerow ash, which twists among the briars
a spreading ash, in summer’s heat a bield
a sporting ash, to take the shinty field
a warlike ash, for arrows and for spears
a lightning ash, and flame that flash provides
a hanging ash, a shade of dule and tears
a timeless ash, the horse which Odin rides
a steam-bent ash, which hoops the barrel staves
a buoyant ash, a charm against the waves
a blighted ash, whose crown is dying back
I wrote this poem recently and it now forms part of an exhibition, ‘Moving Forward from Ash Dieback’, which will tour to venues across Scotland – it is currently on display at both the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and The Botanic Gardens, Glasgow. Find out more here.
I spent Saturday at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh. They were running their annual bookfair, By Leaves We Live, and it must have been one of the best attended ever. I was mostly at The Caseroom Press table with Barrie Tullett, who brought a small selection from his typewriter collection to display, and be used. They were joined by Edwin Morgan’s Blue Bell (part of his archive held by the SPL), and a red Olivetti Valentine, which Angus Reid had bought for his daughter in a Stockbridge charity shop for a tenner, but which drew admiring and even covetous looks from those that know about typewriters.
Barrie recently drew on the old Pepsi advert to write a text about LETTERPRESSIN’, which he letterpressed as a poster, and asked if I’d contribute something similar about POETRY. I obliged, and the result is above. It’s in an edition of 25, at £25.00 each, and copies are still available from the SPL.
A good day of conversations, rounded off with a party for Hamish Whyte’s Mariscat Press, now thirty years young and still going strong.
Yen To See Distant Places features ‘3D’ images – images literally made up of three layers, that is background, middleground and foreground, or ‘The Sublime’, ‘The Beautiful’ and ‘The Picturesque’. There are fifteen of each, so 45 in total, presented in the gallery on stands, and they can be physically moved. When three are placed in a particular spot on the floor, they are ‘read’ by sensors, which create on a screen a three-part composite image.
Each ‘ground’ also has its own associated line of text, and beneath the composite image a composite three-line text appears. Just as the ‘grounds’ are adapted from 19th century engravings drawn mainly from Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland’, so the lines are drawn from 19th century texts, especially Scott’s. I think of these little three-liners as ‘Romantic haiku’. The composite images (though not, sadly, the texts) are then transmitted to St. Andrew Square where they can be viewed through a telescope located by the Edinburgh Art Festival pavilion.
Drifts Through Debris is a modern take on the 16th century book wheel of Agostino Ramelli. Ramelli’s wheel was made to allow comparisons to be made between different texts – you could have several books open at a time, and by turning the wheel you could compare and contrast their contents.
This wheel features video screens, and draws attention to the growing problem of oceanic plastic pollution. Footage includes archive material from the 1940s extolling the virtues of plastic as a way of utilising what would otherwise be waste products, and responses by two dancers – Sue Hawksley and Tony Mills – to images of sea-creatures constrained in various ways by plastic debris.
I wrote texts to the same images, and extracts from these are presented as part of the soundtrack to the video loops. The wheel is made of steel, with spaces at the hub for small projectors – a clever piece of contemporary design – but you turn it by pulling on handles made of driftwood, so it also has a nice tactile element to it.
The third work in the show is A Diagram of Floating Stones – in tall, thin aquariums, lace-knit wrapped stones from Shetland beaches are given buoyancy by plastic found on the same beaches.
I think it’s a great show – conceptually and visually strong, a fascinating mesh of old and new technologies, and acknowledging the gallery visitor as active participant rather than passive consumer. There are pictures of the opening, and of the works, here.
I walked Edinburgh’s Seven Hills as planned at the end of last month, mainly in warm unseasonal sunshine, though the day we walked to the Castle Rock was gothically haar-shrouded. [January 2017 – the various blogs about the walks (on another website) are sadly no longer available.)
The project culminated with an event at Fingerpost (formerly Croy Miners’ Welfare) last Wednesday (18 April), which is World Heritage Day – an exhibition / installation space animated by film, theatre, choral singing, my reading of ‘Seven Questions’.
I managed a walk on Croy Hill, where the Antonine Wall ran – the ditch (right) is the most obvious extant feature. The view above (centre) is looking north, barbarianwards.
Edinburgh, like Rome, is a city built on seven hills. I’m running three poetry walks later this month to some of those hills, as part of the preparations for World Heritage Day 2012 on 18 April.
Here are the details: Calton Hill Thursday 22 March, 1.30pm–5.00pm, meet at Scottish Poetry Library, 5 Crichton’s Close, Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DT, where we’ll return after the walk
Arthur’s Seat Friday 23 March, 1.30pm–5.00pm, meet at Scottish Poetry Library, where we’ll return after the walk
Castlehill Saturday 24, 1.30pm–5.00pm, meet outside the Scottish Parliament visitors’ entrance (opposite the Queen’s Gallery); the walk will finish at Edinburgh Castle
All the walks are free, but please book via e-mail as numbers are limited: firstname.lastname@example.org
On the day please bring waterproofs and a notebook, and wear footwear suitable for rough underfoot conditions.
At the end of each walk we will spend some time discussing the walk, and reading what we’ve written; on Thursday and Friday at the Scottish Poetry Library, and on Saturday at the Education Room in Edinburgh Castle.
A bit of background:
‘Seven Hills’ is part of Shadows of our Ancestors, supported by Historic Scotland and UNESCO, which promotes and celebrates Scotland’s five World Heritage sites – Edinburgh Old and New Towns, New Lanark, the Antonine Wall, St Kilda and The Heart of Neolithic Orkney. A group of five artists – a poet, a sculptor, a performance artist, a photographer and a composer – will each work at one of these sites, developing work for the public celebration of World Heritage Day on Wednesday 18 April, which will take place at Croy Miners’ Welfare, North Lanarkshire, next to the line of the Antonine Wall.
All the artists are working loosely to the theme of ‘AD 142’, the year the Antonine Wall was begun. ‘Seven Hills’ will link to the theme by considering aspects of the land that broadly haven’t changed since Roman times – uplands and lowlands, coast and sea, the Scottish weather – as well as referring to the history of the Roman presence in the area, and considering the changes over time.
I’ll blog the walks to Calton Hill, Arthur’s Seat and Castlehill (as well as further walks I’ll make to Edinburgh’s other hills) and gather texts for the April event. All those coming on the walks will be also invited to contribute work they make up on the hills – poems, photos, recordings – to the project blog, and to the event at Croy.
Pandora’s Light Box is a collaborative project I worked on for over a year, from June 2010 through to September 2011. My brief, from Artlink, was to write a descriptive poem about the University of Edinburgh’s Talbot Rice Gallery, to be recorded and presented in the gallery as an audio work for visitors both visually impaired and sighted.
Access to visual art for individuals with a visual impairment relies on verbal description, and Pandora’s Light Box takes that ‘practical’ form and extends it into an artwork in its own right.
I wrote the poem for two voices, and a recording of myself and Lorna Irvine reading it has been installed in the gallery at three specially designed listening stations, downstairs in the contemporary White Gallery and the historical Georgian Gallery, and upstairs in the Round Room. You can listen to the poem here.
A friend of a friend sent these photos of some lines from the poem which seem to have escaped from the gallery; based on this blog, we think it was Dora, one of the project volunteers, but she’s not owned up yet! And this blog describes the project from the perspective of one of the visually impaired participants.
Friday 5 August – Saturday 3 September
Below are photos of our ‘sampler’ of The Road North at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh in until 3 September – a display of poems written on the road, written on labels attached to whisky miniatures which we sampled while we travelled. And below the photos is a description of the project and the show. There’s also an article about The Road North in the current issue (no. 9) of Poetry Matters, the biannual newletter sent to all Friends of the SPL.
The Road North is a word-map of Scotland, composed by Alec Finlay & Ken Cockburn as they travelled through their homeland in 2010 and 2011. They were guided on this journey by the Japanese poet Basho, whose Oku-no-hosomichi (Narrow Road to the Deep North) is one of the masterpieces of travel literature.
Following Basho and his travelling companion Sora, their journey took in 53 ‘stations’, from Pilrig to Pollokshields via Berneray, Glen Lyon, Achnabreck and Kirkmaiden. At each place they wrote and left poems in situ, as well as drinking a tea and a whisky, and leaving a paper wish. At several they met and wrote with other poets, including Meg Bateman, Gerry Loose and Angus Dunn.
This ‘sampler’ features the 53 (miniature) whisky bottles, each with a poem-label attached. These are complemented by a selection of books, word-drawings, texts and objects gathered and made on The Road North.