Tag Archives: Ian Hamilton Finlay

Some flowers among the ruins

Callendar House
Callendar House

In summer 2013 the Park Gallery in Callendar House, Falkirk, exhibited Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Nature Over Again (After Poussin), part of the Artist Rooms collection.

The gallery asked Alec Finlay to make a new work for Callendar Park, and invited him to work with the gallery’s Youth Ambassadors (YAs), teenagers drawn from local secondary schools who are involved in different ways with the gallery’s programme. Alec asked me, along with other poets and artists, to work with the YAs over the summer to develop his ideas, centered on creating viewpoints within the park, and linking these to plants brought here by the Romans (the line of the Antonine Wall runs just to the north of Callendar House).

WALLFLOWERS | FLORES MURI – a series of plantings in Callendar Park marked by archaeological poles – was finalised and installed by Alec in spring 2014.

Sadly it was vandalised immediately and thoroughly.

Some flowers among the ruins is a new booklet published by Callendar Park, Falkirk. It invites the reader to walk in their imagination through the park, and to view the plantings that were once there, albeit briefly, rather like the Antonine Wall itself.

If you’d like a copy, send an SAE to Studio Alec Finlay, 53 Prince Regent Street, Edinburgh EH6 4AR. (It measures c.14x11cm, so you don’t need a large envelope.)

You can read the YAs blogs about the project here, and Alec has written a blog about it here. Below are some notes I made about my involvement in the project in 2013.

Alec Finlay & Ken Cockburn
Alec Finlay & Ken Cockburn

Alec and I had made a couple of preliminary visits in the spring, looking for views. As the gallery is showing Nature Over Again (After Poussin), his initial idea was to set up viewfinders to ‘frame’ certain landscapes in a painterly way; but given the woodland we found too few. What we did find were the golf-course with its flags, the Antonine Wall still casting its Roman shadow, and what we called the ‘declension tree’ (a red maple), whose trunk divided close to the ground.

Come summer the tall limes are flowering and abuzz with bees. Between showers I explore the grounds with the Youth Ambassadors, looking for sites that will work as viewpoints and a views; like a golf flag which draws you towards itself, then points you towards what comes next. Nine in all (like the golf-course); each marked by an flag-topped archaeological pole, and a plant first brought here by the Romans (some of which already grow here, others we’ll plant specially). We write about and sketch the views, compare one with another, contrast different views from the same viewpoint.

After researching our Roman flora, we write very short poems about them, playing with their features, their uses and the meaning of their Latin names. Then we plot a route through the grounds, from one pole to the next, realising they’ll be more visible in winter; the landscape now is like a series of discreet rooms. We finalise the pole locations by photographing them in situ, each with a poem-label for its matched flora. It’s a good way of seeing how the poles link up, and considering the work as a whole.

The last day is spent with photographer Robin Gillanders. At each location Robin takes three photos of each person in a t-shirt (happily there are nine of us, so no-one is left out) – head & torso, facing forwards; full length, ditto; full length, looking away at the view. And at each location Alec and I discuss the poems, already revised, revising some further on the spot (most interestingly the Whitmanesque ‘daffodil’).

Robin speaks about photographing other gardens –Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta, and Ermenonville where Rousseau is buried. Later, walking round Nature Over Again (After Poussin), Alec talks us through the images, and his personal memories of their creation; there’s some discussion of why the photos are ‘folded’.

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Lewis horizons

Stornoway

Stornoway harbour

Last month I spent ten days on Lewis and Harris, running schools workshops around the Artist Rooms exhibition Ian Hamilton Finlay: Sailing Dinghy at An Lanntair in Stornoway. The centrepiece of the show was a real dinghy given to Finlay, but it was too big for the lochans at Little Sparta. So it was never sailed, and it’s also unamed.
Jon Macleod

I worked alongside artist Jon Macleod, and as well as working in the gallery, we were able to take some groups out to the beach. Most of the pupils we worked with were familiar with boats, having sailed themselves or, if not, seeing the array of boats in Stornoway harbour or at other moorings around the island.
Bon voyage / child of the sea

The Gliding Water

Horizon poem

At the beach we said sad farewells to a dead dolphin beached after a high tide, named and drew boats, and wrote ‘horizon poems’ – the line in the middle is the horizon, and above it you write a few words describing what you see above the horizon; and below the line, what you see below.
Adam's lost poem

Sometimes the waves got the better of us. When I asked Adam what he written, he cried ‘I can’t remember!’ So he got on with writing a new poem.
Ian Stephen on El Vigo

Wake

While there I met writer and sailor Ian Stephen, and one afternoon he took me out on El Vigo across a sunny and becalmed Stornoway Bay.
Carloway broch

Signpost on Harris

I also managed a couple of stations for The Road North, Dun Carloway on the west coast of Lewis, and Rhenigidale on Harris; the blogs about these will appear soon on the website.

Setting out


I recently spent a week in Perthshire with Alec Finlay, the first big trip of our project The Road North. We stayed in Acharn, on the south shore of Loch Tay, and Dunira, between Comrie and St Fillans. From Acharn, guided by Basho (and assisted by amongst others The Modern Antiquarian) we travelled to Aberfeldy, Weem, Fortingall, Glen Lyon and Schiehallion; from Dunira we went to Dalchonzie, Dundurn, Glen Lednock, Dunkeld and Birnam. Alec’s father lived at Dunira in the 1950s, and we found his shepherd’s cottage there, smartened up as a hunting-lodge; his poem ‘Dalchonzie’ features “the railway” and “the mill”, and we found both, and though neither now run, the mill-building has been renovated as a self-catering cottage.

The weather was very kind to us; there was sun and little wind at Schiehallion’s summit, we river-bathed a couple of times, and both came back more tanned than weather-beaten, though did suffer from the midges. My only soaking was at the top of Birnam Hill, after a steep, clammy and midgey climb through the woods, so the rain wasn’t so unwelcome. We’re currently writing up the trip for the blog, and in the longer term will write a renga / word-map / skyline poem for each location.

Next stop is Argyll in a fortnight – Crinan, Dunadd, Kilmartin, Luing, Dunstaffnage – mostly places new to me.