Exhibitions & Events

Across Land and Sea

Just seven months after Circus Artspace in Inverness was announced as a viable venue for contemporary art in the Scottish Highlands, an upcoming exhibition is about to signal that this new contemporary art initiative may already be coming of age. If you are among those who claim to support contemporary art in the Highlands and Islands, your time is now.

Shaun Fraser ,  Moine , Glass, Peat, 2017. (Image courtesy the artist / Circus Artspace)

Shaun Fraser, Moine, Glass, Peat, 2017. (Image courtesy the artist / Circus Artspace)

When Scotland’s Press & Journal newspaper announced in March 2019 that a group of professional artists based in Inverness had embarked on a one-month crowdfunding campaign to create a new artist-run gallery in the city centre, it is probably true to say that nobody outside the immediate Inverness arts community knew precisely what to expect. As Alistair Munro reported for the Press & Journal, if the crowdfunding campaign was a success, Circus Artspace would “offer a rolling programme of free regular exhibitions, events and discussions on different aspects of artists’ work,” it’s aims also being to organise “social meet-ups and artists’ film and performance nights,” as well as “to support recent graduates through a series of internships offering mentoring.”

With a spokesperson for Circus telling the paper at the time that there was “no dedicated space for contemporary work in the city,” the manner in which contemporary art in the Highlands has been so undervalued was clearly underscored, but opinion was divided on just how successful the initiative would be. Seven months on and it seems that Circus is finally realising the ambitions of those behind it with an ambitious exhibition that unleashes the work of three thoroughly grounded artists upon the public, with each artist able to boast a sound track record and fine reputation. From Friday 11 October 2019 the work of Shaun Fraser, Patricia Shone and Vivian Ross-Smith will be on show in the form of an aptly titled exhibition, ‘Across Land and Sea’.

There has already been work shown at Circus, of course. In July, Circus Artspace’s inaugural show launched within Inverness Creative Academy – the former Midmills Campus – with ‘Parade’; an exhibition that featured the work of of nine artists from the Highlands, Moray, Orkney, Aberdeenshire, Glasgow and London, and included both established artists and recent graduates. With ‘Across Land and Sea’, however, there is now a sense that the venue has begun to find its identity with a far more focussed show that has a clear message to convey. ‘Across Land and Sea’ showcases what are described as “three emergent artists whose practices have been gathering profile over recent years,” and all hail from the Northern reaches of Scotland in some specific regard.

The exhibition represents the coming together of three artists, spanning the Highlands and Islands, who clearly share a common interest in elemental material and process, and in this there is great mileage for the show’s audience to reflect upon what it actually means to be making art in the Highlands today. Through their work, each artist clearly draws from the northern landscape and in doing so references their own notion of community and placement. This is what is needed now more than ever. In these uncertain times there is not just a clear division in terms of the outlook of those living in what is currently the wider-UK, but also a clear division in Scotland, also – that is, between the strangle-hold that the Central Belt exercises in terms of the presentation of contemporary art, and work being made in the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

Vivian Ross Smith ,  Haddock skins , 2017, Bronze with natural patina from Atlantic Ocean (Series of 7). (Image courtesy the artist / Circus Artspace)

Vivian Ross Smith, Haddock skins, 2017, Bronze with natural patina from Atlantic Ocean (Series of 7). (Image courtesy the artist / Circus Artspace)

While the Northern and Western Isles have benefitted greatly from the development of a sound visual arts infrastructure that has been hard-won over decades, Inverness as a centre for art is finally being seen to flex its muscles, therefore, and the artists selected for ‘Across Land and Sea’ are very definitely drawn from The North.

Shaun Fraser is a sculptor and visual artist based between Scotland, London and Amsterdam. Growing up in the Highlands of Scotland, landscape has always featured heavily as a part of his notion of self, and as the pre-opening publicity materials state, “his work often comments upon links to landscape and connections with a wider sense of situ and environment. By incorporating soil and natural inclusions into his sculptural works he taps into some of this disposition” – the ability to evoke a sense of place in particular.

Vivian Ross-Smith meanwhile draws upon her life as an islander, using adapted island imagery to communicate craft, skill, isolation, commitment to place and community. Growing up on Britain’s most remote inhabited island, Fair Isle, Ross-Smith has spent the majority of her life as a part of extreme landscapes and fragile communities. Combining elements of painting, textiles and sculpture, she embeds the traditions of island life into her work. Craft-making skills such as knitting, preserving skins, net making and metal work are all utilised in her work to question what it means to be an islander, and Ross-Smith’s contribution to the exhibition is described as “an entry point into discussing the depth of understanding communities have toward their place.”

The third artist, Patricia Shone, is a ceramicist who will be know to many. Whether she can truly be recognised as an “emergent” artist (as the publicity materials state) is up for debate, but however you label her contribution as an artist, the fact is that she is based in the Sleat area of Skye, having been born in Scotland. Although Shone spent her early years being brought up in South Devon, it is to Scotland that she returned, eventually settling in the north-west Highlands.

Patricia Shone ,  Erosion Jar 34 , (Image courtesy the artist / Circus Artspace)

Patricia Shone, Erosion Jar 34, (Image courtesy the artist / Circus Artspace)

As Shone says of her work, “it is informed by the powerful landscape around me on the Isle of Skye, developed in response to the feeling of connection with its inhabitants and their passage across the land. By walking the paths of predecessors I contribute to the formation of the paths at the same time as obliterating previous footsteps; as an incomer to this community I absorb and am changed by its culture whilst altering it by my presence here.” For Shone, therefore, “the nuances of contradiction in the human experience of life are very visible” where she has now settled and established herself and her practice, “but the community survives,” she says, “just as the surfaces of the land are eroded but the substance of it remains constant and immutable.”

The proven track record of each of these three artists is beyond question – that much we can be sure of. Shaun Fraser, for example, is a recent graduate of the Royal College of Art and previously studied at Edinburgh College of Art. His recent exhibitions include showcases at No20 Arts London, Galeria Carles Taché in Barcelona, Groundwork Gallery, Christie’s Auction House, London, and ‘Collect 2019’ at Saatchi Gallery, London.

Ross-Smith is a previous graduate of Grays School of Art in Aberdeen, and is currently studying an MA at Glasgow School of Art, although she made herself known early in her career with her collaborations with Newfoundland artist Jane Walker and their project islandness (which Art North reported upon in our own debut Spring 2019 issue) recent showcases for Ross-Smith have included a solo show ‘Half oot afore i’ da left’ at An Tobar on the Isle of Mull, as well as group exhibitions at North Atlantic Lighthouse at Hanstholm in Denmark, the RSA Open in Edinburgh, and The Garment Factory in Glasgow.

Finally, Shone’s recent exhibitions have included ‘Collect 2019’ at Saatchi Gallery, London, The Scottish Gallery, too, and ‘Homo Faber’ a group showcase at the Michaelangelo Foundation in Venice. She has additionally had work recently acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London for their permanent ceramic collections.

With the exhibition ‘Across Land and Sea’ opening on Thursday 10th October (6pm-9pm), and the exhibition then running from 11th to 20th October (far too short in my opinion but there may be reasons that I’m unaware of in terms of the scheduling), the sense that many I have spoken to have is that, despite some initial reservations about whether Circus would be able to achieve its main aims and objectives, here is a keynote exhibition that illustrates well what those aims and objectives are (certainly as they were stated at the crowdfunding stage).

The political landscape for the arts generally, and support for contemporary visual art in particular, has never been quite so uncertain as it is at this time, and so ahead of the Preview – which Art North will be attending this week – I enthusiastically embrace what both Circus Artspace and the artists in this exhibition are seeking to achieve.

The real test for Circus will come with the development of an ongoing programme of artists of this calibre, and also one that is fully representative of the Northern Highlands, too. Whether that can be achieved and maintained over the coming years is not just down to the organisational apparatus of Circus Artspace, but also the willingness of us all to support the initiative, and for the institutions of contemporary art education throughout the whole region to support Circus Artspace, too. Too often have young initiatives such as this been squandered at a time that they are needed most.

From the furthest Northern and Western Isles to the hidden enclaves of artistic activity that are situated in small communities across the very northern stretches of the mainland in both Caithness and in Sutherland, if the gravity is to shift northwards in terms of the celebration of contemporary art in the north of Scotland, the time is now to stand up, be counted, attend this exhibition, and show that this matters, not just to you, but for future generations of artists and arts graduates as well.

Across Land and Sea
Shaun Fraser | Vivian Ross-Smith | Patricia Shone

Circus Artspace
11 – 20 October 2019
Preview Night: Thursday 10th, 6pm-9pm

Circus Artspace,
Inverness Creative Academy,
Midmills Building,
Stephen's St,

We Need To Talk About Trees

When professional members of the Society of Scottish Artists were invited to submit proposals for new or existing works that engage creatively with the concept of ‘Time Spent Amongst Trees’, I guess it was inevitable that the topic would attract widespread attention from SSA members. For centuries trees have served as a popular inspiration for artists, typically eliciting a level of affection that is reflected in the opinion of the wider population. As C.R. Leslie once remarked in his Memoirs of the Life of John Constable (1843), “I have seen him admire a fine tree with an ecstasy like that with which he could catch up a beautiful child into his arms.”

Rare is it to find anybody expressing the opinion of their dislike of trees, and particularly not in our own times of climate catastrophe. Response to the Society’s call for artists dealing with the silvicultural subjects was broad therefore, and in the current exhibition Time Spent Among the Trees at the Meffan Gallery, included are works by Elaine Allison, Alan Bond, Jessica Copping, Tadeusz Deregowski, Joan Doerr, Jana Emburey, David Forster, Andrea Geile, Alison Grant, Audrey Grant, Shona Grant, Su Grierson, Mike Inglis, Linda Kosciewicz, Kirsty Lorenz, Sarah McKenzie-Smith, Janet Melrose, Kenris MacLeod, Gillian Murray, Gayle Nelson, Mark Osborne, Duncan Robertson, Anne Russell, Catherine Sargeant, Carol Sinclair, Jenny Smith, Graeme Swanson,  Miriam Vickers, Mary Walters and Denise Zygadlo.

Naturally (just look at the names above), the works displayed are diverse and varied, not just in terms of the chosen media but the insights they offer. When I recently wrote in issue three of Art North magazine that ‘we need to talk about trees’, I was quick to highlight a sense of commonality that all these artists seem to share. As I wrote in that recent article (within an issue of Art North that contained several articles on silvicultural art by a number of authors: “The philosophical basis for countless examples of silviculture in art might be seen to lie in the writings of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer who expressed the view that ‘inorganic nature, provided it does not consist of water, produces a very melancholy, indeed oppressive impression upon us’.” Perhaps I should explain…


What Schopenhauer indicated in his thinking was what he viewed as an opposition of the “inorganic mass” of the desert or a rocky landscape with what he termed the immediate pleasure to be derived from seeing “vegetation that proclaims the phenomenon of life as a new and higher order of things,” and in many ways, this is what the exhibition discussed here deals with – whether specifically, or obliquely.

Take, for example, the work titled You by Kenris MacLeod, a textile artist who lives and works in Edinburgh. As MacLeod writes of the work exhibited:

The philosopher, Martin Buber, suggests that if we refer to the world in terms of ‘I and Thou’ rather than ‘I and It’ we suddenly apprehend new beings. Thus, trees become considered as unique individuals, each one ‘you’ rather than ‘it’ and they become known to us in an entirely different way. It is the sense of living alongside a race of ‘others’, who surround us but who we can never fully comprehend, that I wish to convey.

Kenris MacLeod asks of us that we “allow ourselves to be enveloped and absorbed” and that “we become a sapling in the forest, surrounded by a family.” The phenomenon of life as a new and higher order of things is patently there in MacLeod’s thinking, I would suggest.

Kenris MacLeod ,  You , Thread and ink on calico (free motion machine embroidery), 2019.

Kenris MacLeod, You, Thread and ink on calico (free motion machine embroidery), 2019.

However we seek to express an understanding of what Kenris MacLeod refers to above, it is difficult to escape our identification with trees as living beings like ourselves – something that has a long history in myth, folklore and science (all of which are far beyond the scope of this text to explore in detail). Such a sense of what is referred to, however, is reflected in this exhibition in the work of Sarah Mckenzie Smith too.

Of Mackenzie Smith’s photograph titled You Breathe I Breathe We Breathe she states, “One day, a few years ago, the sun captured this moment in time spent amongst trees with my young daughter. We lived on the edge of Kemback Woods in Fife and passed many of our days together deep in the woods. I am fascinated by our symbiotic relationship with trees. They breathe out the oxygen we need and we breathe out the carbon dioxide they need. We literally breathe each other.”

Sarah Mckenzie Smith ,  You Breathe I Breathe We Breathe , Mounted Giclee on Baryta Matte Paper, 2019.

Sarah Mckenzie Smith, You Breathe I Breathe We Breathe, Mounted Giclee on Baryta Matte Paper, 2019.

If Schopenhauer stressed vegetation as persistently reinforcing in our imagination a higher order of life, then surely mention of David Forster’s When then transitional period has ended (2019) would be apposite at this juncture. Near the Spa town of Krynica in the low forested mountains of south east Poland, Forster explains that he came upon a toilet block and washroom at the base of a hiking trail that had been closed over by the encroaching forest. “The area was full of blockish and rusty remnants of communist-era tourist infrastructure, now superseded by sleeker, and markedly more expensive, monuments to the benefit of market forces. I liked the way in which the products of older ideals still lurked in the trees, like the sinister or beguiling forest dwellings of fairytale.”

The autonomous rewilding of the former spaces of human activity is something we encounter often, perhaps, and it can be humbling to meditate upon the fact that however permanent the structures of human habitation may appear when built, it takes just a few years for them to overtaken by nature if they are not maintained. From simple concrete paths car parks, to disused airport runways and far more imposing edifices, none are immune from the march of nature over time.

David Forster ,  When the transitional period has ended, (Beskid Mountains, Poland) . Acrylic on paper, 2019.

David Forster, When the transitional period has ended, (Beskid Mountains, Poland). Acrylic on paper, 2019.

Other works in this exhibition may be divided into three distinct groups for discussion here. First there are those that deal the theme of what I shall refer to as entanglement (a theme rather present in Forster’s work, too). Works by Mary Walters, Shona Grant, and Su Grierson with Brigid McCarthy might be seen to fall into the category or entanglement. In the case of Walters’ contribution, Encircled by the Forest, the artist presents a series of sketches created in a birch forest in Finland while on an artist's residency at Arteles Creative Centre near Tampere. Each was drawn looking towards one of the eight compass points, plus an additional image to make a neat set of nine paintings. Painted upon newspaper the surrounding forest that encircles the artist is here presented as though collaged frames from a scenographer’s storyboard; albeit one that is devoid of specific cinematic narrative.

Mary Walters ,  Encircled by the Forest , Newspapers, acrylic paint, ink, 2016.

Mary Walters, Encircled by the Forest, Newspapers, acrylic paint, ink, 2016.

Shona Grant makes such a scene more explicit in terms of our experience of entanglement through the use of photography. With a background in illustration and having worked as a freelance book illustrator for over twenty years, in 2014 Grant changed to her now chosen medium of photography to encourage a fresh approach to her output. “As a photographer,” she says, “I am drawn to the landscape and woodland […] perhaps because, having grown up on South Uist in the Outer Hebrides where there are no trees, I find them particularly engaging.”

Shona Grant ,  Tanglewood, (September in my local wood. A fallen birch tree is adorned with moisture laden cobwebs as mist rolls in).  Photographic Print, 2016.

Shona Grant, Tanglewood, (September in my local wood. A fallen birch tree is adorned with moisture laden cobwebs as mist rolls in). Photographic Print, 2016.

Within the project Track and Trace artist Su Grierson, working with performer Brigid McCarthy, takes the theme of entanglement further by filming within the dark canopy of a large ancient yew hedge, working in the zone, as she refers to it, “where our usual senses are least comfortable.” Performance thus becomes the “connective tissue that create a one-ness with the place as limbs of the performer and the tree become united. By regulating the amount of light in the video the artist draws the viewer in to the experience of this rarely visited space.”

The second clear category of works that bear some resemblance of a connection to each other I here refer to as those that follow the theme of the ethereal, and in the true sense of the word – that is, those works that refer in some way to the extremely delicate otherworldliness of our woodlands and forests. The immediate work that springs to mind with regard the ethereal in this exhibition is that of Jana Emburey, an artist who was born in Slovakia where she studied art history and theatrical costume design, before moving to Scotland where she completed her BA Honours in Visual Art and now works in the Speyside area. In Immersed (2019) Emburey explores the concept of time perception, memory, inter-connectivity and what she refers to as the human condition.

Emburey’s work is informed, she says, by the close relationship of everything in nature (reflected and replicated in a multitude of ways). As she describes her practice, “Over the past few years I have been concentrating on intricate, cell-like ink drawings on Japanese paper, sometimes combined with painting, creating a body of work under the name of Sweet Oblivion. These delicate and labour intensive works represent human as well as any other cells/particles found in nature and show the connection of everything around and within us.”

Jana Emburey ,  Immersed , acrylic and ink on Japanese Kozo, on board, 2019.    Walking through the dappled shade Touching, breathing… Fragments in the cool sunshine How ordinary and extraordinary The world around us

Jana Emburey, Immersed, acrylic and ink on Japanese Kozo, on board, 2019.

Walking through the dappled shade
Touching, breathing…
Fragments in the cool sunshine
How ordinary and extraordinary
The world around us

Continuing, somewhat tentatively with the ethereal, here is also the work of Jenny Smith. As the exhibition literature states, “Smith’s work invites us to question what the definition of drawing is in its broadest sense? Exploring the relationship between traditional hand rendered processes and the new technology of laser cutting. Smith’s recent work depicts everyday plants and shrubs that are found in Scotland and have medicinal qualities. Inspired by botanical drawings, these limited edition prints have a soft, sepia, Victorian quality yet are created using the contemporary technology of laser engraving.”

Jenny Smith ,  Rowan , laser engraved print, 2018.

Jenny Smith, Rowan, laser engraved print, 2018.

Jenny Smith ,  Larch , laser engraved print, 2018.

Jenny Smith, Larch, laser engraved print, 2018.

Moving closer in to the minutiae of the woodland environment and its ethereal detail, we then encounter Alison Grant’s prints of Lichen, not dissimilar from Jana Emburey’s contribution to the show in some ways, for the detail of the flora in Grant’s work becomes at once an abstraction and representation of intricate patterns of what are considered composite organisms – lichens are not a single organism but stable symbiotic associations between what we commonly know as fungus and algae (cyanobacteria). They, like the great majority of woodland and forest organisms that we often take for granted, require carbon as their food source and are vital for the health of woodland ecosystems in which they are found. Zooming out, however, to the wider concept of the exhibition as a whole, in Grant’s work one might ask, is art imitating life here, or vice versa? Microcosm and Macrocosm become one in Grant’s work, as though we are at one and the same time staring down into a Petri dish and out into the cosmos.

Alison Grant ,  Spring Lichen (3 Species) , from Set of 12 prints, 2018/19.

Alison Grant, Spring Lichen (3 Species), from Set of 12 prints, 2018/19.

Denise Zygadlo ,  Persephone 3 , Live photocopy transfer print on canvas, 2017

Denise Zygadlo, Persephone 3, Live photocopy transfer print on canvas, 2017

Like Denise Zygadlo’s Persephone 3 (2017), the many species of orchid, some rare and some less so, that comprise the contribution to the exhibition from Gayle Nelson, introduce us to the flora of the woodland margins and floor, and interestingly in both cases the artists present colourful species of flora here in monochrome.

Nelson’s The Rarest Orchids in the World – an arrangement of 15 small monochrome paintings that depict orchids – are accompanied by a graphic document which identifies the name of each specimen and provides some information about its provenance. Orchids are, says the artist “fascinating objects of value and items of great beauty which have been used to create extravagant visitor attractions. They have a rich and intriguing history during periods of their discovery in distant and dangerous lands. The Ghost Orchid, included in this series, is a good example of a plant found 'amongst trees' and is very rare.”

Gayle Nelson ,  Sky Blue Sun Orchid , from the series 'The Rarest Orchids In The World', Acrylic and Graphite Powder on Paper, 2019.

Gayle Nelson, Sky Blue Sun Orchid, from the series 'The Rarest Orchids In The World', Acrylic and Graphite Powder on Paper, 2019.

The shift in category here moves towards what can only really be described as the celebratory. In that category we find works by Anne Russell, Kirtsy Lorenz (who recently showed her ‘Votive Offerings’ at Resipole Studios), Linda Kosciewicz, and the rather more expressionistic, fluid work of Tadeusz Deręgowski. All works in the celebratory category have a lightness of touch in the detail and a deftness of handling with regard to the variety of media that is utilised.

Click on above images to enlarge

Anne Russell’s Magnolia Stellata is an etching developed from studies made from the same that grows in her front garden; of which she says, “I have always enjoyed it’s almost magical feel, with delicate star-like flowers.” Kirsty Lorenz’s ‘Votive Offerings’ (of which Willow, Ease my Pain is a good example) have comprised her main body of work since 2014, and are series of portrayals of wild flower posies that she has made and left around Scotland (the example above being a composition that features a circle of Willow tree stems in bud, filled with yellow blooming Winter Aconite that flowers at the same time as the Willow buds). Linda Kosciewicz’s photograph Spring Song Japan 5 is the result of the artist’s visit to Japan to experience the phenomenon of cherry blossom and is confidently, beautifully composed, while Tadeusz Deręgowski’s Vargem Grande, 2017, was painted plein air in oils and executed on the Island of Santa Catarina, in the south of Brazil, which is notable for its great diversity of landscapes.

The remaining works in the exhibition offer more diverse and contemporary takes on the theme of the exhibition and for me fill in a lot of ‘blanks’ in terms of the sheer breadth of expression with regard our connection with the silvicultural (or arboreal) theme.

As Catherine Sargeant tell it, she has “been spending time in a forest by a croft in Wester Ross [which] is the same age as myself yet five times as tall. Each year more trees are blown down by the high winds. As I still stand I’ve involved myself in chopping and sawing up the wind blown trees for firewood. This immersion within the forest has resulted in painting aspects of both the natural forms of the forest and the man made tools used within it.” The result is an army of paintings hung according to precise instructions, all going to make up the whole of the experience she describes.

Catherine Sargeant ,  Tools of Forestation , Oil on wood, 2019.

Catherine Sargeant, Tools of Forestation, Oil on wood, 2019.

Mark Osborne’s contribution to the exhibition is part of an ongoing project produced in, and in response to, the Highlands of Scotland. Having relocated from Glasgow to the Black Isle, Osborne has found inspiration in his new surroundings and, in response, his works capture images of spaces and objects in the landscape. Here we find a sense of wonder and humour in equal measure if his work titled Ouch is in any way indicative of his wider practice since relocating.

Mark Osborne ,  Ouch , Photography, 2019

Mark Osborne, Ouch, Photography, 2019

The list of works and those included here are not exhaustive and there is much more to see than those selected. Nonetheless, the sheer breadth of this exhibition is a powerful reminder that our relationship with trees is something integral to our experience of nature as whole, whether through the absence of them – something expressed by Shona Grant from South Uist – or their abundance and beauty, as expressed by some many other artists currently exhibiting in the show.

According to my own taste, I find myself drawn most to the work of those I’ve framed as falling within the ethereal category : that is, the work of Jana Emburey, Jenny Smith, Alison Grant and extending to the more explicitly flora/floral-related work of Denise Zygadlo, Gayle Nelson, Kirsty Lorenz and others mentioned. Visitors to the exhibition will form their own opinions, however, much as we each relate to trees according to our own experience of them.

However you engage with the exhibition, one thing is for sure, there is something here to capture the imagination, something to intrigue, something to delight one’s senses and inevitably works that will challenge preconceptions of what an exhibition about Trees might include. Whatever your perspective on any of the works you encounter, Time Spent Amongst Trees in an exhibition from the SSA that offers much and I’m sure will not disappoint.

Time Spent Amongst Trees

A Society of Scottish Artists Exhibition
The Meffan Gallery

Until 2 November 2019

Meffan Museum and Art Gallery
20 West High Street

Tel: 01307 491771

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Jewellery at the heart of Caithness Broch Project

Caithness Broch Project and Lyth Arts Centre have collaborated to install a broch-themed ‘Brochtober’ art exhibition. The exhibition, which will be held between Saturday 5 October and Sunday 3 November, as part of Lyth Art Centre’s Autumn programme, challenged both professional artists and the general public to create works of art based on brochs. Applications for the exhibition were sent in from all over the world, from Shetland to New York, with a wide range of styles and mediums used.

Kenneth McElroy, Caithness Broch Project’s director, said that the project offers, "a different way of looking at archaeology – though art and archaeology go hand-in-hand. It’s been fantastic to see the artwork come in, and see what people think of when they envisage brochs, how can they be adapted, manipulated and reworked.” McElroy has described the work of John Nicolson as an inspiration for the exhibition, and would welcome works based on Nicolson's own creations: "He was such a fascinating character - a self-taught carver and painter with a real interest in the past - an altogether more considerate antiquarian."

Suzie Mackenzie , Broch Circles.

Suzie Mackenzie, Broch Circles.

Charlotte Mountford, co-director at Lyth Arts Centre, adds, “We're really excited to be partnering with Caithness Broch Project to host this exhibition. We're always keen to explore how arts and culture can connect with heritage as demonstrated in our last two Summer Exhibitions and we know Brochtober will really celebrate our local history.'“

Beth Legg , Yarrows Brooch, based on brass brooch found nearby

Beth Legg, Yarrows Brooch, based on brass brooch found nearby

So far a number of artists have donated works to the project, including Ian Scott, Lisa Poulsen of Inspired by Caithness, and felt artist Penny Irvine. Caithnessian jewellers Lindsey Gallacher and Beth Legg have also produced brooches based on Nybster and Yarrows Broch.  

Lindsey Gallacher . Jeweller Lindsey Gallacher has a  studio and workshop  in Thurso.

Lindsey Gallacher. Jeweller Lindsey Gallacher has a studio and workshop in Thurso.

The exhibition will be open throughout October during Lyth Art Centre’s Autumn schedule, which also include a number of guest speakers invited to talk on the theme of art, archaeology or Caithness, in a series of a talks Funded by the Greencoat Stroupster Community Fund administered by Foundation Scotland. 

Speakers include Martin Carruthers, director of The Cairns Broch excavation, on Monday 14 October; John Borland of Historic Environment Scotland and Jo Clements of Groam House Museum will talk about Pictish Stones and Scrabster-born George Bain, the eminent proponent of Celtic art on Wednesday 16 October, while on Thursday 17 October Edinburgh-based historian David C. Weinczok will investigate the Scottish inspiration behind the popular Game of Thrones series.  On Sunday 27 October, families are invited to enjoy a hands-on day of art and archaeology at Lyth Arts Centre, with archaeological art by Kate Robinson, Iain Maclean and Chris Gee.

Kelly Munro , Keiss Broch Necklace.

Kelly Munro, Keiss Broch Necklace.

Submissions will be auctioned off at a later date to help raise funds for Caithness Broch Project. For further information, contact caithnessbrochproject@gmail.com. The exhibition with a launch from 4pm on Saturday 5 October at Lyth Arts Centre.

James Fairgrieve's Seasons

Entering its final week at Open Eye Gallery, Edinburgh, is James Fairgrieve's Seasons. Having exhibited at the Open Eye Gallery for over twenty years, in his current exhibition Fairgrieve reflects on the theme of the changing seasons in an exhibition exemplifying the ideas and subjects that have embodied his paintings throughout his long career. Apt that, with today being the first day of Autumn, this reminder is posted.

James Fairgrieve ,  Feather Map II  , Acrylic on gesso on canvas 76 x 81 cm

James Fairgrieve, Feather Map II , Acrylic on gesso on canvas 76 x 81 cm

Fairgrieve’s distinctive still lifes derive from his interest in collecting and studying objects from the natural world. Reflecting on his outdoor pursuits, this particular body of work is a homage to his quiet life in the countryside, in and around his home near Duns in the Scottish Borders. Using ephemera gathered on long walks, Fairgrieve scours the land, river banks and beaches for discarded wood, boxes, stones, bricks and feathers which he uses to make fishing flies. The fruit and vegetables depicted in his paintings (here) are mostly from his own garden.

James Fairgrieve RSA RSW

Until 30 September 2019

Open Eye Gallery
34 Abercromby Place
Edinburgh EH3 6QE

Tel: 0131 557 1020

Impossible Colonies

In the 1920s, the Lithuanian geographer, diplomat and academic Kazys Pakstas (1893–1960) proposed an idea to move the entire nation of Lithuania from its geographical home by the Baltic Sea in Europe’s east to a safe place, a peaceful colony overseas. This was a reaction to the tense geopolitical situation with neighbouring Russia and other events in Europe. Pakstas spoke of the importance of saving the nation through saving its intellectual thought first. This Utopian project, titled Dausuva (named after Dausos – the spirit world in Lithuanian mythology) considered locations like Quebec, Belize, Sao Paulo, Angola and Venezuela. Pakstas visited each of the locations and held meetings with local authorities about potentially buying or leasing land to resettle. 

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , (installation view). (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, (installation view). (Photo: Ian McKay).

Some 400 years earlier Jacques Cartier had sailed from France across the Atlantic hoping to find a western shortcut to the riches of Asia and its spices and silks. Twenty days later his ships reached the shores of what later was to become Canada, at the time inhabited by First Nations. Spices and silks were nowhere to be found, but there was plenty of gold, diamonds and fur. Jacques Cartier and his team endured a harsh Canadian winter and in spring loaded their ships with their newly found riches and set sail back to France to report on the mission to King Francis I. Upon their return the precious cargo turned out to be quartz and iron pyrite rather than diamonds and gold, leading to a French phrase faux comme les diamants du Canada (‘fake like Canadian diamonds’). 

My exhibition Impossible Colonies presents a constellation of works, reflecting on these histories. 

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , (installation view). (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, (installation view). (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , Untitled, Photo etchings, 2017. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, Untitled, Photo etchings, 2017. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , Untitled, Photo etchings, 2017 (detail). (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, Untitled, Photo etchings, 2017 (detail). (Photo: Ian McKay).

The first chapter of Impossible Colonies presents a fictional archive of Pakstas’ proposed migrations. Three photo-etchings (above) depict landscape as a new, mysterious, untouched and therefore romanticised and distanced entity. Something to be admired, but conquered or at least tamed. Colonial expansionist thought saw nature as detached from humanity, as an environment in which we exist rather than as something we are an integral part of. 

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , Untitled, ‘Silk Hanging’, 2017. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, Untitled, ‘Silk Hanging’, 2017. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Two photographic silk flags with golden tassels show the Baltic Sea and Loch Dochard in Argyll. Using these flags as symbols for territorial claims, yet consciously stripping them of nationalistic imagery and meaning, the inhabitants of Impossible Colonies celebrate fluidity, transition and closeness as building blocks of a new society. 

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , (installation view). (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, (installation view). (Photo: Ian McKay).

Beeswax artefacts refer to items brought from their former home, as souvenirs or memory vessels and links to the life once lived. Cast from natural southern Lithuanian beeswax, these objects are multiplied, as if trying to hold on to the memories they may carry, whilst simultaneously stripping them of meaning by repeating the shape and form. The faint smell of meadow and hay holds an imprint of time and the collective labour of colonies of honey bees that produced the wax. 

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , Untitled, ‘Beeswax artefacts’, 2017. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, Untitled, ‘Beeswax artefacts’, 2017. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Two silent looped videos: Untitled (archive) and Untitled (moon) extend the conversation in time: beeswax artefacts get digitised to be accessed by future generations, in the process revealing one true original souvenir from which the others were multiplied. An unknown light object blinks in the darkening evening sky above the forest, delivering a coded message to those arriving to the Impossible Colonies, whether it’s a new land across the water or a planet promising a fresh start, this time certainly free and equal for all. 

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , Untitled, ‘Silent looped digital videos’, 2017. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, Untitled, ‘Silent looped digital videos’, 2017. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Extract from silent looped video- part of Impossible Colonies installation.

Magic lantern slides continue the direction to the outer space. The fascination humans have long had with the sky and its formations, through myth, religion, astrology and science is now entering the stage of seeing it as a potential living destination. The settlers of Impossible Colonies will have a chance to define and shape their new home, and perhaps this new planet and this solar system is far enough to avoid repeating mistakes of the previous societal models. 

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , Untitled, ‘Magic Lantern Slides’, 2017. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, Untitled, ‘Magic Lantern Slides’, 2017. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Collective Geologies Map from the second chapter of Impossible Colonies was made by a constellation of people who drew the map of the world from memory. Merged into one, these maps become a graphic of multiple geographies, memories and teachings. Gilded with 24 ct gold leaf this fictional map refers to aggressive historical and contemporary expansions, often fuelled by geological motives. It is layers of soil, rock, hardened lava, trapped minerals, crystals, moved and shaped by shifting glaciers, volcanic events and erosion that is so inviting to slice through like a layered cake of space and time, even better if speckled with gold veins and diamond nests. Colonialism exploits geological, biological and natural resources as well as people, it is only unclear how deep the colonial knife slices: does the cut end at the tectonic plates or does it dig deeper to the very core of the planet? 

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , ‘Collective Geologies Map’, Inkjet Print with gold leaf, 2019 (detail). (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, ‘Collective Geologies Map’, Inkjet Print with gold leaf, 2019 (detail). (Photo: Ian McKay).

Amateur Botanist video combines photogrammetry generated 3D models and underwater video footage to imagine and reenact some ways that plants may have travelled and spread around the planet. It hints at imperial expansions and is based on a narrated dialogue between two non-human species. This work explores notions of native and invasive, and tests the waters outside the anthropocentric world view. 

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , ‘Amateur Botanist’, 2019. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, ‘Amateur Botanist’, 2019. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Migrations of plants, as well as those of animals and humans, have shaped the planet, and have been affected by complex intertwined sociopolitical factors: wars, expansions, climate change, economy and eating habits. These factors, alongside time, also determine whether a species, an individual or a group get labelled as local, invasive, indigenous, exotic, foreign or native. 

Amateur Botanist observes the simplest of botanical migrations – fruits, vegetables and roots floating across bodies of water to reach new lands and spread. A dialogue in between two non-human species also includes digitally rendered forms, extending the conversation from human to non-human, to the digital realm.

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte 
Impossible Colonies

Continues until 27 October 2019
An Talla Solais Gallery
West Argyle Street
IV26 2UG


Impossible Colonies work was commissioned by Edinburgh Art Festival in 2017, while my research was supported by Lithuanian Culture Council. The ongoing second chapter of Impossible Colonies was started during the residency at VU Photo, Quebec City Canada, and supported by Creative Scotland, VU Photo and Lithuanian Culture Council. Amateur Botanist was commissioned by Short Circuit projects and Centrala, Birmingham. Made with support from Lithuanian Culture Council.