Landforming – Marks on the Landscape

A few months ago while driving along the M90 in Fife the car nearly left the road…!

It was because I was so surprised at spotting massive earthworks from the motorway where last time I had driven passed there was a surface coal mine.  I later established it was the land restoration project Scottish World following opencast coal mining at St Ninians Mine.  As opposed to restoring the land to forestry or agriculture Fife Council has given planning consent to create a major land art project.  The first phase of the project is due to be completed by 2014 but there are animations of how the whole site is visualized at the client website, Scottish Resource Group.

The site has been designed by artist Charles Jencks.  There is some good information at the Education Scotland portal Marks on the Landscape about the concept and design process and the practice of ‘land forming’.  It also includes an interesting set of photos of the changing use from coal extraction through ‘landforming’ to emerging land art at St Ninians mine.

Further marks on the land are currently being made at a second restoration project of an opencast coal mining site in Scotland, Crawick Artland.  The process of design and construction at Crawick Artland will have a first phase of major works, with marking out having taken place in May 2012, and in a second phase other artists will respond to the site producing further elements.

It is interesting that there are two major regeneration projects in Scotland, both with the same artist, and a third recently opened in Northumberland.  In each case there is an aspiration to create new open and green space, establish hubs of cultural and social activity, bring health benefits, and increase economic activity by attracting tourists: rather than land art, perhaps what is being created are multi-functional places?

I wonder if this is the start of a growing trend towards more ambitious / imaginative land art / restoration projects?  I am not sure whether there have been any design competitions for these sites and what designs others would have produced.  In future, should communities who live closest to such sites have the responsibility for conceiving and designing such places?  Clearly with their scale such art interventions will be features in the landscape for centuries,  I wonder how they will be viewed by subsequent generations…?

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Palace of Light and Shadows

It was the first time I had been to the Kibble Palace, at Glasgow Botanic Gardens, at night and it was remarkable how different the experience was: plants brooding and sullen, shadows cast in sharp relief, the sounds muted…!

The Kibble Palace was originally built in 1873 and was subject to major refurbishments completed in 2006.  As part of this refurbishment, the late 19th and early 20th century Neo-classical figurative marble sculptures were retained and complemented by new interpretation including a striking series of fused glass panels.  Further details of these and the Botanic Gardens Heritage Trail can be found in a leaflet: which also has a remarkable story of where a large part of the Kibble Palace originated from !

The Kibble Palace has also just been used as a fantastic location for a light and sound installation, Heliotrope. The installation explored the relationships between people and light, in particular the impact light can have on our minds and bodies, and highlighted the long shadow that can be cast by Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The installation, subtle and compelling, really needs to be experienced, as it comprised a remarkable sound scape of resonant drones and chimes, by sound artist Hanna Tuulikki, but with a haptic element to this with sound (I think) in part emerging through the floor.  Gradually changing hues, levels and directions of light evoked, diurnal rhythms and annual solar motion, but appeared to be interspersed with micro-flashes of light.

If the Palace of Light and Shadows was brought alive for me through Heliotrope by the installations producers Trigger, I cant wait to see what they do next following Zombie Lab….

Heritage Craft Skills

Many of our heritage sites appear timeless.  Historic buildings are usually key components of the character of our streetscapes but, as they are so familiar, usually go unnoticed.  Often, we only really pay attention when they are destroyed and a gap site is presented: the missing tooth in the smile !

I always take time when I am in York to pause and watch the stone masons working at the side of the York Minster in the Stoneyard.  The high level of their skills is apparent in the finished pieces which sit inside the yard before being raised up onto the Minster.  Some of the stone components of the Minster have been standing for about 800 years: so the ravages of time inevitably begin to take its toll.  However, it is not just wind and rain which can damage stone, the Minster has also been subject to major fires in 1840 and 1984.

The work of the stonemasons is currently part of a major conservation and restoration project York Minster Revealed.  As well as the work of the stonemasons, there is also a programme of stained glass conservation being undertaken by York Glaziers Trust. Importantly, the project is allowing for an expansion in training in the skills in working stone and stained glass on historic buildings.

Without constant maintenance and conservation, to ensure that they will be there for future generations to appreciate and enjoy using them, we easily lose the heritage assets which make our towns and landscapes distinct.  But conserving our heritage is more than simply protecting the physical remains of the past, it is also the maintenance of understanding and skills required for the future.

Scotland’s Community Heritage

Community archaeology and heritage projects in Scotland have grown remarkably in numbers in recent years.  This growth can in part be attributed to the results of the RCAHMS run project, Scotland’s Rural Past, Shorewatch by The Scape Trust, and the work of Archaeology Scotland, such as Adopt-a-Monument, together which have helped increase the capacity for community led archaeology and heritage projects.

The ways in which Scotland’s communities have been engaging with there heritage was recently explored at Scotland’s Community Heritage Conference 2012.  On the first day of the conference there was a wide range of presentations about community led archaeological and heritage project from across Scotland.  These included: the work of the Garden History Society and Angus Landscape Survey Group in recording historic elements of local landscapes; the Clyne Heritage Society on the Brora Salt Pans; excavations at Baliscate, Mull; the work of NOSAS at the Mulchaich, Ferintosh; and insights about the establishment and work of the Friends of Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust.

What became apparent very quickly, from the exhibitions and presentations on the day, was that there was a remarkable range of skills amongst the groups.  Combined with their energy and enthusiasm, it was a truly impressive and inspiring series of project results which were presented.  With a warmth and good humor amongst the conference delegates (and learning that apparently all Scottish Community Heritage Projects were fueled by cake !) it was a great day.

I really look forward to hearing more at next years conference about the successes of Scotland’s communities who are actively engaging with their archaeology and heritage.

Long Distance Art – Waymerks

There is a strong tradition of artistic practices, such as the work of Richard Long, which are mediated through walking.  Equally, long distance walking routes are an increasingly important way for people to explore the diversity of landscapes which can be found in many countries.  On many of these routes signage plays a significant role in guiding the walker.  In some cases, these routes are also the focus of other art works.

One example, is the Southern Upland Way in Scotland, which is the first and, at 212 miles, one of the longest distance coast to coast routes in Britain.

The Southern Upland Way has been the focus of an interesting arts project, Waymerks, which drew inspiration from archaeological sites along the route.  Ten years ago, ‘kists’ (stone or metal boxes) were placed at thirteen locations along the route within which could be found hoards of metal coin (merk) like tokens.  They were designed and produced by sculpture John Behm, who incorporated images into the tokens of a range of artefacts and sites that related to the landscapes the Southern Upland Way runs through.

Way Merks Poem from Border Sculptures

A New Hoard of Waymerks was established in 2007 with a new set of thirteen tokens with designs produced by school children (details can be seen from a trail leaflet) and artist designed ‘Kists’.   It would appear that the supply of Waymerks ran out a couple of years ago but it has been a few years since I have walked along the route, so I do not know what can be found still….

Has any body found a Waymerk recently ?