Fine Art lecturer wins important grant from the AHRC
Craig Richardson, Senior Lecturer in the Art Department, has been awarded £19,081 to work on a project entitled 'Landscape as Conceptual Art: Retrieving Values in John Latham's Conceptualisation of "Five Sisters" (1976) as Monumental Process Sculptures'. His work is funded as part of the AHRC's Landscape and Environment programme. The project promises to make a major contribution to our understanding of landscape history as art and as national heritage, firstly within a Scottish context and then as a study of an exemplar in British art.
Mid-Lothian shale bings such as “Five Sisters” have contributed hugely to the recent formation of new landscape features in the Scottish landscape and provide an example by which further sites of new energy production (oil fields, coal mines etc) may be exploited once their industrial value has become moribund and redundant.
Residents and visitors to West Lothian are greatly aware of these industrial monuments and their overpowering effect on the landscape. It is more difficult to convey the sheer size of these bings and the amount of shale they contain to someone who has never seen them. At the height of production spent shale was being added to the bings at an annual rate of equivalent of a single bing with a volume almost as great as the Cheops pyramid in Egypt (which is 451 ft high). When production ceased in 1962 there were 27 bings containing over 200 million tons of shale. The ambitious scale of, for example, the adjoining derelict shale bings “Five Sisters” requires further research and development in the visual arts, both in its emblematic representation in documentary photographic practices and as a site/position for further art-works addressing the terrain and its historic value.
“Five Sisters” speak of landscape histories with which Scotland is not normally associated. Nonetheless they present a typification of Scottish landscape as a place uneasily assessed, yet oddly beautiful in its increasingly industrialised horizons. Their dramatic brick-coloured precipices of the shale are now mostly covered in wild flowers and grasses, inhabited by a variety of birds such as kestrels. Their development within a plateau surrounded by industrialised farmland and business parks (including the nearby redundant Freeport Leisure Village) emphasise their melancholy effects.
The application and benefit of this research lies in its reidentification of “Five Sisters” as a site of art, reaffirmed in its recognition by civic and governmental authority as a place of ‘natural’ wonder into which other artwork may come into being.
Preliminary collation of scarce reference material in the visual arts and an analysis of anecdotal evidence on “Five Sisters” show the site’s potential to be (but not sufficiently recognised as) an internationally significant example of British Land Art produced as a result of an Artist Placement Group residency in Scotland and exemplar in Scottish post-war art production. It is therefore imperative that the production of material and data related to this application be archival retrieval (to be deposited at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Archives) for further scholarly research and to be utilised in exhibitions which provide public access and exploitation of the relevant visual material. Further practice-based research will involve the production of photographic and digital video recording of “Five Sisters” and other shale bings. An exhibition, magazine articles, public lectures and seminars, and visual art journal articles will ensure that the project's findings reach a wide audience.
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