Research Topics and Speculation about Art and Public Space by Scottish artist Matt Baker

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Marks of Time VIII

I have been feeling desperately sad since the theft of the Henry Moore's sculpture ‘Standing Figure’ from the upland landscape near Dumfries this weekend.

Standing Figure - Henry Moore 1950 (sited at Glenkiln 1951 - Stolen October 2013)
For me this formed part of a unique public artwork that was an inspiration for me in the way I think of making work in landscape. 

The Visitation - Jacob Epstein 1926 (sited at Glenkiln from 1954)
For those that are unfamiliar with the Sculptures at Glenkiln – there are seven artworks one by Auguste Rodin, one Jacob Epstein and 4 by Henry Moore. They are placed in wild pasture on part of the Keswick estate near the Glenkiln Reservoir. There are no signs, no guidebooks, certainly no gift shop or tea room….they are just there in the landscape – where they have been since the first (Standing figure) was sited in 1951. 

There is a lovely introduction to the Glenkiln experience by my good pal Mary Smith - here

The area of land that contain the Glenkiln Sculptures
I used the words public art very carefully and deliberately. The question of ‘public’ is central to everything at Glenkiln. These pieces are placed on privately owned land* - they are only ‘public’ because of the Scottish tradition (and legal right) of free access to all land to everyone. The sculptures at Glenkiln became public by default.

In the minds of the sculptors there was not the slightest intent that these were public works of art. I am using the term in the way I have defined it in other writing (see – here), rather they were conceived as private or gallery pieces and use their surroundings simply as a ’backdrop’ to their discourse with artistic tradition.
And yet, as a whole, I stand by my idea of the Glekiln Scupltures as an amazing work of public art. What I, and many other, experience at Glenkiln is being part of a shared secret and we all gladly share the responsibility of that secret. We know that it is truly remarkable that these works are just out in ‘normal’ (for Dumfriesshire) countryside – unprotected and unsignposted. Sometimes you can find Epstein’s ‘The Visitation’ sometimes it eludes you. It has become something we all eagerly share with our weekend visitors and vicariously enjoy their astonishment that such a thing can exist.

Shenavall Bothy - Northern Highlands
In Scotland we have another tradition, the Bothy – these are simple huts out in the wilds that are free for everyone to use to rest, eat and sleep on long distance walks. The rule is that you leave a bothy as you found it or even leave something extra for the next person to visit. For me the sculptures at Glenkiln were like a series of bothies – part of there wonder was leaving them for the next person to discover….and so on down the chain.
Against all the odds, what could be seen as a rich man playing tin soldiers in his enormous back garden turned into an expression of community, trust and the spirituality of place

Erratic - one of my works at Cairnsmore....anyone finding Erratic is invited to pull out the bronze handle and drag the boulder to a new location

The idea of shared ‘ownership’ of artworks in the land and the way that a relationship with artworks can cast new light on the way we see understand our surroundings has inspured me in works like ‘Cairnsmore’, ‘Quorum’, ‘Shinglehook', 'New Luce' and most recently ‘Lodestones’.

This bond of trust and community in the land is a precious, precious thing – it has been broken by the action of this weekend§ - we are all a much poorer as a result.
There is a whole other essay to be written about who works in landscape really belong to and what this says about who owns the land of Scotland.  But for now I am still grieving for something lost that was special to me.

* Anyone wishing to know where I stand on landownership in Scotland might look at the work of Andy Wightman – I share many of Andy’s views 

§ In 1995 vandals sawed the heads from Moore's King and Queen at Glenkiln, but they were reattached.

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