Words out of place

Our first exhibition in 2008 (1 February to 1 March) featured visual art by Catriona Taylor, inspired by written material in our collections.


Catriona Taylor and large cardboard boat
Catriona Taylor
with her boat.

'Words Out of Place' is a literary exhibition with a difference. For a start, most of it is art rather than the books or manuscripts you would expect to be displayed in a library.

Among the exhibits are visual treatments of two core texts and some emigrants' letters that are part of the National Library of Scotland's collections.

The art works were created by Catriona Taylor, who spent two months in 2007 as artist-in-residence at NLS.


Emigrants' letters and Raasay poems

One of the highlights is a suspended 6ft cardboard boat covered in copies of letters from emigrants to North America.

Along one wall is a series of roof slates. Screenprinted on to them are the words of 'Woods of Raasay' in poet Sorley Maclean's own handwriting.

Writing on slates
Roof slates.

Maclean's other Raasay poem, 'Hallaig', also features, in a Gaelic and an English version. Both are overlaid on 19th-century maps of the island, from the time of the Highland Clearances.

Both the emigrants' letters and the poems evoke the poignancy of separation. Close to them, as if to emphasise the point, Catriona has constructed the ruins of a small abandoned stone cottage, complete with a floor of earth.


'Heart of Midlothian'

The Raasay poems were one of two core texts that Catriona focused on during her NLS residency and for the exhibition. Sir Walter Scott's manuscript of his novel 'Heart of Midlothian' is the other.

In particular, 'Words Out of Place' sees different treatments of an episode involving Jeannie Deans, a central character in the tale:

Screenprint of woman
Jeannie Deans
  • Pages from Scott's manuscript scaled up on handmade paper.
  • Three large screenprints showing the route of Jeannie's walk from the St Leonard's area to Arthur's Seat.
  • A short video dramatising Jeannie's meeting on Arthur's Seat at dead of night with her sister's seducer.
  • Four 'Arthur's Seat Paintings' — small panels with excerpts from 'Heart of Midlothian' painted on glass.

Edinburgh memories wanted

Catriona considers Edinburgh to be as much a character in Scott's story as the people he created.

On one wall of the exhibition hall, there is a large map of the city. Edinburgh people are invited to put their memories of the city on to notes which they can stick on the map.

Catriona hopes to get funding to produce art works based on these memories which can then be placed in the part of the city where the memories were made.


More about the exhibition

  • Interview with Catriona Taylor in issue 7 of our magazine Discover NLS.
  • Exhibition ponsored by Henzteeth in association with Arts & Business Scotland.



Past exhibitions page


Exhibitions page


Speak me