A literary exhibition with a difference opens on 1 February at the National Library of Scotland. The Library's exhibition hall will be transformed for a month by the installation of a ruined cottage with hand carved stones, poetry printed on slates, giant maps of Edinburgh, and a 6ft boat suspended from the ceiling. The collection forms Words Out of Place, a new exhibition of visual art inspired by the Library's collections.
Edinburgh artist Catriona Taylor spent two months in the Library last summer as part of an artist-in-residence programme in association with Arts and Business Scotland, exploring the vast collections and meeting the curators who look after them. To guide her work, she eventually settled on Sir Walter Scott's Heart of Midlothian and Sorley MacLean's Raasay poems as key texts through which to examine both Lowland and Highland history in Scotland.
The theme of the exhibition is 'words out of place' - that is, words inspired by place, or loss of place, and a series of visual treatments that literally present these words out of their normal context into new settings and different surfaces. The results are visually striking: highlights include reproductions of excerpts from Heart of Midlothian in Scott's own hand, roof slates screenprinted with MacLean's handwritten words, and the letters of emigrants to North America appearing on the keel of a boat.
Taylor, a graduate of Edinburgh College of Art, explained her rationale: 'A response to place - both its landscape and history - along with migration, human absence and traces of the past has consistently inspired my thinking. When I was offered a residency at the National Library of Scotland with a brief to respond visually to the collection - starting with the map collections - I was thrilled. Engaging with various aspects of the collection through the guidance of dedicated and enthusiastic curators has been a fascinating and enriching experience. I've only been able to respond to a fraction of this national treasure. I've chosen works of Sorley MacLean and Sir Walter Scott as lenses through which to view both Highland and Lowland history and landscape and language.'
Cate Newton, Director of Collection Development at the National Library of Scotland said: 'We are very excited to be involved with such an interesting project. It's something a bit different for us, and I hope that people will take the time to come and see what promises to be a unique and thought-provoking exhibition.'
The project has been made possible through the support of Arts and Business Scotland, and sponsorship from Henzteeth, a creative writing company based in Edinburgh.
Henzteeth director Stuart Delves said: 'I first became acquainted with the National Library of Scotland through a writing project I conducted through my company Henzteeth. In the process I was led through the vast labyrinthine repositories behind the scenes at the Library. This included the map collections along with many other non-textual artefacts. It struck me how wonderful it would be to sponsor a visual artist to respond to the collection, and "Not Just Words" was the working title of the resulting residency. This phrase applies both to the Library's collections and to how Henzteeth works. What Catriona has brought to the equation is another perspective - a response to place, in this case Scotland.'
Another key part of the exhibition will be four large scale wall-mounted maps of Edinburgh, on which the people of Edinburgh are invited to post their treasured memories of various parts of the city. As part of her residency, Taylor ran a series of workshops for participants from Outlook, an Edinburgh-based organisation that supports people with mental disabilities, encouraging them to make memory maps, art incorporating both text and visuals. Many of the memories were focused on places in Edinburgh that no longer exist, such as the Portobello outdoor pools. Based on the suggestions and memories received, Taylor hopes to attract funding to enable her to create art works inspired by these memories, with a view to displaying them across Edinburgh in the places where the memories were formed.
The exhibition will be open from 10 am to 5 pm from Monday to Saturday and 2pm to 5pm on Sundays. It runs until 1 March.
National Library of Scotland
George IV Bridge
Tel: 0131 623 3700
14 January 2008