Below the Blanket: 'The idea is that the artwork be interesting enough to people that they'll want to find out what it's about'

This article is from 2019


credit: Murdo Macleod

Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens host an outdoor journey through artworks and soundscapes inspired by Scotland's northern peatlands

More than ever before, environmental concerns will be at the forefront of works being shown across the Edinburgh Festivals this year, with a sense of renewed determination to do something about climate change. In the field of visual art, however, it can be difficult for an artist to create something of beauty and of intriguing artistic value while attaching an overt and unambiguous message to it.

In Below the Blanket, Glasgow-based art producer Cryptic's outdoor group show at Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens, the combined works of five artists are intended to accumulate the desired message in subtle fashion. Each of the works was created in residence at the RSPB centre in Forsinard, in the heart of Scotland's Flow Country, a vast area of peatland in Sutherland and Caithness which sustains a vast array of wildlife and traps carbon, mitigating against climate change.

'As a visual artist my main focus is the aesthetic and the look of the work,' says artist Heather Lander, who is originally from Maine, yet who has practiced in Glasgow for more than two decades. 'Obviously making it tie in with the project is crucial, but I guess the idea is that the artwork be interesting and attractive enough to people that they'll want to find out what it's about, where the idea came from and what it represents. That way the information about the Flow Country will seem more memorable and important.'

Below the Blanket: 'The idea is that the artwork be interesting enough to people that they'll want to find out what it's about'

credit: Neil Jarvie

Created under the direction of Cryptic's artistic director Cathie Boyd, Below the Blanket – which refers to the blanket bog pools which dot the Flow Country – features work created following instruction from some of the scientists who work with the Flow Country environment. Many of the works are sound-based in nature: Kathy Hinde will present soundscapes based on noises from deep within the bogs and the sound of the Flow Country wind itself, as well as a water-powered sculpture, while Luci Holland has also created a work from ambient sound, which responds to the presence of visitors.

Matthew Olden's 'data flow' involving 100 speakers sounds like the kind of piece which needs to be experienced in person rather than described, while Hannah Imlach's work involves photography hung around the gardens and a film made with Daniel Warren and composer Thomas Butler. A new choral work composed by Malcolm Lindsay and performed by the Dunedin Consort will be installed as a recording, but will also be performed four times by the Consort in situ throughout August.

Lander's 'Do Not Disturb | The Permanence of Fragility', meanwhile, uses paintings on perspex layered alongside one another on plinths to give some idea of the durational nature of the bogs' sphagnum moss covering, with hundreds, if not thousands of years required to build up just one centimetre of moss.

'Hopefully this exhibition will leave people with the idea that the Flow Country's a very important part of Scotland which needs to be protected, and hopefully they might want to go and visit it,' says Lander. 'We want to spark people's interest and to make them aware of the place – and protective and proud of it, especially if they're from Scotland. If people find our work beautiful and interesting, hopefully they'll think the Flow Country might seem very beautiful and interesting too.'

Below the Blanket, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, until 25 Aug (not 6, 13, 20), timed entry slots from 7pm, £13.30–£15.40 (£8.80).

Below the Blanket

Cryptic presents Below the Blanket***, a series of new artworks installed throughout the * Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and inspired by one of Scotland’s most extraordinary and unsung natural features. The Flow Country is the world’s largest blanket bog, a vast mass of peat and Sphagnum moss, shot through with hundreds…