Starstruck and in our el­e­ment with out­door art

The Herald Magazine - - Arts OPINION - KEITH BRUCE

HALF an hour west of Ed­in­burgh’s Hog­manay, where the Mes­sage from the Skies project unit­ing writ­ers, com­posers and vis­ual artists has its most dra­matic in­car­na­tion at the un­com­pleted Scot­tish Na­tional Mon­u­ment on top of Cal­ton Hill, Scot­land’s new­est na­tional mon­u­ment loomed over an­other artis­tic cre­ation in sound and light which had a much shorter run.

Andy Scott’s Kelpies have swiftly be­come an in­di­ca­tion of home­com­ing for Scots pass­ing them on the mo­tor­way, but they re­ally sit not ad­ja­cent to the M9 but at the basin at the end of the canal-side Helix Park on the north flank of Falkirk.

On the first and se­cond days of this new year, the park was an­i­mated for the fourth year run­ning by Fire & Light, this year subti­tled Cos­mic For­tunes. Us­ing as­tron­omy, as­trol­ogy, and space travel tech­nol­ogy, a wide va­ri­ety of sculp­tural tech­niques, py­rotech­nics and state-of-the-art pro­jec­tions told sto­ries linked by the signs of the zo­diac and the clas­si­cal mythol­ogy be­hind them. If you wanted to es­cape anx­i­eties over Brexit dur­ing the hol­i­day, Falkirk, rather than Ed­in­burgh, was the place to en­joy a broader view of our place in the uni­verse.

At the heart of this year’s in­stal­la­tions, re­flect­ing how the an­cients viewed that uni­verse, and it­self re­flected in one of the la­goons of the park, was Luke Ger­ard’s Gaia, a scale model of our world, each cen­time­tre rep­re­sent­ing 18 kilo­me­tres of the Earth’s sur­face, cre­ated us­ing NASA im­agery. The first visit to Scot­land of this beau­ti­ful cre­ation, pre­vi­ously ex­hib­ited at the Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum in Lon­don, could scarcely have been bet­ter timed, fol­low­ing on from cel­e­bra­tions of the fifti­eth an­niver­sary of the or­bit­ing of the moon by the crew of Apollo 8 and their mem­o­rable pho­to­graphs and de­scrip­tion of the “Earthrise” of the blue planet on Christ­mas Eve, 1968.

On Wed­nes­day evening the park was filled with fam­ily groups and chil­dren shar­ing the sense of won­der at the beauty and fragility of our planet that some of us can re­mem­ber be­ing wideeyed at, watch­ing on tele­vi­sion back then. The event was very ef­fec­tively and cour­te­ously stew­arded by a mix­ture of pro­fes­sion­als and vol­un­teers, but not in any way reg­i­mented, so that the ex­po­sure of those young peo­ple to the el­e­ments – which of course also cat­e­gorise those star-signs – was an es­sen­tial part of the ex­pe­ri­ence. This was art that made the most of be­ing out­doors.

I was a bit sur­prised to find – as a con­firmed scep­tic – how much I was drawn into the as­tro­log­i­cal nar­ra­tive, and de­lighted that the in­stal­la­tion for my own star-sign, Aquarius, was the most mys­te­ri­ous and ef­fec­tive of those made by Ed­in­burgh-based pro­jec­tion artists Dou­ble Take, whose other projects have in­cluded an­i­mat­ing the new third bridge across the nearby Forth, the Queens­ferry Cross­ing, and the Grit Orches­tra’s most re­cent Mar­tyn Ben­nett con­cert at Celtic Con­nec­tions.

They also worked with Glas­gow Sculp­ture Stu­dios artist Jane McI­nally on the Twee­dle­dum and Twee­dledee de­pic­tion of Gemini, and her work was across the whole site, in­clud­ing a col­lab­o­ra­tion with lo­cal young peo­ple that bridged the con­cep­tual gap be­tween the as­trol­ogy and the as­tron­omy. The fire el­e­ment was in the hands of Py­roCeltica, whose brand of “fire-proofed and ready to burn” Celtic Fire The­atre sup­plied a bit of wel­come heat on a brisk night.

But I bet that oth­ers went home hap­pi­est hav­ing a selfie with the uni­corn that greeted them on the way in, the mytho­log­i­cal crea­ture of the mo­ment. It is one of the first of David Pow­ell’s pa­per and light sculp­tures on the site, also in­clud­ing a splen­did Zo­diac henge. Look­ing at the Kelpies at the other end of the park, I won­dered if the sculp­tor of those now wishes he’d com­pleted his new na­tional mon­u­ment by mak­ing one a horned horse of myth and magic.

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