Starstruck and in our element with outdoor art
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.