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Landscape and Science: an exploration

Art often draws inspiration from the landscape- indeed, the very word landscape can be traced to the Dutch word landschap, describing the sixteenth century novelty of painting a scenic view, “framing the picturesque”.

Science can also draw inspiration from the shape and form of the land. Although this notion is often overlooked, landscape can be a fertile source for the scientific imagination, informing constructive thought and reasoning.

Glenlair

Glenlair

So, appreciation of the land can bring forth creativity in both art and science; our day’s quest explores these ideas through the work of a scientist, James Clerk Maxwell, and an artist, Charles Jencks. Both have lived and worked here, both draw creative strength from their landscapes.

Duncan Ferguson introduces us to the world of James Clerk Maxwell

Duncan Ferguson introduces us to the world of James Clerk Maxwell

Our day started at the home of James Clerk Maxwell, at Glenlair, Corsock. Here, we were met by Duncan Ferguson, owner of Glenlair and Trustee of the Maxwell at Glenlair Trust, which promotes Maxwell’s legacy and aims to rebuild Glenlair, twice badly damaged by fire many years ago. Duncan explained that Glenlair was James Clerk Maxwell’s family home until age ten; his mother taught him to “look to nature”. He returned for five years, between appointments at King’s College London and Cambridge University. At Glenlair he formulated his Electrodynamic Theory, uniting the properties of light, electricity and magnetism. This revolutionary work underpins our electrical and electronic worlds; this achievement alone puts him in the same league as Newton and Einstein. Duncan told us more; he devised many principles used in structural engineering, pioneered work in optics and produced the first colour transparency. And he explained the stability of Saturn’s rings… in those days, James Clerk Maxwell would be called a natural philosopher… the newer name, scientist, perhaps loses some of the essence of the words it replaces.

Whilst at Glenlair, James designed and supervised extensions to the House, incorporating his own ideas, such as the trichromatic floor tiling, a reminiscence of his experience in photography, and the design of the supports for the rain gutters, ironwork cast in the curves and spirals of his geometric thinking.

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As Duncan guided us past the building, along the burn and through the byres, the harpist Wendy Stewart played a selection of her music inspired by James’ life and work: Folds in the Fields, Reflex Musings and Glenlair House. A song too: a poem by James, Rigid Body Sings, set to the tune Comin through the Rye.

Travelling north and east, joining Nithsdale at Thornhill (for lunch), we followed the river to Sanquhar. Just beyond, is the Crawick Multiverse. This is landscape art on a grand scale. Previously an opencast coalmine, the Duke of Buccleugh funded construction of these massive symbolic earthworks to the design of Charles Jencks; here, science informs art, inscribed on the land in a series of sculptured landforms linked by walkways bordered by thousands of aligned standing stones.

We walked the high road of the Comet’s Walk to Northpoint, a viewpoint for the multiverse, Crawick, Sanquhar and beyond, to the heather hills, north and south, bisected by Nithsdale, east to west.

Sound experiments with Wendy Stewart at the Crawick Multiverse

Sound experiments at the Crawick Multiverse

Resting here, first we contemplated, then we conversed, then we chimed: along with her harp, Wendy had brought a selection of metal rods…collectively, in a circle atop Northpoint, each holding a rod, swinging and arcing together to meet in an ensemble of unique sound. Here too, Wendy played harp, also letting us try the strings for harmony.

Wendy Stewart on Antromeda at the Crawick Multiverse

Wendy Stewart on Antromeda at the Crawick Multiverse

Onwards, away from Northpoint, over and upwards to the spiral mound of our Andromeda where we discussed the harp music in relation to its environment and Wendy shared her knowledge giving us all an opportunity to play the harp, then south, to the Omphalos, the Centre, through the Solar Amphitheatre and to our completion.

Retracing our way to Sanquhar, well fed at the Nithsdale hotel, we met at A’ the Airts, Sanquhar’s community arts venue. There, Professor John Brown, the astronomer Royal for Scotland gave his lecture Black Holes, White Rabbits and the Multiverse. His insights into the wonders and mysteries of our universe at its extremes, the realm of black holes and other universes were made even more memorable with his skill as magician and illusionist. These tricks were entertaining in their own right, but were given extra salience as a source of metaphor in scientific thought at the limits of thought and reason.

Finally, into the darkening night to the Merz gallery to visit the Landscape of Waves exhibition. Charles Jencks collaborated with Alex Rigg, a performance artist and founder of Oceanallover. On display were paintings, drawings, sculptures and costumes for the grand opening of the Multiverse on summer solstice, 2015.

A complete day of exploration and imagination: art and science from the landscape.

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Our “Quest for a Landscape of Science” team

Further Reading

www.glenlair.org.uk

www.wendystewart.co.uk

www.crawickmultiverse.co.uk

www.oceanallover.co.uk

www.all-the-airts.com

Cat, J. Glenlair: a brief architectural history. Available at: www.glenlair.org.uk/glenlair-history

Acknowledgements

Jan Hogarth for curating our day; Wendy Stewart for her music; Duncan, Frances and Angus Ferguson for their hospitality at Glenlair; Professor Brown for his lecture; staff at Crawick Multiverse and A’ the Airts; all those attending the quest.

Thanks to David Ball for writing this article. David Ball has retired as an anaesthetist, but continues with charity work and teaching in Africa. “But now I can walk, run and cycle more. Or just sit. So I’m listening to what the landscape is telling me”.

Landscape and Science: An Exploration

Duncan Ferguson and Wendy Stewart at Glenlair

Duncan Ferguson and Wendy Stewart at Glenlair

Art often draws inspiration from the landscape- indeed, the very word landscape can be traced to the Dutch word landschap, describing the sixteenth century novelty of painting a scenic view, “framing the picturesque”.

Science can also draw inspiration from the shape and form of the land. Although this notion is often overlooked, landscape can be a fertile source for the scientific imagination, informing constructive thought and reasoning.

So, appreciation of the land can bring forth creativity in both art and science; our day’s quest explores these ideas through the work of a scientist, James Clerk Maxwell, and an artist, Charles Jencks. Both have lived and worked here, both draw creative strength from their landscapes.

p1100281

Duncan Ferguson explaining the history of Maxwell’s improvements to Glenlair

Our day started at the home of James Clerk Maxwell, at Glenlair, Corsock. Here, we were met by Duncan Ferguson, owner of Glenlair and Trustee of the Maxwell at Glenlair Trust, which promotes Maxwell’s legacy and aims to rebuild Glenlair, twice badly damaged by fire many years ago. Duncan explained that Glenlair was James Clerk Maxwell’s family home until age ten; his mother taught him to “look to nature”. He returned for five years, between appointments at King’s College London and Cambridge University. At Glenlair he formulated his Electrodynamic Theory, uniting the properties of light, electricity and magnetism. This revolutionary work underpins our electrical and electronic worlds; this achievement alone puts him in the same league as Newton and Einstein. Duncan told us more; he devised many principles used in structural engineering, pioneered work in optics and produced the first colour transparency. And he explained the stability of Saturn’s rings… in those days, James Clerk Maxwell would be called a natural philosopher… the newer name, scientist, perhaps loses some of the essence of the words it replaces.

Whilst at Glenlair, James designed and supervised extensions to the House, incorporating his own ideas, such as the trichromatic floor tiling, a reminiscence of his experience in photography, and the design of the supports for the rain gutters, ironwork cast in the curves and spirals of his geometric thinking.

p1100340

Wendy Stewart performing in Glenlair’s inspirational landscape to artists and scientists

As Duncan guided us past the building, along the burn and through the byres, the harpist Wendy Stewart played a selection of her music inspired by James’ life and work: Folds in the Fields, Reflex Musings and Glenlair House. A song too: a poem by James, Rigid Body Sings, set to the tune Comin through the Rye.

 

Travelling north and east, joining Nithsdale at Thornhill (for lunch), we followed the river to Sanquhar. Just beyond, is the Crawick Multiverse. This is landscape art on a grand scale. Previously an opencast coalmine, the Duke of Buccleugh funded construction of these massive symbolic earthworks to the design of Charles Jencks; here, science informs art, inscribed on the land in a series of sculptured landforms linked by walkways bordered by thousands of aligned standing stones.

Here, we contemplate the relation of the earth with the four zones of grassland, mountains, watercourses and deserts, beyond to the sun, to our galaxy and further, to the grandly speculative ideas of the Multiverse, a theoretical notion of multiple universes, each, perhaps, with their own constants and laws of nature. These are represented as carved shapes or forms in the landscape, weaving a pattern for our imagination.

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Sound experiments with chimes at the Multiverse

We walked the high road of the Comet’s Walk to Northpoint, a viewpoint for the multiverse, Crawick, Sanquhar and beyond, to the heather hills, north and south, bisected by Nithsdale, east to west.

Resting here, first we contemplated, then we conversed, then we chimed: along with her harp, Wendy had brought a selection of metal rods…collectively, in a circle atop Northpoint, each holding a rod, swinging and arcing together to meet in an ensemble of unique sound. Here too, Wendy played harp, also letting us try the strings for harmony.

p1040811

Wendy Stewart performing in Andromeda

Onwards, away from Northpoint, over and upwards to the spiral mound of our Galaxy, then south, to the Omphalos, the Centre, through the Solar Amphitheatre and to our completion.

Retracing our way to Sanquhar, well fed at the Nithsdale hotel, we met at A’ the Airts, Sanquhar’s community arts venue. There, Professor John Brown, the astronomer Royal for Scotland gave his lecture Black Holes, White Rabbits and the Multiverse. His insights into the wonders and mysteries of our universe at its extremes, the realm of black holes and other universes were made even more memorable with his skill as magician and illusionist. These tricks were entertaining in their own right, but were given extra salience as a source of metaphor in scientific thought at the limits of thought and reason.

Finally, into the darkening night to the Merz gallery to visit the Landscape of Waves exhibition. Charles Jencks collaborated with Alex Rigg, a performance artist and founder of Oceanallover. On display were paintings, drawings, sculptures and costumes for the grand opening of the Multiverse on summer solstice, 2015.

A complete day of exploration and imagination: art and science from the landscape.

 

Further Reading

www.glenlair.org.uk

www.wendystewart.co.uk

www.crawickmultiverse.co.uk

www.all-the-airts.com

Cat, J. Glenlair: a brief architectural history. Available at: www.glenlair.org.uk/glenlair-history

 

Acknowledgements

Jan Hogarth for curating our day; Wendy Stewart for her music; Duncan, Frances and Angus Ferguson for their hospitality at Glenlair; Professor Brown for his lecture; staff at A’ the Airts; all those attending the quest.

 

 

Bespoke Land Art Quest for American Artists Patty and Rick Volner

Patty and Rick Volner have been visiting some of the most important sites around the world for land art including Michael Heizer’s Double Negative, Nevada and Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

Patty, an artist and art therapist herself, is passionate about Andy Goldsworthy’s work and had been following his Striding Arches project as it was being constructed, visiting the Arches at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. I had worked closely with Andy and the local community to develop Striding Arches for an area of Cairnhead Forest above Moniaive in Dumfries and Galloway. Its was Goldworthy’s work that inspired me to study sculpture and I had done my MA dissertation his ephemeral work so I am also a great admirer of what he does.

Patty had contacted me just as I was setting up Quests and Retreats to ask about visiting Striding Arches so I offered to curate a Quest for her and her husband to look at Striding Arches and then go onto the Crawick Multiverse by Charles Jencks, also land art but a very different approach.

I met Patty and Rick in Moniaive where they were staying and then we headed up to the Byre at Striding Arches and I shared my knowledge and story about the projects development. From the Byre you can see the Bail hill Arch looking majestic on the top of the hill and framing the sky. It was a joy to talk with two people who admired Andy’s work and also were so interested in the surrounding landscape, the changes, the law, the forestry, the wildlife. We had some wonderful conversations before travelling back down the valley and making the decision to visit another Arch Andy had created in the river at Drumlandrig Castle, without double one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland.

I love serendipity when something remarkable happens…..Patty had a calling to go to follow the Arches and as we headed to see the Drumlandrig Arch who should we meet but Andy Goldsworthy himself out for a walk with his family….You couldn’t write it. Andy generously spoke about the Arch with us and Patty thanked him for giving his work to the world. It was a beautiful moment.

Afterwards we visited Charles Jenck’s Crawick Multiverse and talked through the different approaches to landart. The Multiverse is a landscape created from an open cast mine and illustrates current scientific theory.

“Dear Jan,

We thoroughly enjoyed our day with you seeing the local Land Art in southwest Scotland. It has long been a dream to visit the Striding Arches and it was a stroke of luck that we hooked up with you. Not only were we able to cover more ground that we would have on our own but coupled with your knowledge, experience and artistic connections our day was absolute genius! I am still floating on “cloud 9” after the excitement of finally seeing a couple of the Arches in their permanent home.  Dealing with the disappointment of realizing we were not going to make the climb to the Arch on the hill, forced to switch gears and look to another direction with out you we would not have known about the Arch in the Stream…..then low and behold as we approached the Arch in the Stream who do we meet but Andy Goldsworthy himself, what a thrill. Unplanned and unexpected a complete joy, thank you for introducing us! Walking the Multiverse with you was so interesting we are so glad you introduced us to Charles Jenck’s work. You gave us an experience we will cherish forever.

From the center of our hearts, we thank you,

~patty&rick”

What is fantastic about Dumfries and Galloway the region has such a breadth of internationally significant land art to see, to engage with, to discuss…..If you are interested in a landart Quest please get in touch there is so much to see.

If you are interested in a Bespoke Quest related to art, history, literature, mythology, spirituality with landscape, please talk to us we can create something magical for you….

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