Black Wood Exhibition by ASN1

Whilst the main ASN studio is cleared for the final year’s Masters Degree Show, ASN1 mounted their final Semester 2 project. Following the field trip to the Black Wood of Rannoch, the students held a group exhibition at Edinburgh’s Patriothall Gallery. The exhibition featured individual responses to this environment – a Highland remnant of the ancient Caledonian forest which once covered most of the landscape below 1,500 feet.

Natalia Bezerra

Networks by Natalia Bezerra

The complexity and interconnectivity of the ecosystem was explored by Natalia Bezerra in, Networks, a linear wall drawing and by Cody Lukas Anderson in Pine.

Cody Lukas Anderson

The Extended Body by Cody Lukas Anderson

The Extended Body, a complex installation in which two pine trees were visually connected across space by a series of mirrors.

The order underlying complexity was developed through a series of screen prints, suspended in front of a geometric, monochromatic wall painting, in Equilibrium, by Audrey Yeo, which took the bark of the Scot’s Pine (Pinus sylvestris) as its subject.

Audrey Yeo

Equilibrium by Audrey Yeo

Similarly, Luis Guzman used a transparent cube to represent modernity as a separate context to the natural, which is presented as a fragment within the cube in Capture. The work draws attention to the complex architectural structures in the living lichen and mosses on a decaying tree branch.

Luis Guzman

Capture by Luis Guzman

Becky Sutton used the field trip to continue her studies in perception, through photography and film. Here she made a film of the detail in the waterline. A still image from the film was presented in the exhibition as part of a mirrored installation at floor level, entitled The Waterline.

Becky Sutton

Waterline by Becky Sutton

Relating the landscape to both time and traditional Chinese ink painting, Jiao Di presents a two-piece work in Shanshui. In the first a series of wooden rods were stained in peat and arranged to infer a landscape painted in subtle ink washes. The second highlighted a series of ‘mountains’ in a four-section linear photograph of wave forms on the surface of Loch Rannoch.

Jiao Di

Shanshui by Jiao Di


ASN final year student, Mungki Dewi, recently presented a further two outputs from her ongoing research into biophyllic imagery being used to slow viewers in the urban environment. Both projects used video, specifically filmed in the landscape by Mungki.

The work is developed from current research into therapeutic aspects of biophyllic art practice. See also –  Blue


Mungki’s Tent exhibition explored the ideas of using moving imagery to project calming, natural imagery – bringing the landscape into the city.



Stills from the films



Six analogue monitors were displayed within Tent Gallery, oriented to be viewed from outside, each monitor showed films of reflections captured on water surfaces.



The length of each film and the sequencing varied, with black screen edited in. This created a dynamic display, starting with each monitor displaying different films, then some displayed the same film whilst some displayed blank screen. The sequenced, rhythm of the display echoing the movement of the filmed imagery.




On Thursday and Friday, 25-26 January, IN TIME was back-projected from the upper floor windows of John Knox’s House in Edinburgh. The tranquil film captured the movement of leaves blown by the wind in glistening sun light, in a mesmeric flow. The presence of ‘green’ in a ‘grey’ environment acted as an unexpected visual experience in the city’s bustling High Street.






‘De-compose/Re-compose’ : ASN1

In late December, ASN 1 held a follow-up exhibition, De-compose/Re-compose, a further development of their initial response to their field trip up to The Flow Country. The students individually explored different aspects of the landscape to develop and communicate alternative perspectives of the natural environment. 


The artworks were conceived as aesthetic explorations of conceptual and formal ideas coming from the direct observation of natural processes and structures. Those explorations engaged with different visual languages and media, including video, drawing, sculpture, and installation. 
The creative process was informed by ideas from ecology and biology in different contexts, through scientific meetings and workshops. The dialogue with scientists added layers of complexity to the initial scope and opened a more specific approach towards the representation of the landscape, which was reflected in each of the individual pieces.

MA Final Projects

The four, final degree shows were held by our MA graduating students.

Each presentation was the output of research conducted whilst on the ASN programme. Project summaries are in the posts below.


Zijie Yang [installation view]


Yuer Wang

The white ramp stretches to the sky

The kid is surrounded by the rising sun flame  
No one notices that
he climbs onto the ramp alone
without any fear
Jump one leap
With the endless longing to the sky
he finally jumps into its hug
and turns to be a vapour trail 

Vapour Trail (Japanese Song)

——Matsutoya Yumi

There is an inherent longing from humans to the sky, the desire to explore what cannot be touched. Early in the Chinese Ming Dynasty (the 14th century), Tao Chengdao, expressed this desire by sitting on a chair with forty-seven rockets attached and holding a kite – humanity’s first attempt at flight. What could not have been envisaged by Tao Chengdao, was how, now in the 21st Century, the human footprint has stretched to the world of the sky.

With almost 40 million flights per year, the pollution exceeds that produced by cars. Yet it is still an industry with a beautiful false appearance.

In every bitter cold season, the sky becomes clearer. On sunny days, these white giant birds weave white vapour trails against the blue sky backdrop. Poets and composers use romantic language to describe these beautiful, ephemeral trails. For example, xYz, a poet and artist from England, wrote a poem named Contrail1. Also, there is a very famous Japanese song, Poetry of a Bird2. In these works, vapour trails are no longer a simple physical phenomenon, but become a metaphor for all that represents youth, the yearning for the sky.

When I first came to Scotland, it was autumn and the weather was turning cool. On a journey to the Isle of Lewis, in the north-west of Scotland, I was attracted to vapour trails for the first time. Without the shelter of buildings and veil of urban pollution, the stripe of white lines crossing the sky appeared outstanding in the open Hebridean landscape. On my return to Edinburgh, I became amazed at the volume of vapour trails that were visible on clear days.

In fact, these beautiful vapour trails have great greenhouse effects. No matter from unit emission volume or the total climate emission effects, the emission of aircraft’s tail gas is much stronger when compared to vehicle. According to a survey from Environmental & Science Technology, because of the long distance of an air trip, the temperature increase caused by aircraft emission (318×10-15K/per passenger hour) is 40 to 50 times compared to the impact caused by vehicle (6×10-15K/per passenger hour) in first 5 years, and also very obvious in the next 20 years.3

The first work I made on the theme of vapour trails was ‘Vapour Trail Circle’ for the exhibition, ‘BONDS’ at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation. Here, I found that in the twelve hours from 6 am to 6 pm, there are 136 flights departed from Edinburgh Airport. I collected 136 vapour trails, through photography and composed a circle on a blue background with the radiating lines. The work was intended to use aesthetic beauty to raise awareness of a major pollutant. I also highlighted the scale of the global problem through interpretive text.

As part of my final project, I created a cubic work named ‘Exhaust Ports’ using aluminium alloy, a material widely used in aircraft construction. Echoing this construction, 180 holes are drilled in the surface of the cube. Using dry ice, there is a steady flow of visible CO2 emanating from the sculpture.

I am also presenting two video works. The first work, ‘Vapour Trail’ l was filmed from inside a plane. It shows the creation of a vapour trail made by the wing vortex being made visible by the water vapour. It is a vapour trail filmed from close proximity.

'Exhaust Ports'

Due to the weather condition and atmospheric pollution, vapour trails are almost never seen above some urban areas in China. This work is intended to have particular resonance with an audience unfamiliar with the phenomena.

The second work is also filmed from on board a plane, but focuses on another aspect of pollution in the sky. ‘Illusion’ shows a mass of moving, changeable clouds. At first appearing as a natural scene, the ‘cloud’ is actually from industrial pollution.


  1. Contrail. xYz
  2. Poetry of a Bird/Tori No Uta.  Singer: Lia. Composer: Maeda Jun & Orito Shinji
  3. Borken-Kleefeld, J., Berntsen, T. and Fuglestvedt, J. (2010). Specific Climate Impact of Passenger and Freight Transport. Environmental Science & Technology, 44(15), pp.5700-5706.


Yiran Li

At Granton, on Edinburgh’s north coast, construction waste has been used for a land reclaimation scheme. Thick concrete slabs and bricks, on which barnacles and seaweed are growing, pile up on the coast and rusty steel bars stand still, pointing into the sky.  The waste, in the glow of the dusk, looks like the debris and ruins of a fallen city.


The rising tides appear to have crushed the rocky coast, swallowing these stones, foreshadowing that the city will be eroded in the ocean due to the climate-driven sea-level rise. Studies by National Oceanography Centre (NOC, 2017) illustrate that sea level tends to experience a significant growth in over 90% coastal areas of the whole world by 2040, leading to 20cm higher than the global estimate with 2 degrees centigrade warming. This catastrophic process highlights the conflict and contradiction between human power and the power of nature.

My work ‘Erode’ uses material collected from Granton – broken bricks, crooked concrete slabs, door head ornaments, fragments of stone floor etc.—record a frozen moment from the sea’s imminent reclamation of the land.


During my Bachelor’s architecture study, I spent time thinking and designing the inner space, for human activitiy, tangling with demands, site, environment, materials, temperature, functions and localization. However, this year, my focus and concerns shifted from the space created by materials to the materials themselves.

I present three cast concrete panels in the manner of paintings, drawing attention to concrete texture, quality, and color. In ‘Concrete Works, Ⅰ- Ⅲ’, the material is converted into a protagonist, from the byplay of architectural space.


On an ASN field trip to the Isle of Lewis, in Scotland’s north-west I found that the coast is covered in thick seaweed and scallop shells, the scallop shells being a bi-product of the fishing industry. In this environment I collected man made items which, like the Granton work, were in the process of being reclaimed by the sea – a piece of circuit board, a plastic machinery component, a switch – all polished by the sea water and being colonized by seaweed. Ocean pollution, piling up of the non-degradable plastic, all reflected on this one coast. The non-degradable plastic may impose detrimental impacts on large marine animals as the ‘single greatest threat’ (Karleskint et al., 2009: 536). In the process of degrading, plastics release toxic chemicals are into the water, e.g. bisphenol A and polystyrene which are harmful to marine life (Knight, 2012: 12).

These items became components of ‘Trash’ for the exhibition ‘(in and out of) CONTEXT’ at Tent Gallery. Here I engaged with the architectural space of the gallery and made a colour-plane painting directly on the gallery wall. The collected items were arranged against this sea-blue backdrop – floating on the ocean, connecting each other yet drifting apart. Abandoned by humans the objects begin their circulation in the natural world.


I continued this work in a series of small-scale sculptures ‘Coastal objects’, combining man-made materials—concrete and resin, with shells, seaweed and sand, showing the texture, morphology and even smell. Man-made materials and nature forcibly combined, become a mutual intrusion. The presentation of these everyday objects in the gallery is an act of giving them value. I was also considering the paradoxical imitation of nature in the man made materials – concrete to stone, resin to water. They are equalized in the marine environment by being in a process of erosion, marking time.


Searching for the natural meaning of existence encourages my explorations and research. In response to an ASN field trip to the Flow Country, in the North of Scotland. I was astonished by the open moss-covered landscape, appearing like a vast red and brown seascape. In response, I made an artists’ book, ‘Panorama of the Flow Country’, focusing on the winter colors of the plant life. The work looked at both the vastness of the landscape and the role the tiny plant forms (peat moss) plays in forming the bogs.

The wetness of the landscape was also addressed in the exhibition ‘ Bond’ in Tent gallery where droplets of water were replicated in resin and presented on a peat coloured canvas, presented as a floor piece.



Jevrejeva, S., Jackson, L., Riva, R., Grinsted, A., & Moore, J. (2017, April).

Sea level rise with warming above 2 degree. In EGU General Assembly Conference Abstracts (Vol. 19, p. 3637).

Karleskint, G., Turner, R., & Small, J. (2012). Introduction to marine biology. Cengage Learning.

Knight, G. (2012). Plastic pollution. Capstone Classroom.


Yuechi Cao

My work for the ‘Ropes of Sand’ exhibition at An Lanntair Gallery, in Stornoway, consisted of a work ‘Sand’ which was the culmination of a series of printmaking experiments using natural materials. In this way, I worked directly with the landscape, using my previous experience in block printing.


At the coast, I collected some local sand and plants and kept them in a notebook. After returning, the mark left on the paper inspired me a lot. Collecting materials is a form of record while using the material to print mark can also be used as a record. In the 18th century, people used the plants, animals, rocks, and other natural subjects to produce an image for record. [1] This brought a direct approach to the printing process, unfamiliar from the traditional printing technique. Amongst the materials tested in my experimentation was the moss, Haplocladium microphyllum, a component of peat beds.

Printing, directly, from real objects shows great detail of the texture that changes the first impression and contributes to the growth of new impression.

On a further ASN fieldtrip to the Flow Country, I encountered Sphagnum moss on a vast scale. The Flow Country is the common name for the vast peatland blankets of Caithness and Sutherland – mainland Scotland’s most northern counties. Peat has been forming here for thousands of years and reaches, in some places, up to five metres in depth. As well as storing over 400 million tons of carbon, this area is a stronghold for a wide variety of wildlife. In the 1980s, a vast area of the unique Flow Country habitat was damaged through drainage and commercial conifer plantations. Due to changes in land use over the years, much of bog was lost. Practical restoration work has now been implemented to restore the Flow Country to its original value. The blanket bog is being revalued as a carbon sink.


In response to this, I made a series of artist’s books in the form of letters. The books were made from paper using dried fibrous moss. The letter and envelope form was chosen to represent the tactile and participatory revaluing of Sphagnum moss.

artist book 'Moss Letter'

For my final project, I decided to focus on moss and in particular, its scale – tiny in detail yet creating vast landscapes. ‘Mosaic Field is a wall painting, where a vast landscape impression is made. This ‘landscape’ is in fact a Sphagnum moss print, greatly enlarged and projected onto the wall.

Mosaic Field

After collecting Sphagnum (a genus of approximately 380 accepted species of mosses, commonly known as peat moss) from the landscape, I began to examine the sample in detail. Growing as individual strands, the upper part of the plant continues to grow, while the lower part of it is gradually dying. The leaves consist of two kinds of cells; small, green, living cells (chlorophyllose cells), and large, clear, structural, dead cells (hyaline cells). The latter has the large water-holding capacity.

What is most often seen is the vitality of living cells, but all of those are based on the foundation of death. Death does not mean the end, it is just another form of existence.

Generally, moss is a combination of constant death and regeneration. “Whether life can be eternal?” has always been a question. Moss looks like an eternal life, repeating death and rebirth, repeatedly, the cycle of life never stopped.

In response, I created ‘Strands’, a piece made from several strands of moss, the relationship between death and life made more visible in this form.


Using various forms of microscopy, I made further observations of peat moss. The individual peat moss plant consist of the main stem, with tightly arranged clusters of branch fascicles usually consisting of two or three spreading branches and two to four hanging branches. The top of the plant, or capitalism, has compact clusters of young branches. Along the stem are scattered leaves of various shapes, named stem leaves; the shape varies according to species. Stem cross section was round, with a simple structure. There are two parts of stem: the skin and the central axis. From the cell level, whilst the cellular structure of moss is relatively simple, as Ralf Reski mentioned “Mosses are tiny plants with a simple body plan: They have no roots, no flowers and do not produce seeds. Therefore, they were for a long time considered to be simple organisms also at the genetic level.” [2], the world of microscopy revealed a new world of shapes and structures.

I have created a series of prints from microscopy photography, entitled ‘Microcosm’.

These detailed views are presented as a set of counterpoints to the more expansive, wall painting




[1] Green, J. and Stallybrass, P. (2006). Benjamin Franklin, writer and printer. New Castle: Oak Knoll Press.

[2] ScienceDaily. (2017). Moss beats human: Simple moss plants outperform us by gene number. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Aug. 2017].


Zijie Yang

Ocean Roars

From The Story on The Island

When I was on the field trip to the islands of Lewis and Harris, I heard a story: Due to climate change, Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) are increasing in numbers, migrating north. They are now regularly found off the Western Isles in the summer months. Recently a skipper caught a 500lb Bluefin. However, without a commercial licence he was not permitted to sell the fish was shared out with many of the islanders.

Skippers sing and dance after night, as skippers narrate their stories.

Skippers live in boats, skippers live on the ocean.

Skippers come from a utopia, skippers have party all day long.

This story indicates a fundamental relationship between humans and the ocean, it also carries more intensive meanings about skippers’ community based fisheries. In response, I experimented with a work entitled, ‘Skippers’ Party’.

A pyramid was suspended in front of a video projection. The pyramid is covered with the marine and sliver colour of tuna and the shape of tuna’s head, tail, and back fin. With human figures depicted down another side of the pyramid, indicating where this story came from and using skippers’ party as a sharing utopian metaphor. The shadow of the pyramid, against the projected image, combines the human with the ocean.


A Dialogue Between Human and Ocean

‘One upcoming tragi-comedy or one tragedy past. Life blooms by the sea and fades away, as tides grow and ebb. We hardly tell the length and width of time, while time herself, witness the occurrent funeral.’ — Le Cimetière MarinThe Graveyard by the Sea

A further work, ‘The Graveyard by the Sea’ was developed for the ‘Ropes of Sand’ exhibition at An Lanntair Gallery, Stornoway. In this, a moment witnessed was replicated. I had seen a floral tribute from a graveyard blown onto a beach. Time gives human the ruler to measure the length of universe. The work contrasts the vastness of the ocean with the individual human scale. About 3.8 billion years ago, when the land was deserted, the roaring sea gave birth to the life, the most primitive cells, its structure is similar to modern bacteria. In the ocean, over millions of years, primitive single-celled algae evolved. The gravitation of the moon offers the ocean tides, as high tide lap the coast and low tide exposes the vast shoals in the sunlight, providing the intertidal zone and made it possible for land creatures to develop. At the same time, numerous original forms die, developing step by step, life comes and goes, and human life becomes a small part of this huge evolutional timeline. Just like a flower for the funeral, drying on the beach.


The Silver Darlings

Historically, the Atlantic herring has played a pivotal role in the marine fisheries of Scotland. The growth in demand for herring, is causing concern with the sustainability of stocks. The herring population may, some day, fade away. It indicates the relationship between human and ocean, sea life being at the base of the food chain and the pyramid. With the development of technology, the traditional herring fishing techniques were gradually abandoned, replaced by highly efficient trawling boat with nets, which will sweep the whole seabed, destroying the environmental and biological chain.

Since human life is highly relative to the ocean, we make false gods in our over exploitation, overturning the pyramid. These silver darlings hide under water, as the vortex utopia, turning the broken pyramid upside down, smoothly.

I have created a wall painting ‘The Silver Darlings’ which abstracts the linear language of the herring industry, to respect the old school techniques. Through my work there is a dialogue between the structure, figures of herring fishing and shapes with lines. All the straight lines carry the strength deep inside the Scottish skippers and the spectacular landscape through the long history. The horizon separates the sky and ocean, leaves the half circle sunset above as well as the moon reflection on the surface. The combination of two triangles not only reflects the relationship of nearness and distance, but also represents the meanings hourglass, pyramid and herring vortex. Those symbols indicate the large human consumption of the herring itself, the ocean and the whole environmental resources, which brings tension and caution to the Anthropocene age. The vortex of silver herring surrounds our human society, like a star atlas, as humans ignore their endangered existence, they are never just beneath human, they are highly above, in the roaring ocean.
The red/brown background paint on the wall comes from the typical sail of herring shifter used through 18th to 19th century, when the sails were protected from rotting by the use of tannins.


In a set of photographic prints, ‘Echoes’ this geometric language is developed in linear drawings on images of the sea captured from a sailing boat on Lewis. The parts such as masts, sails, ropes and yards mould several geometric simplified patterns. These patterns such as triangles, trapezoids and the combination contain some deeper meanings and metaphors excluding the simplified shapes.

Two scalene triangles reflect the relationship of nearness and distance, an upper herring vortex, a downside pyramid and a time glass indicating the consumption of ocean. The contract between softness of waves and the strength of silver lines, just like a seagull slide over the sea surface,overlooking the complex humanity deep in the ocean.

Two circles come from the nets hanging on the mast representing nets in operation behind the trawling boats. Besides, with the strong sunlight, luminous beams caught by camera, will form the marvellous circular sunlight spot on the picture. The reconstruction with the shape of sails and hulls offers further metaphors as well, these images help to guide audience imagine and creative the action of herring fishing from basic lines and structures.


jet3‘Homeland’, from studio experiments, the intimate yet contrast relationship between the Atlantic Blue and Sail Red presents various metaphors on the plinth like a water tank. The environmental and geographical advantages of Scotland provide a glorious history of fishery industry and this tradition past generation by generation. Islands are home of skippers on the land, herring drifters are home of skippers on the ocean. With the visually impact effect of the blue and red colours, the island or the drifter floating on the ocean in, from the beginning of their life, becoming the destiny, fate and final destination of skippers.


Ocean roars, especially Atlantic Ocean. Old skippers tell their most perilous stories with smiles, because they fight it, live with it, and live on it, by the strength deep inside their character. The font of text comes from names of typical Scottish herring drifters such as Reaper FR958 and Research LK62. The colour painted on the wall is chosen with the typical Atlantic dark blue, with a hint of shade, just like the roaring ocean under the stormy sky, with endless strength.


‘For reasons unknown’ MFA Art Space and Nature Degree Show, 2-11 June 2017

‘For reasons unknown’; the degree show exhibition by students Alex Hackett and Will Urmston, graduating from the MFA Art Space and Nature programme.  The exhibition was held at Tent Gallery from 2-11 June, as part of the wider annual Edinburgh College of Art degree show.


‘untitled collection’, collaborative works by Alex Hackett and Will Urmston



For reasons unknown
a coupling
a collection of people of objects and stories
your stories are fated encounters, actions
or missed encounters and the wonderings
of what is not this here
instead it happened like this

a diving beetle under fragility
a relationship on ice
seeking perspective from
a nurturing process, it all being in the rituals
and the simplicity and tenacity of growth
sometimes struggling through, resilient
yet absorbent
fruitful pink and yellow gills
in our creature surroundings
with a Boy’s deep listening
and the growing and the not knowing
teaching small irises of contentment

and then
soaking in salt water
forming little crystals sometimes
crystalisations realisations of thought
sometimes just soggy crumblings
and damp embraces
a pillow come rest your head
on the dusk shore
with everything breaking in the iridescence
but For strength
there’s being on the water
and in the water
skin shaking and dripping alongside each other
a strand of sugar kelp drawn out slowly
through your dreams
there’s magic in islands and isolation
in being seen and known closely
and the fear of losing

seeking vulnerability
as a place to be
revealing a changing world through the details
the collections and the delicacy.


[collaborative exhibition text]


installation with various pieces, Alex Hackett


‘untitled’  installation with newspaper, sawdust, tissue, twine, mushrooms, Will Urmston


‘untitled’ with ‘Irises’, Will Urmston


installation with various pieces, Alex Hackett

Bonds – an exhibition at Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation

Art, Space + Nature has an ongoing relationship with the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation –
Working with researchers at the Centre, the students engage with the subject of ‘Carbon’ in a variety of ways and through a range of disciplines. The Project culminates with a public exhibition at the Centre as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival. For this project ASN is joined by other students from other areas of the University who choose it as an elective.


From the Bog – an exhibition on the Flow Country by Art, Space and Nature 1 students

In February, the students took a fieldtrip to Forsinard, in the Flow Country- see They were introduced by RSPB members to the value of the peatlands as a carbon sink and to the restoration currently being undertaken within that landscape.

The exhibition ran from the 11th to the 14th of May in Tent gallery.

The body of work was both varied and cohesive. It included: large-scale botanical drawings onto a wall, colour samples using sponges, explorations of depth and time using peat paint, two video works, a floor piece on droplets, a poetic lichen glossary, and an installation on sleep within the bog.

‘piecemeal barnacle’ : Alex Hackett


how did it break ?
in five pieces
a sacred circle
left on a wooden windowsill
under the glowing light and the gaze
of Stacashal
where there’s smokiness
embedded in warm dark jumpers
it’s a vivid belonging
on a salty rock
and it’s piecemeal
[text from piecemeal barnacle exhibition]


A conversation between objects and text; retrieved from the ocean and washed up on the shoreline, emerging piecemeal.  Sculptural objects are assembled and formed within the gallery space; with forms, folds and fragments created in-situ.

Textures are liquid, soft and rocky; resembling the watery, the sandy shores and the barnacled. Chalk, milk and earth thicken with peat ash and plaster, colours remains muted and pastel, like plastics worn and weathered by the ocean but with the touch of the human hand. The work has an ephemerality yet also stillness, existing somewhere between the eternity of the abyss and the current of the surface waters.

The texts are addressed to a new owner. They often describe small and intimate temporal moments, interactions, and sights of imagined significance, and reflections on place and the elemental. They mimic the sensitivities of the sculptural work in their intimacy and concentration on texture, colour and sensation. Throughout the text works the sea is used in parallel with descriptions of the personal, existing as an alternative realm to the human habitat of the land. In a similar way language accompanies sculptural works through titling to reflect an element of the personal.

The presence of the sea is evident throughout Alex Hackett’s work, existing in the nature of the sculptural forms and materials, many being found on the shoreline itself, with others imitating textures, effects and life within the sea. It is a continually changing body of water, a carrier of abundant life and energy, with its appearance constantly altered by its surrounding colour, light and weather. Fascination with the sea lies in its mysteries; its unknown depths, creatures and stories. In the novel Moby- Dick, Herman Melville captivated by the sea, wrote “there is one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath”[1]. This mystery and unknown sublime is retained in the work through absurd and imaginative objects, merging found materials from the sea and made materials by the artist.

piecemeal barnacle

piecemeal barnacle [exhibition view] Plaster, paint, sand, peat ash, paper, shell, cookie, bonbon.  ‘piecemeal barnacle’ Tent Gallery, Edinburgh, 2017

 The nature of the sculptural objects, as brought directly from the cluttered environment of the studio and assembled within the exhibition space encourages a vivid sense of their creation. There is a happenstance quality to their forms, some lie broken at the weakest points, with fragments of their bodies in plaster, sand, scattered at their feet and hinting of the movement involved in their assemblage. This is similar to the way in which Karla Black describes the final form of her work, “practicalities create accidents … how I can make something stand up, or how I can hang it often determine what a work is.”[2]   Even gentle unravelling of Alex Hackett’s sculptural work can cause breakages and new forms to arise. In piecemeal barnacle, inners of sculptures are displayed alongside their wrappings, casings and crumbs. Displaying these evidences of their creation emphasises the beauty in the ephemeral. Sometimes everything is broken.

Delicate shell rubbings on napkins are draped on a wooden rod, avoiding the walls of the gallery. Sculptures are placed on and close to the floor. The work’s placement requires specific acts of looking, and close observation from the audience, encouraging a method of looking not dissimilar to that of a beachcomber on the shore. Kathleen Jamie refers to this focused act of looking closely, emphasising the value of the “care and maintenance of the web of our noticing”[3], even elevating the act of observation to a prayerful one and crucial to engagement with the wider world.

The objects are a combination of found, made and assembled. Found objects usually have personal significance, from a particular place and time and often reappear in the text works. Some materials refer directly to place, with peat ash and salt from the Isle of Lewis, bleached seaweed from Lindisfarne and shells from Scottish shores. The plaster objects reveal the processes of their making, some lying in their skins and shells. Creases and wrinkles form on material, pulled like skin by force, tidal. The sculptures involve spontaneous decisions, layered quickly as the plaster sets. Objects are made intuitively, as are the small sculptural assemblages and larger installations in gallery spaces. The resolved work builds upon objects, natural patterns and structures observed within both natural and manmade landscapes.

The work created for ‘COAST’, adopted visual elements of the Dunbar shoreline; drawing on a unique turquoise colour deposited on shells, and the deep red sand of the local coastline; both incorporated into sculptures mimicking the man-made rocks lining parts of the coast. The objects become unfamiliar creatures, laid out like underwater archaeological finds, yet with an element of the touch of the human hand in their delicacy.


a rare and wondrous find  Plaster, sand, sour mallow, barnacle, gold thread.  ‘COAST’ Dunbar Town House Museum and Gallery, 2017

These combinations of natural and manmade material are uncomfortable yet simultaneously belong. Shimmering blue glitter coats a gingerbread cake wrapper and its crumbs, imbuing a grotesqueness to a perhaps comforting object, whilst imbuing a synthetic value in a usually cast-away object, as it lies on the floor.

Anthropologist Mary Douglas writes of holiness and impurity being oppositional, similarly this piece brings the stain and the disposable in to the realm of what is seen as sacred or treasured.  This positioning and use of contrasting materials questions our value of material objects, what is kept and discarded, the sentimentality of objects. “Reflection on dirt involves reflection on the relation of order to disorder, being to non-being, form to formlessness, life to death”[4].

Edible materials are used frequently in Alex Hackett’s work, most often for its intriguing sculptural forms. Popcorn is used frequently for its coralline form and subtle colour. Cast in plaster it creates a new and unfamiliar creature. The popcorn coral elevated on a bleached yellow pillow acquires a new value and emphasises a preciousness and fragility to the absurd and unexpected. Hinting at a personal language and romanticism. Pastel pink spherical sweets leach their colour in a tide mark onto white plaster.


popcorn coral

popcorn coral   Plaster, paint and popcorn on pillow. ‘piecemeal barnacle’ Tent Gallery, Edinburgh, 2017


popcorn coral [detail]

Plaster pieces are propped on bleached wooden rods, balanced against walls and surfaces of the gallery, evoking sea stacks and a sense of a recent high tide.  A long rod rests up on a small wooden column, surging in with the tide from the window of the gallery. The positioning of the objects creates a sense of stillness in what has passed, yet also a readiness for an anticipated motion, and tentativity in their precarity. The work hints of the larger environmental situation, a calm in coming chaos, anticipation within the Anthropocene.


piecemeal barnacle [exhibition view] Wood, plaster, paint, popcorn, peat ash.  ‘piecemeal barnacle’ Tent Gallery, Edinburgh, 2017

This balance between stillness and motion is particularly evident in the installation I’ll take you to the shore / to show you the dog rose. This suspended work responds directly to the experience of being on a sailboat in the Outer Hebrides, watching the flicking movement of the small lengths of rope, reefs, which determine the level of the sail and reveal the action of the winds. With reefs encrusted with salt, sand and shells and hung in the gallery space from a wooden yard and eyelets, the work adopts aspects of the construction of the sail whilst maintaining a delicate nature. Many of Alex Hackett’s sculptures incorporate movement and dynamism in their form, resembling living beings. This sculpture acquires a gentle movement through its suspension from a single point, tilting gently in the space, with the reefs moving independently in small breezes. Bringing this object into the gallery gives it a sense of stillness, away from the sail’s natural environment out on the sea. This is emphasised by the time-based processes involved in its making, with slow processes of evaporation creating the salt encrusted reefs.

I'll take you to the shore

I’ll take you to the shore / to show you the dog rose Wood, metal, rope, salt, sand, shells, pocket. ‘Ropes of Sand’ An Lanntair, Stornoway, 2017

I'll take you to the shore (detail)

I’ll take you to the shore / to show you the dog rose [detail]

In other works, Alex Hackett balances objects within themselves, often combining the natural and unnatural into absurd compositions. A curved piece of plastic buoy appearing burnt and sea-washed, a flat shrimp cracker resting within and a curled silverleaf cradled in this material clutch. These assemblages create a sense of human touch, as they evoke the cupped hand, a cradling and gentle nature. As the artist Michael Dean writes “all shores describe touching”[5], emphasising this overlap between the natural world and our own.

I'll take you to the shore (detail)

I’ll take you to the shore to show you the dog rose [detail] Dyed cloth, buoy, cracker, silverleaf. ‘Ropes of Sand’ An Lanntair, Stornoway, 2017


Alex Hackett is an artist and writer soon to graduate from the Art Space and Nature MFA programme at Edinburgh College of Art.  She has exhibited at An Lanntair, Stornoway, the Dunbar Town House Gallery and Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation.  Her work exists across fields of poetic text, small-scale sculpture and the edible, to form installations with a dialogue surrounding the natural world and the intimate.

The exhibition ‘piecemeal barnacle’ was at Tent Gallery, Edinburgh College of Art, 9-10 February 2017.


  1. Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, 1851. London: Penguin. Chapter 111
  2. Karla Black in conversation with Barry Schwabskyin Karla Black, Susanne Figner (ed.) 2013. Köln: Walther König. p.13.
  3. Kathleen Jamie, Findings, 2005. London: Sort of Books. p.105
  4. Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger, 1966. London: Routledge. p.6-7
  5. Michael Dean, [exhibition pamphlet] Turner Prize 2016, London: Tate Britain

‘Ropes of Sand’: an exhibition at An Lanntair

Following a field trip to Lewis and Harris earlier in October last year, current Art, Space and Nature students recently exhibited their respective outputs in an exhibition titled ‘Ropes of Sand’ at An Lanntair gallery in Stornoway. The work reflected many different aspects of the area from which it was inspired.



Works visually reflected features of the islands; including wall paintings using the colours of houses on a local Stornoway street, and work using pigment made with peat from the Isle of Lewis. Other works engaged with local political issues within the islands, commenting on the salmon farming industry and another work having been inspired by the story surrounding the withdrawn superquarry application for Roineabhal in Harris. Works also examined more closely our human relationship to our environment; inspired by a sail on the ‘An Sulaire’, the community owned boat, visits to Luskentyre beach and the Mangurstadh bothy.

The exhibition opened on Friday 17 March and ran until 8 April.

ROPES OF SAND – Exhibition Opening

Join us to celebrate the opening of our latest exhibition at An Lanntair on the17th March at 5pm

Ròpan Gainmhich

Asma Almubarak, United Arab Emirates • Russell Beard, Scotland • Yuechi Cao, China Mungki Dewi, Indonesia • Alex Hackett, England • Andrew Ioannou, England • Yiran Li, China  Will Urmston, USA • Alix Villanueva, France • Yuer Wang, China • Jet Yang, China

Obair ùr bhon phrògram ealanta eadar-nàiseanta, Ealain, Farsaingeachd + Nàdar, aig Sgoil Ealain Oilthigh Dhùn Èideann, air a leasachadh an dèidh rannsachadh ann an Leòdhas is na Hearadh san Dàmhair, 2016

New work from the international Masters programme, Art, Space + Nature (ASN), Edinburgh College of Art; The University of Edinburgh, developed from a fieldtrip to Lewis & Harris in October 2016.

Fosgladh aig 5f Dihaoine 17mh Màrt
Opening at 5pm 17th March 2017

18 Màrt  – 8 Giblean
18 March – 8 April 

The internationally renowned Masters programme, Art, Space + Nature (ASN), Edinburgh College of Art; The University of Edinburgh, was established in 2003. It offers a framework of advanced study in the visual arts, architectural and environmental practice. Working from the axiom of ecology, that all things are interconnected, the two-year programme operates with a trans-disciplinary sensibility.

In October 2016, the ASN students conducted a field-trip to Lewis & Harris with programme director, Donald Urquhart. Subsequent research led to the development of preliminary work, which was presented at Tent Gallery in Edinburgh. The students return to Lewis to present finished pieces at An Lanntair, in the exhibition ROPES OF SAND which reflect on aspects encountered on the initial field-trip.