‘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


MFA Art Space and Nature Degree Show 2017

Alex Hackett and
Will Urmston
present an exhibition of work as a culmination of their studies on the MFA Art Space and Nature programme.

revealing a changing world through the details
the collections and the delicacy.

The exhibition is located in the Tent Gallery and Art Space and Nature studio at Evolution House, Edinburgh College of Art, on West Port.  The degree show opens to staff, students and business on Thursday 1 June 6-8pm and to friends and family on Friday 2 June 6-8pm. The exhibition runs from 3-11 June, open everyday 11-5 with late night openings until 8 on Wednesday and Thursday.

Bonds – an exhibition at Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation

Art, Space + Nature has an ongoing relationship with the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation – http://edinburghcentre.org/contact-form.html
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 https://asnse.wordpress.com/2017/03/12/flow-country/. 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.

‘Mill Pond’: Will Urmston


Mill pond, as the body of water is known, is consistently the first pond to freeze in the area of Massachusetts where I am from, and as such is an important meeting place for local pond hockey players.  Friendships have been forged and maintained over a love of a game dependent on specific winter conditions.  Relationships based on ice, however, are of a precarious nature.  A pond that freezes less often means that some friendships fall by the wayside, bonds over shared experiences and appreciation become more vulnerable. Humanity and the societies we inhabit are interlaced with these bonds based on shared love, and when they are broken down and lost, the world becomes less connected, and a disconnected world is one that is brittle and more vulnerable.  My focus on this pond, originally objective, has turned subjective as I’ve come to realize what the crystallization and bonding of water molecules to form a solid surface of ice means, not only in terms of staying alive, but also with regard to the survival of important bonds and relationships within my own life.  As the effects of climate change become more pronounced, it will be of increasing importance to not only scrutinize and mitigate the effects on our environment, but to consider more closely the damaging effects it has on the smaller but ever so crucial bonds that hold together a healthy society.

‘Mill Pond’ was the result of continuous observation and interaction with this pond.  Daily investigations of ice conditions – for the original purpose of playing ice hockey, turned into something more, as, following record heat waves in December and January, the turmoil and confusion of a world searching for balance amid the mounting pressure of an unpredictable, changing climate, showed up on the ice of a small pond struggling to freeze.  The day before the first heat wave, a young man approached me with a bible, walking over frozen water, speaking of hellfire and the end of the world.  When the cold returned, a hand-forged cross lay frozen to the ice.  Following the second heat wave, a serpent lay frozen to the fresh, black ice, warmed from its hibernation many months too soon.

I arranged these pieces across from one another with the intent of letting the viewer fill the void and consider the space between. Alone and depending on the person, a serpent and a cross can conjure up a wide range of feelings and associations.  Together, they suddenly speak to each other.  The viewer, placed between, becomes part of this conversation.


A man called out to me as he walked out of the woods and across the frozen water.  I skated over to him.  He was young with short blonde hair and a closely trimmed beard.  His eyes were the kind of blue that make you feel like they might go all the way through his skull and you’re just looking at the sky behind him.  He asked me if I wanted a bible.  I sinned and told him I had one.  He told me that Satan and his demons were rising.  They were here already.  The earth was burning all around us, we were just too blind to see. To prepare for judgment day, he was learning to live in the woods which seemed odd because aside from army fatigues he wore low cut black dress shoes with black laces and there was three inches of snow on the ground.  I asked if he was learning to hunt.  He said no but that he had ordered a crossbow for hunting and other things.  Other things.  He became nervous when I asked him questions and would stutter and claim that demons were preventing him from speaking God’s word clearly.  He told me how he and all his online chat-room friends were having dreams of a near future filled with hellfire, tsunamis, war. He asked me if I was religious and I said not really but that I really loved playing hockey on a frozen pond in the woods.  His see-through eyes darted from here to there.  I didn’t think he heard me.

Three days later I was skating again. Where my conversation with the young man had occurred I found a cross. It was made from rotting wood tied together with twine.  Two days before we had the hottest day ever recorded in December in Massachusetts.  A bitter cold returned soon after.  The cross was frozen to the ice. [text from exhibition]


Some time later I was skating again.  The day before we had the hottest day ever recorded in January in Massachusetts. The cold had returned quickly and the ice was perfect and clear, all rough spots melted and smoothed away by the unusual day.  Near the edge of the pond I found a snake frozen in infinity.  I went home and got warm water to thaw it out.  Something about reptiles being cold blooded made me wonder if I could warm it up and bring it back to life.  It stayed dead, its cells having crystalized and exploded and I buried it near the wood pile where snakes go to shed their skin. [text from exhibition]

‘Mill Pond’


The main body of my work is based upon vulnerability, immediacy, perspective, and connectivity.  With these interests in mind, I seek to examine, through experience, the subtle details that coalesce and make up the things and places which I find to be personally significant.  I seek to not only examine why these subjects make me happy, but to also look at how the state of the world might reveal itself in these details.  We know most completely and intimately those places, people, things which we love, and through this knowledge and a willingness to be aware, we are perhaps best suited to notice first hand the effects of a changing world and to therefore respond more thoughtfully and personally.  Whether it’s through the vulnerability and precariousness of a social game dependent on the quality of ice,  the immediacy of stepping into a stranger’s car on a direction-less hitchhiking trip through the Scottish highlands,  the perspective gained only after living within the quiet solitude of a cave for a few days, or the connectivity exemplified in mycelium and mushrooms, I’m interested in looking deeper into what is important to me as a way to understand why I value something while at the same time considering how a changing world is revealing itself in the details.

I have always had a love for alternative means of travel.  Whether it be hopping freight trains across the United States and Canada, or hitch-hiking whenever the opportunity is provided, I don’t believe there to be a better way to get to know a land and the complexity and diversity of its people than opening one’s self up to the powers of fate on the road.  Shortly after moving to Scotland, I had a desire to get to know a place which I was to call home for two years.  In what I would describe as a collaboration with fate, I decided to embark on a hitch-hiking trip in February of 2016 with no destination in mind.  Of particular interest to me were the reasons why people take a moment from their day to lend a stranger a hand.  Whether it be their faith, boredom, a hitching history of their own, a simple desire to speak freely to a stranger who they might never see again, or perhaps more simply, a willingness to be generous and helpful, there is always a reason that seems to speak purely of some crucial element of humanity.  My piece consisted of a photo of each driver and the road where I had been waiting for them, as well as an isolated quotation that I felt revealed some different element of humanity or reflected the state of the world within which we live.  There is something to be said for sitting next to someone while looking forward as the road unfolds in front of you.  There is a safety to be found there which I believe allows people to be more vulnerable, to open up and reveal details of their life to each other more quickly than if those same strangers were sitting across from one another at a table.  Like staring off into the warm light of a fire, side by side, a unique intimacy is gained. Details of an individual’s world and where they may see themselves within it, come forth.  By stepping into these cars, these moments, these little worlds one after another, I encountered the  opportunity to put details together in order to form a new understanding of a place and its people.   Slowly, the complexities of life in this unpredictable world begin to surface and reveal themselves.

DSC_1000 (1)


‘Fate and Strangers’

Searching for perspective is a substantial component of my practice and I find I’m most successful when I’ve immersed myself in a place for more than a day in order to properly begin to “see” where I am and to “feel” why I am there and what it means to me.  Perhaps the best example of this was the original photograph from the inside of a cave looking out in the hills near Fort William.  It took three days and two nights sleeping in the cave and wandering about inside and out for my eye to truly consider the cave opening.  It has since lead to an ongoing series of photographs called “Irises”, taken from within 7 different caves around the highlands of Scotland as well as a video piece taken during my stay in cliff-side bothy on the west coast of Lewis.   For me, caves provide a unique opportunity amidst a noisy world to find peace while tapping into a dormant awareness that comes from returning, even for a short while, to a more elemental existence.  But our relationships with caves are complicated, for as much as we are drawn to the shelter and womb-like protection of caves, we remain uncertain about what may be hidden within where history, myth, and our own fears lie in wait on a shadowed canvas.  If we, however, accept that light isn’t a requisite for sight, there exists an opportunity for new awareness, as we locate ourselves within the darkness.  Anthropologist Wade Davis in his book The Wayfinders, touches on this in describing poet and translator, Clayton Eshleman’s in-depth study of cave art in France:  “[Eshleman] was dazzled yet perplexed not just by what he saw but how he felt in the sensory isolation of caves, his imagination suspended between consciousness and the soul of an all-devouring earth, a “living and fathomless reservoir of psychic force”” (Davis, 2009).


Ft W 12 copy




‘Swell’ (video still)

 My focus on and concern with layers of social and environmental connectivity and awareness, as well as investigations of light and darkness which underlie my aforementioned pieces, has led to a more sculptural output that involves growing mushrooms on mediums based on various mixtures of sawdust, toilet paper, coffee grounds and human hair. Fungi, which have an endless list of medicinal applications and benefits as well as a vast potential for environmental remediation, if properly considered and encouraged, could provide a cheap and natural solution to an endless list of environmental and health concerns that currently plague our world.  Of further interest to me are the examples of connectivity associated with certain varieties of fungi.   Paul Stamets, a leading Mycologist, describes this interconnectivity as “interlaying mosaics of mycelium [that] infuse habitats with information-sharing membranes.  These membranes are aware, react to change, and collectively have the long-term health of the host environment in mind” (Stamets, 2005).  I believe there are many lessons to be learned through a deeper consideration of this fungal model amidst a time of increasing disconnection among humans as well as between humans and nature.


Anthropologist and author, Deborah Rose, in her piece, An Indigenous Philosophical Ecology, calls this disconnection ‘hyperseparation’ and further defines it as the “west’s effort to make extreme differentiation between human beings and other living things” (Rose, 2005).  This idea of hyperseparation is something that troubles me deeply and my practice and interests reflect an attempt to actively reconnect to the natural world while, like mycelium, considering the “long-term health of [our] host environment”; our planet.



Will Urmston is an artist whose work explores the subtleties of the natural world through the mediums of photography, video and fungi-based sculpture.  Soon to graduate from the Art, Space and Nature MFA program at the Edinburgh College of Art, he has exhibited work at An Lanntair, Stornoway, the Hidden Door Festival in Edinburgh, and at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation.

‘Mill Pond’ was exhibited in Tent Gallery, Edinburgh College of Art, 1-2 of February, 2017




‘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.