Skip to main content

Siobhan Healey and Alasdair Gray – Biodiversity: A Cabinet of Curiosities

It’s a hot day in Glasgow, and in the city’s leafy west end, Scotland’s greatest living polymath is at his desk. In the coolness of his front room, Alasdair Gray is painstakingly writing words for a label that will accompany the environmental constructions of Glasgow-based artist Siobhan Healy. Gray has missed out the ‘d’ of ‘Scotland’, and takes a minute or two to carefully add the detail in his inky hand-writing.

Such is the evolution of Biodiversities: A Cabinet of Curiosities, a collaboration between Healey and Gray that sees a steampunk-styled laboratory installed with Healy’s glass-based sculptures. With each one etched with Gray’s hand-written missives, they are shown in a series of found display cases. Rather than some arcane excavation, Gray’s customising of Healy’s creations is designed to give a fresh resonance to the environment we’re living in now.  

“Biodiversity is the main interest of my artwork,” says Healy, who initiated the project as part of a residency at Edinburgh College of Art. “so I’ll tend to make clear glass artworks depicting rare species, just to highlight them and show the beauty of them. Alasdair’s texts to go with them are really strong, and are warnings in a lot of ways. They’re much more forceful texts than what my quite decorative artwork might portray. We’re highlighting a historical element, but there’s a modern edge to it as well.”

Key to Biodiversity is Patrick Geddes, the radical nineteenth-century Edinburgh town planner who talked of living in a green world, with animals depending on leaves to survive.

“Even at that stage,” says Gray, “people were talking about the effect that humans were having on the environment. Geddes set up an organisation that he called the Social Union, derived from Burns’ To A Mouse. Geddes applied that to human beings as well. He had advice to town planners that I wish they had all taken to heart, that before you demolished anything, you first took a survey to find out what was in working order, and kept that as far as possible. This has not been much obeyed in Glasgow, I’m afraid.”

In her researches, Healy discovered that Charles Darwin wrote a letter of reference for Geddes. Gray points out that this was probably when Geddes became Professor of Botany at Aberdeen University.

“There’s something fascinating about looking into these historical links, and seeing how these visionaries of that time can feed into our knowledge now,” says Healy. “At the time a lot of people probably weren’t listening to what they were saying, but years later they start listening and eventually take those ideas on board.”

With both Biodiversity the show and the science itself works in progress, Gray’s texts look set to be incorporated into a health centre as a public artwork. With the Edinburgh College of Art show running concurrently with an exhibition at Pollok House in Glasgow, which will feature several prints and a painting by Gray, Biodiversity has a clear political aim as much as an artistic one.

“Oh, yes,” yelps Gray, who Healy says “brings in the human elements of the effects of these things.”

As if to prove her point, Gray joins the dots between he attitude to pollution and other environmental effects then and now.

“People then took the line that Trump takes,” he says, “in that they couldn’t afford do do anything about pollution, because it makes too much money, and that the industry causing it should not be penalised. Today, it’s almost gone too far, but the European Union was one of the few power blocks who were doing anything about it. Britain pulling out of the European Union is attempting to follow America in any way it can, but if human beings don’t combat pollution, they haven’t got long left.” 

Biodiversity: A Cabinet of Curiosities, The Fire Station at Edinburgh College of Art until August 26th.


Ends

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Losing Touch With My Mind - Psychedelia in Britain 1986-1990

DISC 1 1. THE STONE ROSES   -  Don’t Stop 2. SPACEMEN 3   -  Losing Touch With My Mind (Demo) 3. THE MODERN ART   -  Mind Train 4. 14 ICED BEARS   -  Mother Sleep 5. RED CHAIR FADEAWAY  -  Myra 6. BIFF BANG POW!   -  Five Minutes In The Life Of Greenwood Goulding 7. THE STAIRS  -  I Remember A Day 8. THE PRISONERS  -  In From The Cold 9. THE TELESCOPES   -  Everso 10. THE SEERS   -  Psych Out 11. MAGIC MUSHROOM BAND  -  You Can Be My L-S-D 12. THE HONEY SMUGGLERS  - Smokey Ice-Cream 13. THE MOONFLOWERS  -  We Dig Your Earth 14. THE SUGAR BATTLE   -  Colliding Minds 15. GOL GAPPAS   -  Albert Parker 16. PAUL ROLAND  -  In The Opium Den 17. THE THANES  -  Days Go Slowly By 18. THEE HYPNOTICS   -  Justice In Freedom (12" Version) 1. THE STONE ROSES    Don’t Stop ( Silvertone   ORE   1989) The trip didn’t quite start here for what sounds like Waterfall played backwards on The Stone Roses’ era-defining eponymous debut album, but it sounds

Big Gold Dreams – A Story of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

Disc 1 1. THE REZILLOS (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures (12/77)  2. THE EXILE Hooked On You (8/77) 3. DRIVE Jerkin’ (8/77) 4. VALVES Robot Love (9/77) 5. P.V.C. 2 Put You In The Picture (10/77) 6. JOHNNY & THE SELF ABUSERS Dead Vandals (11/77) 7. BEE BEE CEE You Gotta Know Girl (11/77) 8. SUBS Gimme Your Heart (2/78) 9. SKIDS Reasons (No Bad NB 1, 4/78) 10. FINGERPRINTZ Dancing With Myself (1/79)  11. THE ZIPS Take Me Down (4/79) 12. ANOTHER PRETTY FACE All The Boys Love Carrie (5/79)  13. VISITORS Electric Heat (5/79) 14. JOLT See Saw (6/79) 15. SIMPLE MINDS Chelsea Girl (6/79) 16. SHAKE Culture Shock (7/79) 17. HEADBOYS The Shape Of Things To Come (7/79) 18. FIRE EXIT Time Wall (8/79) 19. FREEZE Paranoia (9/79) 20. FAKES Sylvia Clarke (9/79) 21. TPI She’s Too Clever For Me (10/79) 22. FUN 4 Singing In The Showers (11/79) 23. FLOWERS Confessions (12/79) 24. TV21 Playing With Fire (4/80) 25. ALEX FERGUSSON Stay With Me Tonight (1980) 1. THE REZILL

Edinburgh Rocks – The Capital's Music Scene in the 1950s and Early 1960s

Edinburgh has always been a vintage city. Yet, for youngsters growing up in the shadow of World War Two as well as a pervading air of tight-lipped Calvinism, they were dreich times indeed. The founding of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947 and the subsequent Fringe it spawned may have livened up the city for a couple of weeks in August as long as you were fans of theatre, opera and classical music, but the pubs still shut early, and on Sundays weren't open at all. But Edinburgh too has always had a flipside beyond such official channels, and, in a twitch-hipped expression of the sort of cultural duality Robert Louis Stevenson recognised in his novel, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a vibrant dance-hall scene grew up across the city. Audiences flocked to emporiums such as the Cavendish in Tollcross, the Eldorado in Leith, The Plaza in Morningside and, most glamorous of all due to its revolving stage, the Palais in Fountainbridge. Here the likes of Joe Loss and Ted Heath broug