Friday, March 20, 2009

Signs, Shrines, Towers and Tributes

As mere mortals occupying a brief moment in the history of the earth, collectively and individually we search for significance in the shapes of the natural world about us ..

Symbols and signs that exhibit distinct geometric patterns, whether real or imagined, are a necessary part of our interpretation of revelation and social construction .. In the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, this ancient stone shares etchings that I use in my own work - yes, I designed this piece long before I saw the rough-hewn Pictish rock ..

Leaving our mark and creating relevance from observed forms imposes our thoughts and dreams of permanence on this transitory existence ..

The Lionesque shape that is Arthur’s Seat has inspired many artists to draw on this familiar form to suggest a strong, brave warrior trait in the ‘Scottish character’ .. Yes, possibly an out-moded way of defining identity, but most people still assign specific stereotypical traits to ‘national character’ ..

In fact the ‘national character’ is exactly that – a politically reinforced sense of shared attributes that artificially bind a disparate group of people to develop allegiance to a creed ..

Ever since Ruth Benedict and other anthropologists approached this area of study for the US military during WW2 .. anthropology suffered a setback in universal acceptance of objectivity and the research into shared traits was denigrated as potentially racist and presumptive ..
.. however, we all recognise certain ‘home truths’ in regional culture, and exploit those similarities brought about by collective history to maintain links with the past ..

We design crests and shields to commemorate battles and other historical events .. we sculpt statues to honour heroic figures and manufacture flags to symbolise unified territories while perpetuating and propagating knowledge of a cohesive identity .. I carry this particular clan crest on my key ring – the family motto in Latin “pro libertate” translates as ‘for freedom’, or ‘liberty’ .. and has always been a significant feature of my own personality ..

We create headstones as burial markers to acknowledge the presence of a previous life and give notice that life has a beginning and a definite ending .. like this gravestone that carries an inscription for my grandmother and grandad who now occupy the same space high on a hill in the largest municipal cemetery in the UK .. I found it interesting that the woman who maintained the records was chilled by the thought of me driving to the furthest boundaries of the burial park at dusk - to wander amongst so many dead ancestors as the gloaming approached .. I told her I was only going to visit my gran ..

We build tombs to stand for all time as recognition of the importance of remembrance, giving weight to shape in a hopeful gesture of the connectedness of eternity, and we pass along these memories in the vain hope that succeeding generations will consider our lives as having had some value ..

On 11th September 1297, the Scots under the command of William ‘Guardian of Scotland’ Wallace, defeated the English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge .. helping to shape the destiny of this land, instilling a sense of loyalty and character into tribal factions, and giving reason to others to memorialise and celebrate his life ..

Thomas Rochead designed the National Monument to William Wallace at Abbey Craig in the Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire in 1861 .. this magnificent and unique Victorian Gothic sandstone structure is over 220 feet high .. needless to say the view from the ‘crown’ is one of the finest in the world .. you can see the likeness of Wallace sculpted by DW Stevenson on the corner ..

On November 30th (St Andrew’s day) 1893, a replica bronze by Stevenson of his statue of the great liberationist was presented to the city of Baltimore by William Wallace Spence .. I took my dad to see it when he visited Maryland .. the iconic image, 17 feet tall excluding pedestal, was placed on a hill overlooking the lake in Druid Park ..

One of the greatest and most symbolic of natural phenomena, a signifier of death and rebirth – a covenant of new beginnings and hope, can frequently be witnessed in ‘God’s Own Country’ ..

I captured this exemplar rainbow recently, over the town of Greenock in the west of Scotland, as the morning mist lifted to reveal a dark past creeping from the shadows with the promise of a brighter future .. a history and culture I share, and a dream I look forward to helping make real ..