Ley Lines is a unique exhibition to Scotland that spotlights the installation art by Australian artist Kate Scardifield. The exhibition is touring through galleries in Hawick and Falkirk. St Andrews Museum is fortunate enough to be the start to the tour.
Kate Scardifield is a Sydney-based interdisciplinary artist. She works as a textile designer, sculptor and installation artist. In her exhibition she explores the history of Scottish immigration to Australia during the early 1800s, using objects and materials to draw links between the two.
The project was first born in 2014, when Fife Contemporary of Arts and Crafts made a trip to Australia to scout artistic talent. It was the Biennale in Sydney that year and naturally the place was swarming with talent. I asked Diana Sykes, Fife Contemporary Director, what it was that made Scardifield stand out when they went to Australia. They recognised her talent and her roots in textile design, so this appealed greatly to Fife Contemporary of Arts and Crafts who strive to feature more craft-based artists.
The installation may come across as a finished work, but according to Scardifield she sees it as a constantly evolving process. As Scardifield’s installation moves from gallery to gallery the exhibition will change depending on the interior layout of the space and the location.
Diana Sykes, our tour guide, points to one of the works and explains how there were two large pieces of plinth that were meant to support the work but were too large for the St Andrews Museum gallery space. Additionally Scardifield chooses to exhibit items that relate to each gallery location. For example in the Fife collection we see objects that have been hand-picked by Scardifield from the Fife Archives and beachcombed from the Scottish coast, while the next galleries in Hawick and Falkirk may not feature all of the same selection of objects.
The exhibition consists of sculpture, hanging textiles, film and a glass cabinet. The glass cabinet with a collection of obscure objects is the first thing you see when entering the room. It combines items both made by the artist herself such as a (green) cast arm and Roman archaeology from the Scottish Archives. Scardifield strives to make connections between the objects in both their province and history but also inspires her audience to make their own personal relationships between the items. She has an interest in ethnography and the way that cultures come together. Living in Australia she is very aware of the history behind the land and ownership, being sensitive to the displacement of aboriginal people and their heritage. Therefore she is aware it may seem like she is invading Scottish culture when rummaging through museum archives. She is attempting to lay the lines between Scotland and Australia.
There is a delicate intricacy to each item, especially the handcrafted objects such as a textile that resembles fish eggs. Scardifield has wrapped chickpeas individually in lurex material meaning that when picked up the chickpeas wobble in unison. I ask the curator why Scardifield chose chickpeas in particular. She explains that initially Scardifield had used glass beads wrapped in lurex but the effect of them wrapped in material resulted in a synthetic appearance, whereas chickpeas allow natural and organic irregularities.
Alongside the chickpea textile there is a eucalyptus leaf that the artist brought over from her native Australia, providing a connection with her homeland. Scardifield explores hidden meaning within the objects and has described her exhibition as a constellation, making links and ties between things that may seem initially distant from one another.
The exhibition is made up of large flags of material hanging from a high tensile wire. The curators and interior designers had hoped that the wire would be able to run from north to south to emulate the path between Scotland and Australia but when they tried it out they discovered that the wires cut off the rest of the exhibition space therefore now it runs diagonally across the room from the entrance. The thick sheets of material are coloured with natural dyes from the eucalyptus plant and other plant dyes, resulting in murky browns, violets, and greens. She believes the colours to be a fortunate surprise as she did not know what colour dye the plants would produce. Scardifield has also cut out shapes and stitched accents of bright colour together to replicate divisions of land onto the banners. On each banner a single brass ring hangs, echoing the same brass ring in the film being shown in the corner of the room.
The film shows a large brass ring rotating in mid-air in a meditative and hypnotic state. It passes from light to dark mimicking the eclipse of the moon. The ring comes from the telescope that was brought over to Australia from Scotland by Thomas Brisbane in the early 1800s. Brisbane, was an astronomer and mapped the first observations of the southern hemisphere in detail. Scardifield’s exhibition is a response to the collections of his astronomical equipment which is held within seven Scottish archives.
Two velvet sheets hang alongside the film. The black velvet sheets each have a fragment of Roman pottery from the Scottish archives printed onto them. Scardifield has enlarged them to draw attention to the physical presence of the objects allowing them to bear more significance.
The exhibition goes on till 3 March at St Andrews Museum. Entry is free and it is definitely worth a visit! If you want to know more about Kate Scardifield there is a free tour on Wednesday 7 February from 2-2:30pm.