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Caithness News Bulletins February 2003

February News Index Caithness.org News 2002

January 2003

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Caithness Arts

Press On Ossian

Authorising Ossian by Jack Lynch

Ossian & Macpherson

James Macpherson Biography & Notes Poetry Links


A new partnership between the National Galleries of Scotland and The Highland Council will be launched in the Highlands this week when the 'Ossian - Fragments Of Poetry' exhibition by artist Calum Colvin comes to the Iona Gallery, Kingussie on the first leg of its Highland tour.   After Kingussie the exhibition heads for Thurso, Portree, Helmsdale, Wick and finally Inverness

It is particularly appropriate that the exhibition comes first to Kingussie as Badenoch was the home of the 18th century creator of the original Ossian myth, James Macpherson.

"Ossian: Fragments of Ancient Poetry" by Calum Colvin was launched in Edinburgh at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in partnership with The Highland Council in October 2002.  After Kingussie it will tour to Thurso, Portree, Helmsdale, Wick and Inverness.

Accompanying the exhibition, which features twenty-two large-scale pieces, is a full colour brochure translated into Gaelic, a first for any National Galleries publication.

This project investigates themes of history, time, memory and myth, and has been inspired by James Macpherson's largely forgotten, but once hugely influential (and controversial) 'translations' of ancient epic poetry. The subtitle of the exhibition, "Fragments of Ancient Poetry", is taken from one of Macpherson's publications.  The historic debate about its authenticity ties into one of Colvin's principal concerns - our questionable assumption that photographs are reliable and objective recorders of 'truth'.

Ossian, a third-century Celtic bard, was first 'discovered' by James Macpherson in the middle of the eighteenth century. Macpherson, himself a poet but also a cultural entrepreneur and an adventurer, published the ballads of Ossian in the years after 1760. On the one hand Macpherson was hailed as the discoverer and translator of a 'Celtic Homer', while on the other he was accused, by no less a figure than Samuel Johnson, of having perpetrated a cruel fraud on the public. While this dispute rumbled on, the poems of Ossian became fêted throughout Europe and America, and touched the art of poets, writers and composers such as Burns, Goethe, Longfellow and Mendelssohn.

Guest of honour at the official launch of the Ossian exhibition's Highland tour is Sir Thomas Macpherson, who is a descendant James Macpherson. Sir Thomas said: " I am delighted to welcome the exhibition to Badenoch exploring as it does James 'Ossian' Macpherson."

Calum Colvin's work embraces the combined disciplines of sculpture, painting, photography, electronic imaging and installation. Born in Glasgow in 1961, he studied at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee from 1979-83, progressing through the Painting and Sculpture Departments, before finally concentrating on photography, which he studied at the Royal College of Art, London from 1983-85.

Colvin has been one of the most consistently innovative artists working in Scotland in recent years. His method is to construct then paint over, three-dimensional environments in his studio. He then photographs the finished piece, discarding it in preference to the two-dimensional image produced, which becomes the final artwork.

In tandem with the exhibition, an Outreach Photography-based Project aimed at young people on the theme of history, culture and identity is being co-ordinated by The Highland Council. The project will culminate in a limited edition photography-based artist's book including all the works of the participating groups. Local Enterprise Companies are part funding the exhibition and outreach project in every area that the project visits.

The Ossian tour ends in Inverness Museum and Art Gallery this September where a conference, aimed at artists and historians, will explore the 'Ossian' theme in more detail.

Commenting on the exciting new partnership between The Highland Council and The National Galleries, Highland Councillor Isabelle Campbell, Depute Chair for Arts and Culture said: "This initiative will strengthen relationships between The Highland Council and The National Galleries and pave the way for future joint projects with a view to creating a major new partnership exhibition as part of the forthcoming Scottish Year of Highland Culture."

The project is supported by The Highland Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund / Scottish Arts Council (Creative Scotland Award), Fuji Professional Imaging UK Ltd, the Leverhulme Trust and the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland

For further information, or to register an interest in the Ossian Conference, please contact Cathy Shankland, The Highland Council's Exhibition Officer, tel: 01463 710978 email: cathy.shankland@highland.gov.uk

Tour dates and venues:

Iona Gallery, Highland Folk Museum, Duke Street, Kingussie. Tel: 01540 661307
15 February - 12 March 2003

Swanson Gallery, Thurso Library, Davidsons Lane, Thurso, Caithness KW14 7BJ
Tel: 01847 896357 - 23 March - 19 April 2003

An Tuireann, Struan Road, Portree, Isle of Skye. Tel: 01478 613306 - 3 May - 21 June 2003

Timespan, Helmsdale 28th June - 26th July 2003.

St. Fergus Gallery, Wick Library, Sinclair Terrace, Wick, Caithness. Tel: 01847 603489
August 2003 (dates to be confirmed).

Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, Castle Wynd, Inverness IV2 3EB. Tel: 01463 237114. (dates to be confirmed)