Fragile Nature Nesting in Edinburgh’s Botanic Garden

In the darkness
darkness thickens
the nest made whole
(Tom Pow)

The three collaborative voices in Locating the Nest – Lizzie Farey, Hugh Bryden and Tom Pow – have created an exhibition which is thought provoking, engaging and above all, beautiful. The exhibition is formed of two parts: an indoor display within the John Hope Gateway at Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh and a series of exhibits within the botanic garden. The gallery has a contemplative atmosphere, the result of a combination of Farey’s intricate weavings, Pow’s poignant poetry and Bryden’s prints.

The exhibition is concerned not only with metaphor, but with the reality of the world we occupy. Farey’s work is inspired by the natural world. Her sculptural forms are woven from locally grown woods including ash, willow, birch and hawthorn. Small scale pieces reflect the variety of bird nests, from bowl-like open nests to enclosed balls with only a small opening. Her more abstract pieces operate on a larger scale but are no less intricate. Within the gallery setting, Farey’s nests are delicate yet sturdy, safely grounded by a nail on the wall or a plinth on the floor. When we step outside the fragility of the nests becomes apparent, vulnerable to the elements and the detrimental effects of humans on the environment. These outdoor installations blend almost seamlessly with nature; there is no fanfare surrounding them. You will need the map and dedication to find them all. The gap between the indoor displays and outdoor works is bridged with the installation of a willow sculpture in the Gateway Pond over which a window within the exhibition looks.

The theme of trust and faith is present throughout. To build a nest in a tree is to trust your family’s life to it. The presence of eggs in Bryden’s prints reminds us of the nurturing purpose of the nest, a place of safety within which a new generation is formed. Eggs are absent from Farey’s sculptures: are they waiting for new life, or are they all that remains? One of Pow’s poems asks:

What have you risked in your life?
In what did you trust? Where
did you lay your faith?

The writer’s panels in the gardens, each focusing on a threatened species of bird, remind us that we are as responsible as the trees for their future.

See: Locating the Nest took place at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh from April to July 2012. Developed in partnership with Gracefield Arts Centre, it will open at Gracefield Arts Centre, 28 Edinburgh Road, Dumfries DG1 1JQ from 15 March – 17 May 2013. Free.

Review by Francesca Baseby

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