Friday, June 26, 2009

The horizon of Holland

Back in 1965 the ICA organised an exhibition called 'Between Poetry and Painting' which included work by Ian Hamilton Finlay. Forty-four years later the ICA now has a similar exhibition entitled 'Poor. Old. Tired. Horse.', named after Ian Hamilton Finlay's magazine of that title. In addition to Ian Hamilton Finlay, the new exhibition includes work by two other artists I've discussed here before, Robert Smithson and Carl Andre. I've just taken the photo above which shows the catalogue for the 1965 exhibition next to the catalogue for the current show (which takes the form of a magazine called 'Roland'). The earlier exhibition took place before I was born but I think my uncle must have been to it and so the catalogue has found its way into my library. At that time Ian Hamilton Finlay had not yet moved to Stonypath to start work on the garden that would become Little Sparta - the catalogue says simply that he 'has lived in Perthshire, Orkney and Edinburgh, and now lives in the north of Scotland.'

On Tuesday Stephen Bann came to the ICA to give a talk about Ian Hamilton Finlay. He focused on the pre-Stonypath period and included some never-published colour photographs that he had been unable to use in an Architectural Review article (it was only printed in black and white in those days). One of these photographs showed THE HORIZON OF HOLLAND IS ALL EARS, a concrete poem made into a wooden structure and placed in the garden of Finlay's home in Ross-shire. This is the first of Finlay's interventions in the landscape, the ancestor of the sculptures at Little Sparta.

There were several references in the talk to Finlay's poetic interests and links with contemporaries like Lorine Niedecker. Finlay wrote to Bann saying that the landscape of Orkney was equivalent to a Wallace Stevens poem. He also said that Orkney resembled concrete poetry, whilst Perthshire seemed more like the writing German poets like Trakl. The less particularised landscape of Ross-shire on the other hand required more effort to make a poem out of the place... the kind of effort Ian Hamilton Finlay put there into making his first artist garden and his first poem in the landscape.

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