I attended the University of Edinburgh from 1977-81 and graduated with a joint Honours degree in Politics and Modern History. Shortly after I moved to London and lived there between 1983 and 1993, practicing as an artist, making paintings and sculpture I returned to the Slade School of Art, University College London to complete a postgraduate degree in Fine Art (Media) between 1990-92. I went on to teach art history for five years at Edinburgh College of Art (1995 – 2000). I took up a post as Lifelong Learning Officer at the National Museum of Scotland in 2000, and moved onto my present post at the National Galleries of Scotland in 2001.
My research interest is in Scottish art and history, particularly in the nineteenth century. My PhD is titled Performing History: Scottish history painting and the visualisation of a national narrative (1800 – 1865). I also have published papers on contemporary art and young people, prisoners’ portraits and community-based socially engaged art, and essays in catalogues for the exhibitions below.
I have produced numerous outreach projects and curated several exhibitions at the National Galleries of Scotland, including Mirrors: Prisoners’ Portraits (2010), The Nation//Live (2014), The UNTITLED: Bad Entertainment (2016) and Art of the Future (2018). I continue to practice as an artist. My most recent exhibition of paintings was Miss Brodie’s Boys at the Matthew Gallery, University of Edinburgh in 2015. I also create spoken word soundscapes as part of the duo DITCHBURN.
Cracks in the Mirror: Contesting Scottish History Painting
This paper will address the issues at stake in developing a critical dialogue with the audience in relation to nineteenth century Scottish history paintings, which depict important events in Scottish history. The National Galleries of Scotland’s Scottish art collection is undergoing a process of rethinking and re-presentation, presenting new opportunities for the interpretation of these works of art. To contribute to that process, my research investigates how a fugitive national narrative is both implicit in these paintings, and is implicitly read into them by their viewers. What are the historiographical mechanisms that support these paintings’ visualisations of the past, and are these structures apparent to the audience? In an era where the established narrations of ‘expert’ curators and art historians are queried by a more collaborative approach, what role can an engaged audience play in informing new dialogues around research, knowledge and display?
By analysing three Scottish history paintings, and learning initiatives exploring them, this paper will examine how the contemporary viewer must address the complex overlaying of: the ‘facts’ of the past, the artistic and historiographical conventions of the early nineteenth century, and their own expectations and values. Following on from Jacques Rancière’s concept of ‘the equality of all intelligences’, can the interpretation created around these paintings successfully bridge the wide disparities between academic knowledge and popular perception, and how can collaborative creative activities co-produce new meanings for a wider public? In seeking to answer these questions, my argument will outline what a more discursive and dialogical presentation of Scottish history painting might look like.