Geoprophesy | Alison Scott at IMAG

22 April – 4 June 2017
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery

Geoprophesy is an exhibition by Alison Scott, marking the culmination of a 10-week residency in Helmsdale as Timespan’s Graduate Fellow 2017.

Taking the history of geological exploration in Scotland’s Far North as a starting point, Alison’s research during the residency focused particularly on the role of women in the history of geology and methodologies of ‘discovery’.

The exhibition brings together a number of new works which focus on speculative knowledge production, explored through the histories and practices of female geologists and botanists. The exhibition’s title and new video work >Methods for Tracing Stopes Steps, reference the geological explorations of Marie Stopes, now better know as a women’s rights campaigner but who also trained as a palaeobotanist, spending time on Sutherland’s east coast hunting for elusive coal balls. She termed her own research process as a kind of geoprophesy – describing a speculative methodology for predicting geological phenomenon.

Burnt Pages, a series of laser-cut fern fronds through which Methods for Tracing Stopes Steps is projected, shifts the focus from the geological to the botanical (via the coal balls that Stopes sought, which are made up of plant matter including ferns). This work draws on the work of another collector, Anna Atkins, a 19th century botanist and photographer whose first book, on British algae, was the earliest use of photographic illustrations in a publication. The cut-outs of Burnt Pages are drawn from Atkins’ Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns published in 1853 which documented fern specimens in the distinctive cyan-blue of the cyanotype photography process.

In The Treatment of Specimens, geological samples from Inverness Museum and Art Gallery’s Buchanan collection are the subject of the work. Photographs of a selection of specimens present these rocks alongside the collector’s notes recording details of origin and type, handwritten on slips of paper taken from lifestyle magazines. As with Stopes process, here too there is a degree of speculative enquiry. Scott’s inclusion of these slips in her images brings the action of the collector more firmly into view and subtly shifts the emphasis away from the specimens themselves. However, without any further details, the particular character and life of the collector can only be imagined.

Accompanying the exhibition is a specially commissioned text, “Speculating on a geological practice”, written by Cicely Farrer, a curator and writer based in Dundee. This text can be read online here.

For the duration of the exhibition, a parallel display in the museum space downstairs will bring objects from the Buchanan geological collection out of the museum store and on to public display.

Alison Scott graduated in 2014 from Art, Philosophy and Contemporary Practices at DJCAD. Her practice is focused on specific contexts and materials, with overarching concerns of our connection to historic subjects as they appear in contemporary life; playing with the notion that a material’s meaning and its value are subject to authored histories and to economic change. Alison’s work is led by research methodologies with performative, written and collaborative practices as an important aspect of the process of art or exhibition making.

In 2016 Alison was the recipient of the Dundee Visual Artists Mentorship Award, presenting a body of work made during this period at Wasps, Meadow Mill, in March 2017. She presented the collaborative project ‘Water Thief’ with Alice Tarbuck at Timespan’s conference in March 2016. Alison participated in the Graduate Residency at Hospitalfield in 2014 and she was part of the committee at Generator Projects between 2014 and 2016.