Scottish sculptor Kenny Hunter spent time in Sutherland researching the figure of the outcast in oral traditions, supported by a Scottish Arts Council Award. This period of research culminated in the realisation of his largest and most challenging public art work yet, set in a remote location in the far North West; The Unknown.
Throughout the world there are stories of Monsters and Giants, tales depicting ‘outcasts’ condemned to exist in remote or barren places. Scotland has an empathy with this tradition, indeed much of its history has been defined by characters and events marked by sacrifice and exile, such as William Wallace, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Highland Clearances. In Sutherland you can find the ruins of cleared villages like Rosal, plus earthworks, duns, forts and chambered cairns from earlier Neolithic, Iron and Bronze Age periods. There are also many supernatural local stories relating to this landscape, featuring ghosts, monsters and giants.
The Unknown was concieved in response to this type of oral tradition which is a continuing part of Highland culture today. Made in nodal iron, a material which patinates to a red rust-like finish sympathetic to the landscape palette, The Unknown is Kenny’s largest work to date; a skeletal figure that stands more than nearly 2.5 metres high. The articulation of joints in its skeletal form reminds us of 20th century artists such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth who developed new forms though manipulation and abstraction. Yet it has 21st century personality – the stance ‘has attitude’ and engages the viewer with its relationship to the landscape it surveys.
In his original proposal, Kenny used photographs of wild landscapes to illustrate his thinking about remote landscape contexts; these included locations in Sutherland. Timespan worked with Sutherland communities and individuals to host Kenny in a series of research trips across the area to identify the ideal location for a permanent work. A rocky knoll in Borgie Forest was eventually chosen, and the Forestry Commission Scotland kindly agreed to host the sculpture as a permanent art work.
At Borgie Forest The Unknown is physically distant from Scotland’s major population centres; so for many the journey, the context and the sculpture come together to define the outcome of this artwork. A film by Kenny Hunter captures the journey; as part of the work:
Video by Kenny Hunter
Visiting the Unknown
The Unknown is situated in Borgie Forest, seven miles west of Bettyhill on the A836. Parking is available in the Forestry Commission car park.
During October and the first half of November 2012, an exhibition of accompanying work was shown in Timespan’s Gallery. The exhibition included drawings and maquettes that Kenny made whilst developing his ideas for The Unknown and earlier sculptural pieces. Some images from the show can be seen in below:
A review of The Unknown by Sue Pirnie
“As the first group of locals, visitors, dogs and children walked up the small hill on the day of the launch, the sculpture was first seen from a distance against a panoramic view of a ridge of forest and the distant mountain range of Ben Loyal and Ben Hope. Then two small girls who had excitedly run ahead reached it – and its giant scale became evident. One reached out and held its finger – at her head height, the other hugged it – a poignant expression of the personality it exudes.
The work is exceptional – in itself, but particularly in the power it has within its location. The resonance and dialogue it formes with the landscape and its history was evident to all. Local historians and story tellers reminded us of stories of local giants, and that its height was the same as great Scottish warriors at Culloden. The stunning 360 view reflected the shapes in the work, which in its turn frames the landscape though its bones. The autumn colours were the perfect setting, and shafting sunlight through dramatic clouds illuminated the bright velvety yellow ochre patina. As the day went on occasional drifts of rain constantly changed its appearance. The patina, already developed in less than a week, will continue to develop and enrich in colour and texture.”
Kenny Hunter’s Artist Statement
Within my work as a sculptor, scepticism and uncertainties play a seminal role. I believe that doubt is a precondition for a tolerant and civilised society. Therefore I cannot subscribe to any one version of history, I view it more like a palimpsest, in which previous inscriptions are only partially erased and continue to ‘interfere’ with subsequent overlayings. Hence the ambiguities, riddles and multiple meanings that exist within my art practice.
The language of the monument and of civic statuary is the clearest artistic expression of what Karl Popper identified as historicism; that is to say, the general belief that history must have a plot, a destination, or at any rate a meaning . By articulating the historicist language of the monument within the postmodern climate of reinterpretation, my work seems, at first glance, to invoke the clarity and certainty of its stone and bronze predecessors. Yet, on closer inspection, each work appears as an open question, a homage to doubt. As the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky has said ‘the purpose of art is not to propose solutions, but to set problems in their requisite depth.
Although I derive inspiration from the past, the subject matter I use draws upon contemporary popular culture – its morals, politics and belief systems. The use of coloured plastic also serves to locate the work within the present and opens up new sets of associations.
To reiterate – my works are hybrids that fuse sculptural orthodoxies with post modern culture. Their aim is to question certainties and stereotypes, introducing a variety of fact and fiction into sculpture that is descriptive but not representational of the ‘real’ world.
A Brief Biography
Born in Edinburgh in 1962, Kenny Hunter studied sculpture at Glasgow School of Art between 1983 and 1987. He has exhibited extensively in Britain and Abroad including solo exhibitions at Arnolfini 1998, Scottish National Portrait Gallery 2000, CCA 2003 , Yorkshire Sculpture Park 2006 and Tramway, 2008.
Hunter has also created a number of high profile, public commissioned works in including; Citizen Firefighter, 2001, outside Glasgow’s Central Station, Youth with split apple, 2005 for Kings College, Aberdeen and iGoat 2010 in Spitalfields, London. Hunter lives and works in Glasgow.