U of G Hosts Exhibit by Renowned Scottish Artist

September 19, 2008 - News Release

An exhibit by a leading Scottish contemporary artist that explores themes such as historical fabrication, national identity and the human psyche through captivating images is coming to the University of Guelph.

Calum Colvin's "Ossian - Fragments of Ancient Poetry" will be displayed in the McLaughlin Library Sept. 29 to Oct. 24. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

On loan from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Colvin's collection was recently featured at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Paris and at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. This is the gallery's first touring exhibit.

"The touring of such collections is incredibly helpful in promoting inter-cultural dialogue and understanding," said Linda Fabiani, the Scottish minister for culture. "For Canadians of Scottish ancestry viewing this collection explores your cultural heritage and what it means to be Scottish. Calum Colvin's work shows how our rich cultural heritage is still relevant in contemporary society."

U of G was selected because of its Scottish studies collection — the largest in the world outside the United Kingdom.

"The exhibition showcases the best of contemporary Scottish art with a twist of literature and history thrown in," said Prof. Graeme Morton, Guelph's Scottish Studies Foundation chair.

"Having it in the McLaughlin Library is such a neat idea. Not only is it displayed close to our internationally renowned archival collection, but it's also in one of the most visible spots on campus."

The exhibit is named for the controversial literary work Fragments of Ancient Poetry, published in 1760 by James Macpherson, who claimed it was the translation of an epic poem by third-century Celtic bard Ossian. Some said the verses were proof that there was an indigenous culture in Scotland, and it gained admirers around the world, including famous composers, writers and philosophers. Napoleon Bonaparte was said to have carried a copy into battle. When the work and Ossian were denounced as fakes, it sparked debates and examinations of Scottish national identity.

"When Ossian mania gripped 18th-century Europe, it was a debate about authenticity, about proof," Morton said. "Colvin's interpretations of the Ossian myth bring contemporary Scotland into view."

The exhibit explores the world of Ossian and Scotland's relationship with its cultural heritage, especially when it comes to distinguishing reality from reconstruction. It consists of a series of multi-layered images that are purposely disoriented.

To create them, the artist built three-dimensional models, then projected images onto the sets, manipulated them with digital technology and photographed the results. Digitized and printed on canvas, the images appear more like paintings than photographs. The viewer has to look through various layers to see what is disguised or hidden.

"The entire exhibit challenges the assumption that photographs are reliable and truthful records of history," Morton said. He added it was brought to Guelph with support from the Scottish government through its Global Friends of Scotland network.

Other works by Colvin, a fine art professor at Dundee University, are held at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. A sculptor, painter and photographer, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his contributions to the visual arts and is an associate of the Royal Scottish Academy.

Guelph's Scottish Studies Collection encompasses both Scottish and Scottish-Canadian history. It includes thousands of rare books, manuscripts, atlases, travel guides, diaries, letters, newspapers and magazines, pamphlets and records. U of G has been a leader in Scottish studies since the 1960s, with the only graduate program in North America devoted to the study of Scotland.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338/l.hunt@exec.uoguelph.ca, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982/d.healey@exec.uoguelph.ca.

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