Knowing One’s Place: Jane Hyslop’s Entangled Gardens

Jane Hyslop, Drawing V from The Gardens (2014-15), folio of drawings, drawings: gouache and pencil, 56.5 x 38cm, folio, board bound in linen and paper: 58.5 x 39.5 x 3.5cm.

In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that sustain the city’s life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the corners of the houses, white or black or gray or black-white according to whether they mark a relationship of blood, of trade, authority, agency. When the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave: the houses are dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain.

—“Trading Cities” from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (1972)

Since graduating from Edinburgh College of Art in 1989, Jane Hyslop has been engaged with the idea of place—what the artist describes as the “convergence between Art and Geography.”1 In everyday life, we tend to experience place in terms of personal memory and identity rather than through its collective social, political and historical dimensions.  These properties—both obvious and overlooked—elide in what Tim Cresswell calls “the complex entanglements of history and geography” that underpin Hyslop’s drawings, prints, artist’s books and multiples.2 Her new, ambitious project, The Gardens / Edinburgh (2015), addresses these entanglements through the site of the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) and the adjacent Princes Street Gardens in the heart of Edinburgh. Commissioned by Visual Arts Scotland (VAS)3 for its annual exhibition at the RSA, The Gardens | Edinburgh is a bookwork in five parts displayed in three vitrines: three folios of drawings, a set of paper objects in a wedge-shaped box, and a book made entirely from linen. Together they lead the viewer to an understanding of the intricate interaction of nature, culture, and the economic and material histories that constitute any given place.

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  1. Jane Hyslop in Elisabeth R. Fairman, ed., “Of Green Leaf, Bird, and Flower”: Artists’ Books and the Natural World (New Haven: Yale Center for British Art and Newhaven and London: Yale University Press, 2014), 88. []
  2. Tim Cresswell, Place: An Introduction (Malden, Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), 102. []
  3. VAS is an artists’ organization whose aim is to promote multidisciplinary approaches to art. In addition to the usual gamut of sculpture, painting, printmaking and installation (and any combination thereof), the annual exhibition includes contemporary craft and design, such as jewellery, furniture, ceramics. []