The ‘The Artist Traveller’ exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy includes a series of pen and ink and digital pigment prints by artist Murray Robertson on the theme of wild land and wilderness. The centre-piece is a digital pigment print map of Scotland showing the Core Areas of Wild Land identified by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), with a legend and annotations in Gaelic. The work is titled Priomh Sgìrean na Talmhainn Fiadhaich II in Gaelic.
Robertson’s works were originally developed during a visual arts residency at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on the Isle of Skye in 2015 and invite questions about the perceptions and values we bring to debates about Scotland’s land and landscapes and concepts such as “wild land” and “wilderness”.
SNH published a new map of ‘Core Areas of Wild Land‘ in June 2014. It has been given an important status as a basis for decision-making on development by being referenced in Scottish Planning Policy (para. 200). This incorporation into policy was primarily a response to concerns about the potential impacts of large commercial wind farms on sensitive rural landscapes, but there are fears that the broadly restrictive terms of the policy (para. 215) could inhibit almost any development activity over large parts of the Highlands, effectively preventing economic diversification and community renewal. Critics like Rob Gibson, the former MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross and Convener of the Rural Affairs Committee in the last Parliament, have pointed out that many of the areas now described as core wild land were previously populated and believes that what has been mapped is “Clearances country”.
In December 2016, Scottish National Heritage published a common statement on Landscape and the Historic Environment prepared for the Scottish Historic Environment Forum by a working group comprising Historic Environment Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland and SNH. The document seeks to offer a ‘shared vision’ of the historic dimension of Scotland’s landscapes. This latest exhibition of Murray Robertson’s work reminds us that Scotland’s land and landscapes remain contested territory.
The ‘The Artist Traveller’ exhibition runs at the Royal Scottish Academy until Sunday 29 January 2017.
A version of this article was published by Bella Caledonia on 16 January 2017.