RSA Lower Galleries - Finlay Room and Members Lobby
Free entry, no booking required
Artists: Paweł Czekański | Clare Flatley | Gordon Munro RSA | Rachel Nolan | Ewan Robertson | Oana Stanciu | Michał Staszczak
Over our long history the Royal Scottish Academy and its artists have fostered an international outlook. In the nineteenth century, the RSA began inviting artists from overseas to exhibit in our Annual Exhibitions and collected artwork that brought European ideas to students of Scottish art.
Today, artists from around the world are involved in our award programme and exhibitions. The ideas, projects, and dialogues flow both ways as artists return home or travel abroad. The RSA values the links it has developed with its European neighbours, and we are pleased to welcome artists from Poland and Romania to join the UK artists exhibiting in Iron: Translating Territories.
This exhibition continues an enduring relationship we have with eastern Europe, which began in 1941 when a special Polish section was included in our Annual Exhibition. More recently, exhibitions such as 10 Dialogues: Richard Demarco, Scotland and the European Avant-Garde (2010-11) and Tutaj/Teraz (Here/Now): An Investigation of Polish contemporary artists in Scotland (2012) have strengthened this relationship.
This legacy formed part of the inspiration for Academician Gordon Munro to bring together a diverse group of artists for Iron: Translating Territories. The idea was cemented in 2019 after visiting Wrocław, Poland, with Ewan Robertson and Edinburgh College of Art students to participate in a weeklong iron-casting workshop at The Academy of Art and Design. Their hosts, Michał Staszczak and Paweł Czekański are exhibiting in Scotland for the first time here as a result.
Gordon Munro RSA is a lecturer at Edinburgh College of Art and Assistant Director at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop - which he co-founded in 1986, with RSA Past President Bill Scott, a hugely influential figure. In these roles, Gordon values community and collaboration in the making of art. It is no surprise that over the last decade his practice has focussed on a conceptual and physical investigation of iron, a material that connects people and planet together in so many ways.
Iron is fascinating; it is a regulator in the human body and the welcoming glow of its appearance as it reacts to the world and rusts give it a fallible human quality. It is the main element in our planet’s core and it’s falling to earth in meteorites began humanity’s path to technology. Some Sumerian and Egyptian objects were made of meteoric iron and these early civilisations named it an-bar (fire from heaven) and bia en pet (thunderbolt from heaven) respectively.
Iron exists in liquid, gaseous and solid states. Its weight and presence ground it physically, while as tiny particulates of dust it is located with the foundations of life. Magnetite, a form of iron oxide, exists in whales, dolphins, sharks, bees and homing pigeons. Its magnetism is their navigational device. Iron is pivotal to our existence, whatever we do to iron it won’t go away or diminish, the same quantity will always exist.
Despite these fantastic qualities, iron probably feels ordinary to most people due to its common presence in our lives. In fine art, its low aesthetic and difficulty to work with meant it was unused in sculpture until the emergence of abstraction in the twentieth century.
Gordon Munro has invited the artists in Iron: Translating Territories to consider and respond to iron in making work for this exhibition. For some the material is a familiar part of their practice, where the collaborative act of pouring and casting liquid iron is intrinsic to their relationship with the material, but for others it is a new conceptual challenge. Compare Munro and Robertson’s Cloud Dialogue of forms created from recycled iron objects, to Oana Stanciu’s performative exploration of iron and Clare Flatley’s materialistic response to its place in theories of alchemy. Or see Michał Staszczak and Paweł Czekański’s extension of traditional methods into contemporary sculpture, in contrast with Rachel Nolan’s ethereal iron inspired imagery.
The diversity of artistic responses, and the film made for Iron: Translating Territories, are a rewarding encapsulation of the wonder of iron, and a manifesto for revising how we consider it in our lives.
Sandy Wood, RSA Collections Curator, and Gordon Munro RSA.