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Location: Hillockhead, Lochmaddy, Gairloch, and Portree, Scotland

Artist: Diane Maclean


Legend is a temporarily sited public art work by Diane Maclean which was one of three new artist-led projects commissioned by Independent Public Arts (IPA) in 1997/98. Legend is an uncompromisingly contemporary intervention in the landscape combining a sculptural form with recorded voice and instrumental sound. The work comprises a line of bright stainless steel which closely follows the contours of its hillside location and draws attention to the wild, open highland landscape. A sensor triggered by the approaching viewer activates a recording of a newly commissioned lament on bagpipes overlaid by a traditional poem spoken alternately in Gaelic and English. The sound floats out on the wind and draws the viewer along the silvery path. Legend was toured to four coastal locations in the Highlands of Scotland in 1998, supported by an education and audience development programme. The piece and the education work were documented on a CD rom with images and sound.


In late 1996, IPA circulated an open invitation to artists via the specialist arts press in the UK, asking for proposals for artist-led public art works. The funding for this new commissions programme came from the National Lottery New Directions Fund managed by the Scottish Arts Council. Additional funding was to be secured from local authorities, development agencies and other sponsors depending upon the selected projects. IPA was looking for challenging and thought provoking work, which would be site specific and probably temporary, for a non-art environment, and which would reach a wide audience. Artists submitting proposals were encouraged to work with new techniques, or in innovative collaborations with other artists or art forms. The proposal by Diane Maclean was one of three projects selected for further development.

Artist’s Concept

Diane was attracted by the project because it would mean she could work in Scotland, in the landscape, on a truly Scottish theme, and she could tackle work she had not conceived before, with few constraints. She is inspired by language as a symbol of culture and took as her starting point a poem from Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica, a 19th century collection of spoken Gaelic incantations, prayers and legends. Mor and the Fairy Lover tells of a mortal who fell in love with a fairy creature and bore him a child. She would not nurse it, but left it on the cold hillside. The fairy mourns and tries to lure the girl back with the promise of a string of beautiful trout. Diane found a parallel between this story and the situation of the Gaelic language and culture, driven from the Highlands during the clearances, and which will only survive and gain strength if nurtured.

The original proposal envisaged a shining trail leading over a heather covered hillside to a shoal of fishes, accompanied by the poem read in Gaelic and English. The artist developed this concept into a working plan over a six month period with the support of IPA. In autumn 1997 the project was agreed and she was contracted.

Project Management

The contract required Diane Maclean to take principal responsibility for many aspects of the work including design and manufacture, managing the budget to a cash flow forecast from IPA, research of sites and gaining permissions, transport, some local promotion and contact with key tourism agencies. The project was managed by Stewart Russell from IPA. Diane Maclean is an artist with considerable experience of working in the public domain, and he felt confident that she could manage the practical delivery of the piece. He was therefore able to work with her in a curatorial capacity, developing the concept and drawing up costings and a timetable for manufacture and touring. He was also responsible for financial management, the education project and production of a CD rom, and for developing an appropriate marketing and press/media strategy for isolated rural locations in the Highlands.

The first outline draft of the budget to produce the piece and tour it for a year came to £22,000. After detailed costing, the artist was able to cut this figure to £17,000 principally by obtaining competitive quotations for the sound equipment and assessing accurately the time required for installation at each location. IPA agreed the budget and Diane was required to deliver the project within this sum. An additional supporting budget of £4,000 was managed by IPA to cover press, marketing, CD rom, education programme and associated costs.

Project Realisation

Using her close family connections on the Black Isle and contacts from previous projects in Scotland, Diane drew together a team of artist collaborators who were key contributors to the development and physical realisation of Legend. Albert Smith, a blacksmith on the Black Isle, more usually engaged in agricultural repairs, worked with her to devise a portable design for a 70m long shining path made from standard lengths, 2.5m x 0.25m, of variously curved 2mm thick stainless steel. They came up with a solution which could follow the contours of any location, be seamlessly fixed together and firmly secured into the ground with 0.18m clearance for the speakers beneath.

The artist asked Alasdair MacKinnon, a well known Gaelic radio presenter, to read the poem. In discussion with him, the idea of weaving music with the spoken word emerged. Calum Campbell, a piper from Benbecula was approached to compose a new lament to mirror the Gaelic poem. He was concerned that the English translation was longer than the Gaelic poem and had different cadences, but was reassured that Alasdair would read both versions to fit the music perfectly. The recording took place at CAP Recording Studios near Inverness. A young piper, Calum Stewart, played the lament over until a perfect recording was made, then Alasdair MacKinnon recorded the two versions of the poem, spacing the words to match the music, and the tracks were later mixed.


After receiving very high quotes from outdoor events suppliers, W S Steele of Glasgow was contracted to design and manufacture a very reliable, low maintenance, waterproof sound system. It comprises discreet cylindrical speakers bolted under the steel path, connected to sound equipment in a watertight box with a small heater to keep it dry. Armoured cable delivers the power, with a trip switch on the mains supply as an essential Health and Safety requirement to protect the public. When installed in the open, the cable is sunk into the ground, and the box and speakers are disguised by bushes and heather. Legend needed to be shown on open rural hillsides invisible from nearby buildings, but no more than 300m from a power supply.

Locations were chosen with audience development and the marketing of the installation in mind. As far as possible, the showings coincided with a tour of an exhibition of work by contemporary artists celebrating Alexander Carmichael’s life and work and Carmina Gadelica. Early plans for a site close to Inverness were scrapped due to practical factors such as power, vandalism and intrusive pylons, and Diane finally negotiated sites at Hillockhead near Rosemarkie on the Black Isle, Lochmaddy on North Uist, Gairloch on the west coast and Portree on Skye.

Local Marketing

A major marketing and media launch accompanied the first showing of the work, at Hillockhead, with an opening that attracted over 400 people. The extensive media coverage included articles and photographs in the Scotsman on Sunday and regional newspapers, an item on the BBC regional news, and a documentary programme on the BBC Scotland Gaelic service made by artist and film maker Calum Angus Mackay. The initial coverage provided a groundswell of informed interest which supported the subsequent showings of the work.

Diane’s personal knowledge the Black Isle enabled her to secure permissions and to place posters in community shops promoting the showing of Legend. This and its location close to Inverness attracted over 1,500 people during the showing. Staff at Taigh Chearsabhagh, the arts centre at North Uist, and at An Tuireann Arts Centre at Portree, Isle of Skye, were active in assisting with siting and local permissions, and with marketing and promotion. The showing of Legend at both of these locations was timed to coincide with the exhibition of Carmichael’s book which provided a context and additional depth to the event.

At Gairloch, there were no local arts organisations with which to collaborate and Diane negotiated permissions herself. The showing here was timed to coincide with the Highland Festival and the exhibition of Carmichael’s book in the library at Gairloch High School. An education project linked to Legend took place at the High School in June whilst the work was on show. It involved visual artist John McNaught, sound engineer John Vick, computer programmer Dave Newman and 12 sixth year pupils who recorded interviews with visitors to the sculpture, and produce a wide range of visual and aural work.

Audience Development

The showings at Hillockhead and at Lochmaddy were the two most successful in terms of visitor numbers and responses. Both used strong local networks and reached the whole of the community, and the showing at Hillockhead benefited from the press launch which started the tour. People at Lochmaddy wanted to keep the work permanently and were disappointed when it left. At Gairloch there was one adverse press article, querying whether public art was the best use of public money, but in the main, media coverage was enthusiastic and local people were open to the contemporary nature of the piece.

One of the purposes in the curation of the project was to create a coherence between the four widely scattered rural locations and other visual arts venues in Scotland, in order to establish a basis for audience development for contemporary art. The CD rom produced by IPA to document Legend was intended not only to record the construction and installation of a temporary public art work, but to extend the life of the project. It was distributed at the venues where Legend was shown and throughout Scotland and was also the starting point for a dialogue with the Scottish community which had moved to Australia after the clearances. Negotiations for a showing of the work in Australia took place but these fell apart due to local difficulties. Diane Maclean has now made contact with a Gaelic speaking Scottish community in Nova Scotia and at the time of writing (March 2000) discussions are in progress about a possible showing of Legend there.

© Copyright Joanna Morland 2000