Ali Fitzgerald reviews the Steep Trail Exhibition at the St Andrews Museum. 

FCAC_Steep Trail_23 Jan 13-24

The Steep Trail Exhibition, at the St Andrews Museum until March 3rd, was inaugurated with a reception to honor of the beginning of the Chinese New Year.

The exhibit makes the connection between environmental concerns in America, China and Scotland, provoking viewers to ask what steep paths governments will need to embark upon to ensure protection of our natural heritage.

The exhibition is a wonderful depiction of cross-cultural of environmental concern tied together under the legacy of Scottish-born environmentalist John Muir. Though Muir was best known for his environmental work in the American National Parks system –he emigrated to the US in the mid 19th century- he also travelled to China to study forestry. The Steep Trail Exhibition takes its name from a volume of Muir’s collected letters and articles, and displays the environmentalist’s sketches of outdoor scenery as a starting point for the exhibition. These displays provoke the viewer about John Muir’s legacy today.

It is clear that the work of John Muir continues to resonate in contemporary art across the globe. The new work on display is the showcase of the outcome of an artist exchange between Scotland and China. In the summer of 2012, while artists Wang Xieda (Shanghai) and Rania Ho (Beijing) spent a month in Edinburgh, Jonathan Owen (Edinburgh) and Graeme Todd (Dunbar) undertook an artistic visit to Shanghai.

The results of the exchange are a fascinating exchange of cultural knowledge and symbols. I was particularly struck by Graeme Todd’s abstract paintings, which depict landscape imagery with contemporary, oriental-inspired brushstrokes. Wang Xieda displays minimal sculptures inspired by Scotlands geological forms. Take note of Jonathan Owen’s nutcracker figurine, a figure of a man from which the artist has carved out the head, leaving only a circular brain. Rania Ho’s sourdough loaf-patterned wallpaper is displayed as a symbol of the artist’s ties to the San Francisco Bay Area. The exhibit completes full circle:  from California to Scotland to China and back again.

The exhibition is free of entry charges and certainly worth your while. It is displayed in a relatively small space and can therefore be visited in a short space of time. Enjoy the beginning of the Chinese New Year – the year of the Snake – with a visit to a captivating exhibition.


Ali  Fitzgerald


Image by Chris Park