As we turn into the folds of winter, the threat of December exams looming before us, the fragility of Scotland’s seabirds would doubtless be absent from our thoughts. Thankfully, Edinburgh College of Art’s exhibition, presenting the work of German-born artist Uwe Stoneman and entitled The Orkney Seabird Heritage, places the feeble state of Highland wildlife within the realms of our metropolis.
What can be described as a celebration tinged with lament, Stoneman, an associate of the RSPB for almost a decade, has collected and presented over 500 model seabirds, some of whose creators span continents. Upon entry into the installation, a flock of bronzed wings soaring alongside the studio’s spacious glass windows provide a vivid testament to the beauty of Scotland’s rural population whilst images displaying their feeble state clad the walls. Notably grotesque photographs representing the danger posed by man and climate to Orkney’s native colonies are contrasted with jovial images of toy puffins in the comfort of a loving family home, or perched upon the sweeping coastal cliffs of the seabird’s terrain. Model birds dangling from the ceiling and placed on studio platforms had clearly been cultivated with fondness and attention; they stand as a symbol of the tenderness and concern felt for the preservation of such symbols of Scottish nature. Speaking poignantly of the tragedies raised in Stoneman’s work, the RSPB Scotland’s head of habitats and species, Paul Walton, provided a contextually touching insight. A reading by Linda Cracknell from her new book Call of the Undertow was another of the events that encompassed the evening and although it could be regarded as unconnected to the focus of the installation, the evocative prose worked as a complement to the aesthetic importance of the Highland landscapes. Consequently, the white sterility of the interior was perhaps the evening’s only striking detriment: a slightly dispassionate platform of presentation. Even so, the exhibition affected the cry of a wild seabird piercing Edinburgh’s cityscape.