If evidence was ever needed that landscape design and photography are worthy bedfellows ‘Close’ provides the definitive proof, says journalist James Cash

Book Review: Close Landscape design and land art in Scotland

As an opulent photographic compendium of some of Scotland’s most important contemporary garden designs and landscapes, Close (Second Edition) with photography by Allan Pollok-Morris and essay by Tim Richardson, plays upon the perceived permanency of a fleeting moment caught on camera versus the ever-changing vista of outside spaces.

While all the gardens vary in style and concept, one rarely loses sight of the terrain and climate that is quintessentially Scottish: lush and verdant, yet blustery occasionally threatening and prone to moodiness. So implicit in Allan Pollok-Morris’ photography is that landscapes rarely sit still for us as the sun rises, clouds pass – or in the case of Jim Buchanan’s sand labyrinths – tides turn.

The book spans a wide range of landscapes, and while the inclusion of traditional planting styles of gardens, such as Cambo House and Corrour Lodge show a complexity of herbaceous colour theory the book also suggests that plant life should not always be at the heart of contemporary landscape design. Hence the land art of the likes of Andy Goldsworthy and Ian Hamilton Finlay often take centre stage in this edition.

As Tim Richardson points out in his opening essay, many of the images show how “gardens can exist as a series of sculptural or conceptual episodes which use the vocabulary and palatte of materials available to the garden-maker” and move away from more traditional, ‘painterly preoccupations’ with herbaceous border design.

A lofty example of this is Charles Jenks’ Garden of Cosmic Speculation in the Borders area of Scotland, which is conceptually the most ambitious in the collection. Conceived as a place to explore certain fundamental aspects of the universe, what the viewer sees is a series of steel sculptural twists, cascades and optical illusions such as The Black Hole terrace – a rare instance of when a two dimensional photographic image of a three dimensional space looks like a near physical impossibility.

The title of the book, which was chosen because in Scottish dialect ‘close’ was used to describe a landscape so inspirational that heaven seemed closer to earth in that place, only seems apt in parts. This is not least because the natural Scottish countryside that does lend itself to the ethereal imagination is often challenged by the conceptual art it contains.

Marc Quinn’s Love Bomb, for example, is a gigantic orchid dwarfing all natural plant life set in the Jupiter Artland in Edinburgh and is both unsettling and deliberately incongruous with its environs. Meanwhile, shots of Laura Ford’s faceless, weeping child in woodland (also at Jupiter Artland), evoke scenes from a nightmare mixing abandoned innocence with menace and suggesting finer proximity to somewhere far darker than paradise. While these examples may conflict with the ‘heavenly’ aspect of the Scottish landscape they only demonstrate how land art can be transformative.

‘Close’ Landscape design and land art in Scotland (Second Edition) is out now

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