photograph of a corncarke by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

image © Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

A Corncrake in Charlotte Square

Thomas A Clark
Edinburgh Art Festival
9-25 August 2014

"Before the traffic, the corncrake” – Thomas A Clark

On summer evenings in Charlotte Square, festival visitors and passers-by might be surprised to hear the call of a corncrake. This will not be a bird that has strayed but an installation by poet Thomas A Clark.

A recording of this shy bird, now found only in remote locations such as North Uist or Tiree, will be played each evening, as a modest historical reconstruction of a common feature of this location prior to the building of the New Town.

Memoirs of the time remember the corncrake’s call as a common sound in Edinburgh on summer evenings in the 18th century:

“The old Edinburgh had disappeared as comprehensibly as the old trees that fell to the feuars of the New Town or the corncrakes that Cockburn used to hear on summer evenings at the mouth of Charlotte Square.”
from Capital of the Mind, James Buchan

“It was about this time that the Earl of Moray’s ground to the north of Charlotte Square began to be broken up for being built on. It was then an open field of as green turf as Scotland could boast of... We had got into the habit of believing that the mere charm of the ground to us would keep it sacred, and were inclined to cling to our conviction even after we saw the foundations digging. We then thought with despair of lost verdure, our banished peacefulness, our gorgeous sunsets. …But how can I forget the nights in which I have stood in Queen Street, or the opening at the north-west corner of Charlotte Square, and listened to the ceaseless rural corn-craiks, nestling happily in the dewy grass.”
from Memorials of his Time, Henry Cockburn

Aiming to transform our understanding of place and time, this work can be seen as a form of restorative justice. The corncrake can no longer frequent the streets and squares of Edinburgh’s New Town, but it can find a presence in the consciousness of those who hear its evocative call in this Festival installation.

You can hear the corncrake between 7pm - 9pm in the grassy area to the right of the Guardian Spiegeltent on the Book Festival Site.

We are pleased to be working with both the Edinburgh International Book Festival and with the RSPB on this project. The RSPB have provided the image of the corncrake above and a recording of its call that we will use for the installation. The Edinburgh International Book Festival will host the installation in Charlotte Square.

A complementary exhibition of works from Moschatel Press on the theme of birds will be on display at the Scottish Poetry Library.

Thomas A Clark was born in Greenock, Scotland. His latest poetry collection is Yellow & Blue (Carcanet Press, 2014). From 1986, Laurie and Thomas A Clark have run Cairn Gallery, one of the earliest of ‘artist-run spaces’, specialising in Land Art, Minimalism and a lyrical or poetic Conceptualism. After many years in the Cotswolds, the Clarks moved in 2002 to re-open the gallery in Pittenweem. Artists exhibited over the years include Richard Long, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Hamish Fulton, and Hayley Tompkins. In addition to his books and smaller publications, Clark has also made many site-specific installations in galleries, in gardens or in the landscape, or in spaces such as the New Stobhill Hospital (Glasgow), and has many works in permanent collections world-wide.