Thursday, 25 April 2013

Earth Wind & Fission: an exhibition by David Faithfull at the Peter Potter Gallery, Haddington

I live in East Lothian, and one thing that is guaranteed to set off a 'lively' debate in the Edinburgh hinterland is the mention of those two inflammatory words 'wind farms.'


In what must be one of the windiest counties on the east coast, the giant windmills are everywhere - sometimes it seems that every landowner is competing to put up more of the things, and the landscape has been changed forever by the huge, sci-fi-esque, blades dominating the skyline.

Much as no-one seems to want a wind farm anywhere near their house, most of us appreciate that renewable energy is here to stay - wind, waves, sun and geothermal heat are all going to have to contribute to our energy requirements in future.

David Faithfull's new exhibition "Earth, Wind and Fission" at the Peter Potter Gallery, Haddington explores 'the three eras of coal, nuclear and wind power, and their enduring legacies in East Lothian.'

One wall of  the exhibition room has been given over to a huge photographic landscape - the wind turbines of Aikengail, south of Dunbar.  Blot on the landscape or thing of beauty?  Faithfull leaves us to decide. In front of this are three sculptures, made from and representing Paper, Scissors and Stone - the old children's game in which one element 'beats' another.  But here the scissors are carved onto a by-product of coal, the 'paper' is made from steel, and the 'stone' is made from paper. Can any of them actually 'trump' the others?

The old fireplace in the Gallery has been transformed into a coal mine - children can crawl into the space (I even managed it myself) and can imagine what it was like to be confined, all day or all night, in such claustrophobic, and potentially dangerous, conditions.  Yet many of us remember the weekly visit of the coalman, the 'coke' pouring down the chute to the cellar - and the open fires that coal made possible in towns- with fondness.  The mines of East Lothian are all closed now.  Do we miss them, or see them as a relic of another, perhaps less safety and pollution-conscious, time? How has their closure affected the communities that relied on them for employment?  Who really profited from the mines in their heyday - and who really wins the huge profits culled by today's energy companies?

Anyone who has driven along the East Lothian coast will recognise the old coal-based power station at Cockenzie:

(Image: - winner in Burriss Bursary competition)

The wonderfully light spaces inside the Cockenzie building have lately been used as a venue for  artists exhibiting in the Three Harbours Festival each June.  What may have been seen as a blot on the landscape has perhaps become a work of art in itself, and something almost precious to local residents.  The nuclear power station at Torness remains open, another iconic sight - or eyesore, depending on your point of view.

Faithfull has also adapted two 'fruit machines' on which visitors can play 'the energy game.'  Old coins are provided, the handle is pulled, and the wheels whizz round; when they stop, we may have any combination not of fruit, but of rock, scissors or stone, wind; we are then provided with ink stamps to mark these on cards, or even on the gallery wall.  Faithfull's message here is that in the energy game, nobody wins outright - for every benefit, there is a loss.  Coal brought heat and light, it fuelled trains and factories - but it polluted huge industrial towns in a way that we would now find unacceptable, and men lost their lives in bringing it to the surface.  Nuclear power was hailed as clean and mega-efficient - until terrible accidents showed us that with great advantages come enormous risks. Wind power may be 'safe' but to some it is a desecration of our countryside - and indeed, no-one would want to live too close to the immense racket that turbines make - pollution, perhaps, of a more modern kind.  Meanwhile, the marking of the wall reminds us of our own carbon footprints - it gets darker as we play on.

This is a thought provoking exhibition that can be enjoyed by all ages.  And afterwards, you can head upstairs for a cup of tea, a delicious home bake or a lovely light lunch in the gallery cafe, before visiting the shop with its excellent range of beautiful jewellery, prints, paintings (also displayed in the cafe), pottery, cards and now also some pocket money items too.  The exhibition runs until 23rd May 2013.



  1. Hi Rosemary - This really makes me want to go and visit Haddington. Do you think the legacy of wind farms is here to stay? I wonder if, like those ancient brick windmills, they are not just a step along the way on our sustainable energy journey. Great blog. Beautifully presented and you go to such interesting things! Jackie x

  2. Thanks so much Jackie. I imagine we'll always have to harness wind power somehow - my husband works in renewables (waves not wind) and he says offshore wind farms are far more efficient and of course less environmentally controversial (unless you're Donald Trump....) - but they are much more expensive to build and install.

    I don't suppose the old windmills were quite so controversial when they went up - but who knows?

    Do come and visit Haddington - I went for a walk around the riverside yesterday evening and it was really lovely; unfortunately many people just pass through the centre and don't realise the riverside area is there, which is a shame - as well as the Gallery, there's St Mary's Church, which is the very historic and impressive, a walled garden and several nice pubs.


  3. I don't really know East Lothian at all but the exhbition sounds good.I remeber having a huge coal bunger in our kitchen and the coalman coming in with the bag of coal on his back.