Ancient tomb at Maeshowe Chambered Cairn inspires Orkney art project

By Graham Pembrey | 17 December 2009
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a photograph of the insode of a stone chamber

Maeshowe is one of the finest Neolithic sites in Europe. © Historic Scotland

An ancient tomb in Orkney considered one of the finest prehistoric structures in Europe has inspired an art project by a psychotherapist and an arts professor from Germany.

Out of Darkness, the result of five years of research into Orkney cairns by psychologist Marianne Pollich and Professor Elisabeth Holder, will be held at Maeshowe Chambered Cairn this Christmas.

The grassy mound contains exceptional collections of Norse inscriptions and Neolithic carvings dating back more than 5,000 years. It is famously aligned with the setting of the winter sun.

a photograph a series of stone tombs on a coastline

Maeshowe is part of the wider Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. © Historic Scotland

At the Maeshowe visitor centre, drawings and paintings by Holder will be on display, which she says are "attempts to express the inner meaning of Maeshowe through the medium of drawing and painting."

The second part of the project takes place inside Maeshowe itself – a musical or tonal interpretation, based on Pollich's experiences in the tomb and sung by a group of singers from Orkney.

"Maeshowe is a ritual place," says Pollich. "The enigmatic side of it is that the monuments' structure itself induces a process of experiences in a strict sequence.

"The four main phases – dealing with suffering death, acceptance, the wheel of life and hope of renewal – are the background of this specific musical interpretation."

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