Irish artist builds labyrinths from salt and sugar on Scotland's last grand mental hospital

By Culture24 Reporter | 27 May 2014

A set of four huge labyrinths in Scotland aim to go inside and outside the mind

A photo of a male artist sitting within a labyrinth-shaped outdoor artwork
© Colin Hattersley
As a child, Jim Buchanan would create labyrinths on the sandy coasts of western Ireland. And now he’s made four of them – one made from five tons of sand – at the Crichton Campus, a former mental hospital and home of Scotland’s last grand asylum, where some of the modern-day university campus buildings date from 1838.

“Two are delicate, indoor pieces, one in salt and the other in sugar. These are part of my ongoing exploration of the physiology of the human body,” says the artist, whose work has been partly informed by a children’s hospital in Canada, for whom his light labyrinths have therapeutic benefits for young patients.

One is around 25 metres across, made using five tons of sand in a large courtyard area.

“The labyrinths recall how this was a place that was created as what was then known as an ‘asylum’.

“The idea is to get people thinking about the inside and outside of the mind.”

The fourth of the works has been mown into a nearby lawn, helped by pupils from a local primary school in Dumfries.

“We have explored the relationship between our footsteps and our breathing,” explains Buchanan.

“I think visitors will enjoy walking round all four labyrinths.

“Most people are pleasantly surprised by how time seems to stand still during their walk – in some ways labyrinths are time machines.”

A highlight of the region’s Spring Fling festival held over the Bank Holiday weekend, Buchanan sees his mazes as a means to help their explorers relax and forget their troubles. Astrid Jaekel, meanwhile, has been reflecting the lives of locals in Wigtown, known as the country’s National Book Town for its annual festival, with a set of illuminated cut-outs which fill 17 windows in the historic county buildings, each containing the pictures and words of residents.

“I had never been to Wigtown, so I was fascinated to interview people about what they thought about the place,” she says.

“They told me about how it had been through very hard times, but some feel it’s on the way back up, partly due to the book festival.”

This is also agricultural country. Showing everything from drawings and photos to props, films and costumes, Alice Francis has been enlightening visitors from a farm in Auchincairn – chief among her works an old-fashioned cleaning lady with a trolley, broom and feather duster.

“What I’m hoping to do next is take my cleaning trolley on a long distance trek,” she says.

“From Dumfries and Galloway up into the Highlands – cleaning and polishing the landscape along the way.”

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a male artist sitting within a labyrinth-shaped outdoor artwork
© Colin Hattersley
A photo of a male artist sitting within a labyrinth-shaped outdoor artwork
© Colin Hattersley
A photo of a male artist sitting within a labyrinth-shaped outdoor artwork
© Colin Hattersley
A photo of a male artist sitting within a labyrinth-shaped outdoor artwork
© Colin Hattersley
You might also like:

Phil Collins' latest "rollercoaster" in one-off film premiere at Glasgow's Queen's Park

Fred the colourful horse and masterful mural artists launch Scotland's Spring Fling festival

Trapeze artists, Withered Hand, robotic limbs and a disco: Museums at Night in Edinburgh
Latest comment: >Make a comment
    Back to article
    Your comment:
    DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted at www.culture24.org.uk are the opinion of the comment writer, not Culture24. Culture24 reserves the right to withdraw or withhold from publication any comments that are deemed to be hearsay or potentially libellous, or make false or unsubstantiated allegations or are deemed to be spam or unrelated to the article at which they are posted.
    Related listings (67)
    See all related listings »
    Related resources (3)