National Museum of Scotland
5 August- 8 November
Rather aptly given this year’s emphasis on Homecoming, ‘Ballast’ at the National Museum of Scotland explores the cultural effects and personal implications of the Scottish Diaspora through a collection of works by the New Zealand born sculptor John Edgar. Themes of travel, cultural adaptation and ancestry run through this series of stone sculptures which highlight cultural difference and assimilation through the signs of traditional culture.
At times beautiful and conceptually engaging, this is in no way monumental sculpture, rather a serenely personal expression of change and memory. Certain pieces do seem rather too much like overblown trinkets; Flagstone, a Saltire in polished white marble, looks like something that should be hanging off a key-ring.
Edgar’s concept is most effective in those pieces which face notions of geographical distance and difference directly. The use of materials from Scotland and New Zealand underline and reflect the personal and logistical trauma of uprooted societies without recourse to the cultural checklist of clichés so often used to evoke (but which more often dilute) the reality behind notions of Scottishness and Scottish identity. Though this exhibition is by no means an exercise in cultural pick-and-mix, there is nevertheless a danger that Edgar’s intended meaning may be lost amongst a catalogue oft-referenced idioms.
The exhibition’s setting (in an elevator foyer of the National Museum) does little credit to what is ultimately a sensitive and affectionate inquiry into notions of home, travel, absence and memory.