Identity, Symbols, Cosmos – ‘The Great Unknown’ project: / Slideshow

What interested or got you excited about the project?

Well first of all, Scotland where I live half the year, is a subject which has interested me for a long time. I have done three Scottish projects which address this question of my identity, Scottish identity but cultural identity as well, and when I was asked to get involved with the landmark for Gretna, it raised all the fundamental questions. How do you mark a site? English identity, Scottish identity…

My first reaction was of course, if it is an entry to Scotland, it is also an entry to England, therefore it is a double symbol of both identities. But the Scots pointed out that basically it is on Scotland, and it is supposed to signify that Gretna is the town you enter into. So that was one of the strong reasons that I got involved, and I said if we are going to do it then we are going to have to have some seminars with the major historians of Scotland and also Britain. So we had two days of seminars with historians, councillors and people from a cultural background, writers and literary figures and journalists. We met and brainstormed this question; we came up with ten basic definers of Scotland which could be metaphors, visual metaphors, that would be agreed upon in no rank order, but just as the background.

From that, I also suggested that whatever marks the border should not only be a high flyer – something very significant to be seen at 70 miles/hour, something very high at 50m high or something, that is to say, a one-liner – but that it should also have a second glance capability, and excite the imagination. So, I immediately thought it has to be both a landmark and a piece of involving sculpture, so I suggested Andy Goldsworthy, who is a friend and a famous artist. He decided to mark the river Sark with the Border Crossing, and that will be in the future part of this scheme. But our immediate problem then became how do we engage an imaginative solution for the what I then called, ‘The Great Unknown.’

Why choose the Star of Caledonia?

We all responded that it was the most creative of the three. It left open a lot of other meanings which have been read into it – the Thistle, the map of Scotland, St Andrews Cross….

Some of those symbols were apparent to the designer, some were found by the jury members, as well as a lot of other images. Also, quite apart from that, it was an interesting piece of sculpture, which related to the Scottish Highland fling. It had a lot of energy to it. It wasn’t the usual cliché you see in an iconic project, its grammar was fairly unique.

My only worry was that the landform would be two different things. So I had to work hard with Cecil to make my landform twist and bend and respond to his solution, and make his solution twist and bend and respond to my solution. Because at the end of the day it is a single symbol of entering Scotland.

When you enter Scotland, you are entering a land of mountains and water, elemental forces, energy forces, cosmic forces too, because it is a landscape with an infinite coastline. So I think together we have come up with a solution where the mountains and the landscape around are pulled in by the landform, and the sky and the heavens are pulled in by Cecil’s solution.