Cover Story, May 2017: S is for Shale, or Stuart; W is for Waterfall, or Whipps
Today, as for millennia, the mighty River Zambezi is crashing over a series of precipitous basalt gorges—a place the Makololo people described as Mosi-oa-Tunya. The smoke that thunders. Since the 1870s, a Scottish stream has been plunging over a diminutive replica, seen in this month’s video Cover Story, located in the gardens of a mansion that is now a country house hotel (by all accounts with an enviable breakfast) in the village of Polbeth, less than an hour’s drive from Edinburgh. This loop of the torrent, extracted from a 1937 documentary, comprises one element of an intriguing project by artist Stuart Whipps that will feature in the upcoming group exhibition 4.543 billion. The matter of matter, curated by Latitudes at the CAPC Bordeaux.
In Stuart’s work, fine-grained strata of geological, colonial and art history are compressed as if between the spectacular Zambian falls and its miniature Scottish epigone. Or indexed as if an abecedarium of human and non-human protagonists. L for the missionary and explorer David Livingstone, who ‘discovered’ the great falls in present day Zambia in 1855 and renamed them Victoria Falls in honour of the British monarch. L also for the Zambian-born John Latham, the pioneer of Conceptual art in Britain, who studied the ‘bings’ of West Calder—a series of steep hills between Edinburgh and Glasgow. S for Shale, the inky rock from which an oil fortune was extracted to leave the bings, what are in fact huge grassed-over mounds of waste material. Y for James ‘Paraffin’ Young, the chemist responsible for the surprising fact that Scotland was indeed at the centre of the global oil industry in the 1880s; Young, one of the wealthiest men in Britain at the time, who bankrolled several of his college-friend Livingstone’s african exploits; and the same Young, who acquired the bucolic Limefield House in 1855, and who had the idea to build a wee waterfall in the grounds.