What do they feel the installation gains from its outdoor setting? “So, so much,” says Travis, gesturing to the market around us and pointing out that thousands of people will see the show who would never venture inside a conventional gallery (even assuming that it’s open). “You’re showing the community to itself. I find that idea really powerful.”
But for perhaps the ultimate outdoor art experience – in the UK, anyway – few places rival a little-known site in the Pentland hills, an hour outside Edinburgh. Only open to the public for a few months each summer, Little Sparta, as it’s known, is hard to categorise: part garden, part sculptural installation, part meditation on philosophy, time and landscape. Not incidentally, it is also arrestingly beautiful.
Little Sparta’s creator was the renegade writer and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925-2006). By the late 1950s, Finlay had developed a reputation as an avant-garde poet and publisher, but found himself increasingly drawn to the possibilities of three-dimensional work, both sculptures and pieces set into the landscape. When Finlay and his then-partner Sue moved up to a remote, tumbledown farmstead called Stonypath, which came with several acres of land, it became a vast canvas for Finlay’s fertile imagination. They laboured on it for decades, remodelling the house and transforming the grounds into a series of gardens, each of which is filled with art works designed by Finlay on themes connected to Greek and Roman culture, the sea, the French Revolution and (more mystifyingly and troublingly) the World War Two.