Vija Celmins in the Outer Hebrides

21 Oct 2014

The great Latvian-American artist pays a visit to one of the most remote locations in the UK. 

Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Art Centre is located in the main settlement of North Uist part of the Hebrides and a group of islands called the Uists - five islands interlinked by causeways except for the island of Barra situated just south of Eriskay. A little over 5,000 people call these isles home, making it one of the least populated areas within the UK. Our ecology is unique with more than half the land covered by water. Some of the lochs contain a mixture of fresh and tidal salt water, giving rise to complex and unusual habitats, a perfect host for stunning beaches and rare wildlife.

The Uists boast one of the most unspoilt night skies with little to no light pollution coupled with our watery landscape. We wanted to present works that would resonate and reflect our place but not mimic. Latvian-American artist Vija Celmins’ sensitivity to the natural world seemed the perfect companion for our unique location. Vija’s work has not been seen widely in the UK yet her career spans over 6 decades, beginning in the early 60s when her contemporaries were Ed Ruscha and Chuck Close.



We selected 11 works focussing on Vija Celmins’ printmaking, drawings and her fascination with the night sky. We devised a public programme that would engage all eight primary schools on the islands, bringing them to the arts centre to see the exhibition and work with our team on activities that explored Vija's meticulous attention to detail and the landscape we live within. The children from Barra travelled over two hours by boat and bus, most had never been to Taigh Chearsabhagh. We also invited Let's Talk About Space, a musician duo who tour the UK encouraging the general public to take an active interest in astronomy and science, to create a bespoke show inspired by our exhibition that would travel to each primary school after the children's visit to the centre.

The most thrilling element to our programme was that we were given the rare opportunity to host an In Conversation with Vija Celmins and Anthony d'Offay. The conversation lasted a little over 40 minutes where Vija, Anthony and guest curator Emma Nicolson discussed the intricacies of the show and Vija’s practice to an eager and packed audience. I felt humbled by this event, as one of the most revered artists in the world had taken the time to come to the Uists to talk honestly and frankly about her motivations for making art. Vija's dry sense of humour came across as she took the time to discuss her process whilst slipping in the odd joke here and there. I left the conversation, like many others, inspired and energised.

The power of Vija Celmins’ work is her ability to invite you in to her subject. The deeper you delve the more you become aware; each mark quietly revealing another layer of detail painstakingly depicted by its maker, the materiality and process evident. These quiet works act as a gentle reminder to stop take a breath and look.

-- GAYLE MEIKLE, Assistant Curator, Broad Reach

ARTIST ROOMS On Tour came to the Uists through Broad Reach, an ATLAS Arts project for Taigh Chearsabhagh led by guest curator Emma Nicolson, ATLAS Director. / / www.taigh-chearsa...

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