Ian Hamilton Finlay, 1986

“The heat of the summer was this year (1749) excessive. Vincennes is two leagues from Paris. I went on food, and walked as fast as possible, that I might arrive the sooner. The trees by the side of the road, always lopped, affording little shade. One day I took the Mercure de France, and as I walked and read I came to the following question, proposed by the Academy of Dijon, for the Prize of the ensuing year: Has the restoration of the arts and sciences had a purifying effect upon morals? The moment I had read this I seemed to behold another world and become a different man.” Jean-Jacques Rosseau, Confessions

Ian Hamilton Finlay’s contribution to the Sculpture Trail, Grove of Silence, plays with the idea of signposts that mark hiking trails. The collaborative work focuses on the quietness of woodlands. Concrete plaques, each inscribed with the word ’silence’ in different languages (English, German and Italian), are fastened high on tree trunks. The plaques were carved by Nicholas Sloane, while the sites were chosen by Sue Finlay.

The unconventional format of the work asks the visitor to reassess the position of art and its function. In its simplicity, it creates a space in which to stop and reflect on the peaceful surroundings.

A second work, made in collaboration with Michael Harvey, consists of a wooden sign carved with the name ‘Vincennes’. It refers to a story told by Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rosseau. Rosseau, according to his autobiographical book Confessions, had a revelation about the purifying power of art while walking along the road from Paris to the French forest of Vincennes.

About the Artist

Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925-2006) was a Scottish poet, writer, artist and gardener. He was born in Nassau, Bahamas, later moving to the UK and attending Glasgow School of Art. He wrote his first short stories and poems on Rousay, Orkney and later became a concrete poet, inscribing poems in stone and incorporating them into the natural environment. He had a keen interest in neo-classical sculpture and poetry and, together with his wife Sue Finlay, created Little Sparta, a garden in the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh. He was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1985.