Your Leaning Neck - Song as Portrait

Peacock Visual Arts and St Andrew’s Cathedral, Aberdeen



The text below is the Introduction from the exhibition booklet.

In November 2011 the first public event in the refurbished Scottish National Portrait Gallery was the performance Your Leaning Neck - Song as Portrait devised by artist Steven Anderson. In response to portraits in the room celebrating Scotland’s contribution to the Enlightenment Anderson invited seven artists from both oral tradition and contemporary art backgrounds to perform. With no painted portraits of oral tradition singers in the national collection the event challenged institutional representations of national identity by giving voice to non-institutional values. A central question the performance posed was whether there should be painted documents in recognition of Scots who are notable and exemplar in the field of oral traditions. Those key figures and their culture are vitally important to discussions of national identity, however the fixed form of a painted portrait as a means of acknowledgement seems antithetical to the ethos of oral transmission culture. So who should be portrayed, why would they be acknowledged and how should they be represented?

Within the event oral tradition singers are presented alongside contemporary artists who also use their unaccompanied voice as their means of expression. Historical narratives, mythology and nature are shared areas of inspiration and subject matter. Presented together these performances focus on live, emotionally invested expression as a collective experience involving performers and audience alike. The installation at Peacock Visual Arts is a silent video screening of real time, full-length documentation of the performance from two perspectives. In being videoed the performers and audience become as fixed to the image document as the portraits on the walls of the Portrait Gallery.

On 24 February 2012 a re-contextualization of the live performance, featuring Ruth Barker, Elizabeth Stewart, Sheila Stewart, Hanna Tuulikki (with Nerea Bello and Lucy Duncombe) and Arthur Watson takes place in the adjacent St Andrew’s Cathedral, King Street, Aberdeen.