| Art

Actions and journeying with Jill Smith on the Outer Hebrides 

Edinburgh creative space Fruitmarket prepares to host Zodiac Journey—a documentation of artist Jill Smith’s performances across the Outer Hebrides archipelago.

Jill Smith, Zodiac Journey, 2024

Installation, performance, theatre, spectacle…vocabulary follows where life leads. Where it gets interesting is in the interstices where the simple nouns fail to suffice. Jill Smith‘s oeuvre is a prime example of a life’s work that, while artistic, is of a broader church than the word ‘art’ (or theatre, or installation, or ritual) manages to articulate.

Drawing on pre-Christian myth, astrology, place and deep-rooted folk memory that is latent in us all but rarely acknowledged or awakened, Smith’s works reference pilgrimage, time, landscape and natural energies. They are works that connect viewer with place, and leave a lingering sense that there is more to all this than what we see on the surface.
And in this instance, there will also be cake.

Exhibition Notes (Extract)
As part of Fruitmarket‘s 50th birthday celebrations, artist and performer Jill Smith has been on a ritual journey through the Zodiac signs. Now in her eighties, Smith was the first woman to be included in Fruitmarket’s exhibition programme as one half of the duo behind The Manifestations of the Obsessions and Fantasies of Bruce Lacey and Jill Bruce (1975) with her then husband, Bruce Lacey.  

Ritual Journey is Smith’s term for her works that consist of a series of actions spread over spans of time and multiple locations. In some previous journeys, Smith has used the structure of the zodiac calendar, and Zodiac Journey marks the first time she has done so in the islands of the Outer Hebrides she has made her home. The year has been running from Virgo to Leo, set to end at the Fruitmarket’s ‘birthday’ to mark 50 years from when the gallery opened in August 1974. The journey’s locations so far have included the iconic Neolithic standing stones at Callanish, and the remote islands of the St. Kilda archipelago. 

Photo of an early Jill Smith performance.
Photo of an early Jill Smith performance.

When the actions on the islands are completed, the focus will shift to preparations for a gallery sharing of Zodiac Journey in December 2024.

While the installation is in place, Jill will host a zodiac tea party featuring twelve cakes, made by Fruitmarket’s cafe and decorated by Smith. Guests will be invited to dress in the colour of their star sign’s element and the artist will hand out cake to each guest along with small badges that she’s making from hand-dyed cloth.  

Smith explains the project, and her plans to bring it to Fruitmarket:
‘The Journey is very much how I experience the different times of the Zodiac year and the elements of each sign – EARTH for Virgo, Capricorn and Taurus; AIR for Libra, Aquarius and Gemini; WATER for Scorpio, Pisces and Cancer and FIRE for Sagittarius, Aries and Leo. Sometimes the traditional signs are referenced, sometimes not. Family members’ birthdays as the year turns are important for me to mark and to feel that they are with me. 
I was very excited to be asked by Fruitmarket to carry out this Journey, and overjoyed when the photographer Mhairi Law of Island Darkroom agreed to document the whole project. I am greatly enjoying working with her and being back at Fruitmarket for their 50th year.’

Photo of a Jill Smith performance on the Hebrides.
Photo of a Jill Smith performance on the Hebrides.

Born in London, Jill Smith trained as an actress at RADA, and was later known as Jill Bruce. In the 1970s and early 1980s, she was a Performance Artist in partnership with the late Bruce Lacey. Smith evolved her costumes as a form of living sculpture, wearing them to evoke the spirits and energies of the elements and forces she was honouring. Installations based on these performances featured in exhibitions at the Serpentine Gallery in London and Chapter in Cardiff. She made several lengthy landscape journeys, including “Awakening” in 1982 from Lands End to the Hebrides and “The Gypsy Switch” – a year-long journey around England, Wales and Ireland in 1984-85. Smith moved to the Outer Hebrides in 1986 and from then she has continued her large scale ‘ritual journey’ works and has authored three books about her experiences.

For More information on Zodiac Journey (To be shown December 2024) visit Fruitmarket.


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