In 2015 Fife Contemporary presented A2B, an exhibition of work by Robert Callender (1932-2011), at the very appropriate Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther. It is a venue he’d known and enjoyed visiting with his wife and fellow artist Elizabeth Ogilvie. The exhibition shared its title and aim with the limited edition A2B box-work produced to celebrate Callender’s rich artistic legacy. The exhibition was subsequently shown at the Lochgelly Centre.
Spending summers at the remote Point of Stoer in the north west of Scotland, and ultimately based at a cliff-top home and studio in Kinghorn overlooking sweeping views of the Forth estuary, Callender made intense explorations of coastal environments, and shared his experience and discoveries through his work. With extraordinary skill he created the sometimes life-size fragments and skeletons of what appear to be wrecked vessels. From form to texture they have a magically convincing and weighty presence which belies the physical lightness of the card and balsa wood they are constructed from. At the opposite scale are his exquisite miniature models of boats and flotsam.
In drawing attention to human detritus brought in by the tide, Callender was one of the first artists to signal the damage being caused to the coastal environment, and he continues to inspire both audiences and fellow artists. The contrast between the initial wood and metal items washed ashore that prompted his Coastal Collection and the later Plastic Beach collection demonstrates the shocking prevalence of plastic in the contemporary world. When exhibited, the extensive assemblage of multi-coloured selected and re-created plastic objects still both amazes and dismays.
Elizabeth Ogilvie founded Lateral Lab, a Trust which aims to continue the commitment to the environment she shared with Callender, through promoting his legacy, developing new projects, and supporting emerging artists. Following on from his significant teaching role at Edinburgh College of Art, the Robert Callender International Residency for Young Artists provides opportunities for developing new work, international exchange, and networking focused on Japan. In 2018 Lateral Lab mounted a major solo show of Callender’s work at Edinburgh’s City Art Centre featuring the Plastic Beach, which also included a gallery devoted to the work of the Residency artists from both Scotland and Japan.
The Covid 19 pandemic has caused the postponement of ways of thinking, a series of exhibitions in Japan highlighting the residency artists’ work and successful exchange. A map will provide a lasting record of the project’s theme of people, places and how we connect through experience, geography and environment, capturing the cross currents that have, and can, create new understandings and practices.