A first expedition for Summerton’s SAFE HOUSE

Posted on 27 August 2019

VanGo tent, wooden crate, handmade box of 42 signed and editioned postcards, 2017
Royal Scottish Academy collections (William Gillies Award deposit)


In 2013 Edward Summerton received the RSA Sir William Gillies Bequest Award. The award, provided by past member William Gillies, allows RSA members to develop their practice, with a resulting report or artwork joining the RSA’s collections.

Summerton’s Gillies Award project led him to Iceland. His proposal detailed his idea for the project:

“Hnífsdalur, “The Valley of the Knives” lies on the most westerly coast of Europe in Iceland’s Westfjord peninsula, facing north east to Greenland, five miles from Bolungarvik, which the Icelanders call ‘the end of the world”
The international Icelandic artist Gabriela Fridriksdottir, who has represented Iceland in the Venice Biennial and has collaborated with both Bjork and Matthew Barney, has a studio there that is only accessible in the summer months.
By invitation, I will travel to this location this summer, across Iceland from Reykjavik by bicycle and boat, camping in remote locations, spending twenty days travelling, gathering images, recordings and the information required to produce an editioned artwork based not only on this journey, but in response to Fririksdottir’s work, our meeting, and the particulars of this location. Celebrating the effect this work of art produces and being aware that it is different from, but as strong as the experience of actual perception, which will hopefully offer me a glimpse in to the other world that Iceland encompasses.”

SAFE HOUSE, the artwork Summerton created following this exciting journey, was deposited in 2017 and has taken the collections’ curatorship in new and challenging directions. For SAFE HOUSE is anything but a traditional artwork in terms of its stasis as a collections artifact. Most artworks that join a collection are designed to be preserved in their state at the point of contact, although some contemporary works in non-traditional materials, such as Glen Onwin’s mineral salt based Geevor Ortus, may change slightly over time. However, in nearly all cases the artwork is designed to remain in that collection, and be managed and protected in a museum environment in perpetuity. SAFE HOUSE, on the other hand, goes in completely the opposite direction, in that it is designed to continue the life from which it was created after it has joined a collection.

The manifesto written by Summerton (pictured) states the life that SAFE HOUSE is to lead and in 2017 we were able to air the work at Ages of Wonder, making its manifesto known to the wider artistic community. It was at this exhibition that the young artist James McKenzie first encountered the work and following his successful RSA Residencies for Scotland application with the artist Daniel O’Dempsey he had the idea to incorporate it into their project. In their Residency with The Pier Arts Centre McKenzie and O’Dempsey will travel and camp the landscape of  Orkney with SAFE HOUSE, using it help them “…collaboratively write a play drawn partly from Norse and Celtic mythology and create a stage to perform it in the rural Orkney landscape.”

On a sunny day in the midst of the Festival last week, we handed SAFE HOUSE over to its new temporary guardians. We’re looking forward to hearing about their journey and the journey SAFE HOUSE is taken on. The RSA collections have long held an identity as the fruits of inspiration for artists of future generations and we’re excited to see how SAFE HOUSE develops this identity in the contemporary  landscape. At the collections, the next challenge for us will be documenting this journey, which stands as the beginning of SAFE HOUSE’s identity as a non-static twenty-first century artifact.

You can follow James and Daniel’s journey on their pages at Raingrande.com: