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When The Grass Dances: Poetry and photography exhibition celebrates natural beauty

When the grass dances

Celebrating Scotland’s often overlooked wild grasses, poet Valerie Gillies and artist Rebecca Marr put together an online presentation where these green spaces are a symbol of survival.

The new online exhibition – When The Grass Dances – invites people to walk with the creatives among the grasses and discover their tranquil beauty.

The website has more than 70 pages, each dedicated to one of Scotland’s wild grasses and was constructed over the course of a year in Orkney and Edinburgh during lockdowns.

The artists said: “Omnipresent but unnoticed, the grasses cover around a third of our planet. We found that what we had regarded as simply grass revealed itself as a complex and fascinating family of plants.”

The collection has four parts. The first – Approaching The Grasses – shows how the artists see their subject. Second – Knowing The Grasses – is about recognising them as individual species and Using The Grasses is concerned with the social history and customs around grass.

Finally, Living With The grasses sees the grasslands populated with the animals and birds of the field.

when the grass dances
One of the photos which is part of the When The Grass Dances exhibition.

When The Grass Dances is supported by Creative Scotland

Valerie said: “Everyone has had to find ways to adapt these past months and for us, it meant working collaboratively at a distance.

“We did this through phone conversations and sharing work online and through the post. The process worked for us, and moments of synchronicity occurred.

“At a distance of several hundred miles, the photograph and the poem would focus on one species of grass, corresponding in an effortless way, without prior intention.

“For example, Rebecca would phone to say ‘I’ve just taken a photograph of Tufted Hair-grass’ and I would reply ‘I’ve just written its poem’. These were startling moments.”

The artists also worked with Orkney plant recorder John Crossley, printmaker Diana Leslie and with herbarium staff and the collections of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Stromness Museum in Orkney.

Online exhibition ‘When The Grass Dances’ features more than 70 poems.

Featuring moving poems and stunning photos

Featuring more than 70 poems and about 80 images, the collection is a substantial harvest, yet the artists feel they have more to bring in and hope to do so in future exhibitions and in a book form.

The artists also feel grasses can be a symbol of survival.

They said: “Through re-growth and regeneration, grass signifies resilience: the grasses can be trodden down and crushed, yet survive.”

Therefore, a specially commissioned box made using marram grass was created by Orkney maker Kevin Gauld. ‘The Kist o Wild Grasses’ is filled with photographs and poems and will be kept at Maggie’s Centre at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh.

The kist will be used as a resource for creative workshops and to bring the outside in so that patients and their families can experience the grasses through the poems and photographs. The collection will also be used in workshops with Orkney Blide Trust, a mental health support organisation.

The collection, supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland, can be viewed at

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