University of Edinburgh: Artwork celebrates King’s Building’s centenary

The artwork, by renowned Scottish artist Katie Paterson thoughtfully combines her observations of science with art to celebrate 101 years of scientific research at King’s Buildings, on the city’s south side.

Ideas (2021)
Ideas (2021) draws upon Paterson’s existing body of internationally acclaimed work but also features many new pieces, carefully positioned across the site – home to the University’s College of Science and Engineering.

The artwork, which is designed as a permanent part of the campus and University Art Collection, features 100 three-lined sculptural texts cut from stainless steel, which have a similar feel to haikus – a Japanese style of short poetry.

Artist’s inspiration
In producing the artwork, Paterson drew inspiration from talking to and collaborating with research scientists based at King’s Buildings.

Paterson says the artworks are intended to take shape in the imagination of whoever reads the words, so becoming an individual’s expression of the idea itself. Each piece sees the artist questioning the limits of what is real and what is imagined in the scientific world.

Treasure hunt
The artworks are intended to be discovered as people journey round the campus – with some hidden in green spaces, or tucked inside lecture theatres, whilst others are positioned on the outside of the science buildings themselves. The overall effect leads the viewer on an intriguing treasure hunt to find the next thought-provoking piece.

Accompanying Ideas (2021) is an online map – inviting staff, students and visitors to find all 100 artworks as they explore the campus.

Katie Paterson’s artwork2
Katie Paterson’s artwork displayed on King’s Buildings exterior wall. Credit: Callum Bennetts
KB101
The University purchased West Mains Farm in 1919 for the relocation and expansion of its science departments. King George V laid the foundation stone for the first building; the Department of Chemistry, in July 1920, and so began the life of King’s Buildings.

Ideas (2021) was commissioned by the University in 2019 as part of a series of events and lectures to mark the centenary. The celebrations – known as KB101 – had been due to take place last year but were postponed because of the pandemic.

Previous work
Paterson’s previous artwork reflects the artist’s interest in science. It includes a live broadcast of the sounds of a melting glacier, a map of all the dead stars in the Universe and the creation of a light bulb that simulates moonlight. The form of her artwork is often understated, yet monumental in scope.

King’s Buildings has been a playground of ideas for a century. The abundance of makers and thinkers across time has led to insights, visions, new perceptions, great and small, in fields from astrophysics to sustainable forestry. There couldn’t be a more apt context in which the Ideas are experienced.

Katie Paterson
Artist and Edinburgh College of Art alumna


“Science is rooted in the joy of discovery, the passion to understand and a burning curiosity about the world around us. “These feelings are exemplified by Katie Paterson’s artworks, with their unique mix of science and art. They will surprise and delight staff, students and visitors to the campus for many years to come.”

Professor Dave Robertson
Head of the College of Science and Engineering

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