University of Nottingham

Landscape as conceptual art: retrieving values in John Latham's conceptualisation of 'Five Sisters' (1976) as monumental process sculptures

Project outline

The shale bings of West Lothian, such as 'Five Sisters,' speak of landscape histories with which Scotland is not normally associated. These dramatic, brick-coloured shale precipices are now mostly covered in wild flowers and grasses, and inhabited by a diverse fauna. Monuments to an industrial past, they serve as an example by which new energy sites may be exploited once their industrial value is redundant.

Referring to Latham's 1976 feasibility study (Tate Britain), which indicated that the Five Sisters were not sufficiently recognised in either civic or creative institutions despite a growing artistic engagement with shale bing imagery, this project set out to reaffirm 'Five Sisters' as a site of art, and as a place of 'natural' wonder into which other artwork may come into being.

Five Sisters Mountains, West Lothian, Scotland. Five Sisters Mountains, West Lothian, Scotland


The central output is the validation of John Latham's original proposal and its recognition by the Scottish Development Agency (later Scottish Office) that the derelict shale bings known as 'Five Sisters', and subject of later work by Richardson, part of another shale bing complex that Latham termed 'Niddrie' Woman, are artworks of the highest quality, comparable to the greatest land artworks of the 1960s-1980s. The sites will now be preserved through their status as Scheduled Ancient Monuments.

As part of the 'Dialogues: Britain in conversation with post-war Europe' programme, Craig Richardson was invited to spend a week at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds where he gave a seminar on 'John Latham's conceptualisation of Five Sisters as "monumental process sculptures" (1976)'.

Ongoing influence

As well as constituting a major driving force in the understanding and theorisation of Latham's further artworks, the validation of the 'bings' continues to elicit sensitive and varied responses to the site from a number of artists, particularly through photography.

Material and data collected as part of the project has been deposited at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Archives. This will allow further scholarly access.

From 2012-2014, Craig Richardson was part of the Northern Peripheries Network, which explored experience and representations of so-called 'marginal' or 'at edge' locations in the north of England or Scotland, also funded by AHRC.

Award details

Duration: October 2006 - March 2007 (6 months)

Principal Investigator: 
Mr Craig Richardson

Higher Education Institution: 
School of Arts and Humanities, Oxford Brookes University

Selected publications

Richardson, C. (2012). 'Waste to monument: John Latham's 'Niddrie Woman (1975-6)', Tate Papers 17.

Richardson, C. (2011). Scottish Art Since 1960. (Ashgate).

Richardson, C. (2008). 'Landscape as conceptual art', GSA Friday Event, Glasgow Film Theatre, 31 October 2008.

Richardson, C. (2007). Incidental person. Map Magazine. August 2007.

Richardson, C. (2006). Breathing space. Free Association. Summer 2006.

Related links


Landscape and Environment Programme

School of Geography
University Park
University of Nottingham
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 84 66071