College of Science & Engineering

New artwork by University Alumna marks university campus centenary

As part of a programme of celebratory events to mark The King’s Building campus centenary (known as KB101), the College of Science and Engineering have commissioned a permanent work of art by the internationally renowned artist Katie Paterson.

Chosen by a panel following a competitive selection process, Paterson has been working with the University’s Art Collection Curatorial team since 2019 to realise this new and ambitious artwork.


A proud alumna

Katie Paterson has a longstanding connection to the University; not only as a graduate of Edinburgh College of Art, but also as an honorary fellow, a position obtained in 2013 because of her ‘major contribution in fostering collaboration between the arts and sciences.’

At the heart of her art and method is direct collaboration with scientists and researchers to create projects that consider a wide range of scientific disciplines, questions and theories. She is widely regarded as one of the leading artists of her generation, has exhibited internationally, and her work forms part of many public collections, including the University of Edinburgh Art Collection.


The artwork

Katie Paterson, Gravity Released One Unit at a Time Photo
One of the 'Ideas' © Ollie Harrop Courtesy of the artist, Ingleby Gallery, and James Cohan Gallery

The work, 'Ideas' (2021) will take the form of one hundred three-line texts cut in stainless steel (each an ‘Idea’), that will be situated in a variety of locations in and around The King's Buildings campus. Due to be installed in autumn 2021, some 'Ideas' will be immediately visible and others will be hidden in unexpected places, at varying levels, high and low. The locations will include internal and exterior walls as well as among the grounds and gardens of The King's Buildings. Each 'Idea' is inspired by scientific thought and research, and the subject-matter is wide ranging, from the first colours on earth to the universe’s last stars; involving fields such as chemistry, biology, astronomy, geology, and geography.


A lifelong series, Paterson conceives of each Idea as works that may or may not come into being; they are intended to take shape in the imagination of whoever reads the words and so become an expression of the 'Idea' itself. For King's Buildings , Paterson is drawing upon her existing body of work as well as composing many new 'Ideas'. Accompanying the physical presentation of the work will be a website with bespoke map, inviting staff, students and visitors to find all one hundred artworks as they explore the campus.


A home at KB

Since its inception, art has been embedded in the organic and rapid expansion of The King's Buildings campus. From the Reliefs of various animals on the Ashworth Laboratories created in 1929 by Phyllis Bone, to Eduardo Paolozzi’s 1996 sculptures Egeria and Parthenope, there are a number of artworks on campus that highlight its history and development.  'Ideas' join this tradition of commissioning new and innovative work, and heralds the start of the next century of developments for the campus and the College.


The ever-evolving 'Ideas' series lies at the heart of my practice. Akin to thought experiments, Zen koans, or ‘Gedankenexperiment’ the 'Ideas' stretch to the very distant edges of light, time and space. What time is it on Venus, what texts will be read by unborn people? Is it possible to plant a forest using saplings from the oldest tree on earth, can we make ink to be read only under moonlight? The King’s Building’s campus has been a playground of 'ideas' for a century. The abundance of makers and thinkers across time has lead 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. The artwork has never been created as an outdoor experience, with such immensity, and I’m thrilled by this opportunity.

Katie PatersonArtist

Science is often portrayed as being cold and emotionless, yet those of us who work in this field know that it is rooted in the joy of discovery, the passion to understand, and a burning curiosity about the world around us, feelings that I think are exemplified by Katie Paterson's artworks, with their unique mix of science and art.

Distributed as it is across the entire campus, Katie's centenary artwork 'Ideas' mirrors the growth of King's Buildings throughout the century. The individual pieces, many of which have been born from meetings between Katie and College researchers, allude to the diverse discoveries and achievements of our community.

I am delighted to be able to introduce 'Ideas' as part of our KB101 celebrations, and I feel that Katie's artwork will both surprise and delight staff, students and visitors to the campus for many years to come.

Professor Dave RobertsonHead of College

Find out more about KB101