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Scotland's heritage of experimentation alive and thriving in arts and culture

Scotland's heritage of innovation alive and thriving in arts and culture

Edinburgh Food Studio / credit: Angus Behm

Putting the spotlight on boundary pushing organisations and artists

A pioneering and experimental spirit has long been part of the Scots national story. Figures like Alexander Graham Bell, John Logie Baird and Alexander Fleming, to name just three, shaped the world with their invention. Equally, Scots writers from Robert Burns to Irvine Welsh have enriched the cultural landscape, while in art and design the influence of the Glasgow Boys and Charles Rennie Mackintosh are felt generation after generation. Following on from the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design, we take another look at some of the artists and organisations who capture the spirit of innovation in Scotland today.

Edinburgh Food Studio

In 2015 Ben Reade and Sashana Souza Zanella successfully crowdfunded £10,000 to help launch the Edinburgh Food Studio, which they describe as 'an artist studio with edible exhibitions'. Now open to the public, the recipient of The List's Eating and Drinking Guide's 2016 Newcomer of the Year Award embodies its mission statement of experimenting with established knowledge and putting those culinary explorations into practice. By day it's a learning space, teaching and researching, and by night they boldly send those learnings into the dining room, where heritage, sustainability and innovation meet to create a contemporary identity. The four-course tasting menu is not published; every day is a 'creative response to seasonal ingredients' that rewards an open mind and a ready appetite.


Launching the Experimental Series, Glenfiddich has shown it is not shy about stepping out of its comfort zone and thinking differently about whisky. Experimentation has come in many forms, Project XX is the result of 20 of the industry's most exceptional minds coming together to create one expression, Glenfiddich IPA is the first single malt to be finished in IPA casks, offering a bold and zesty finish. And most recently, their 21 year-old was finished in Ice wine casks, producing the delightful Winter Storm. As Glenfiddich continue to push the boundaries and reset the expectations of the Scotch whisky industry, they ensure future expressions will continue to embody their experimental spirit.


Glasgow-based Trakke are tackling the question of sustainability in gear design by imbuing their handmade bags and accessories with a truly 'built to last' quality. They mix not only old school workshop techniques, such as hammers and presses alongside digital cutting machinery, but blend modern functionality and feature with a heritage aesthetic that wouldn't look out of place in the hands of George Mallory or Ernest Shackleton. All with British-sourced materials. What you have in the end is a product built for adventure, whether in the urban spaces of Glasgow, or a train ride away in Glen Coe.

Scottish Ballet

Over the last few years Scottish Ballet has been at the cutting edge of contemporary ballet. With Christopher Hampson at the helm as artistic director, the company has pushed not only the boundaries of its art form with ground-breaking choreographers like Bryan Arias, but also the platforms it uses to reach its ever-growing audience. In spring 2017 Scottish Ballet launched a first-of-its-kind digital season, Under the Skin, broadcasting the creation of a work in a week on Facebook Live, debuting a 360 degree film made with the BBC as well as a number of short films.

Robbie Thomson (artist)

While harnessing a Tesla coil's high voltage death rays for the purposes of art might seem like angling for a Darwin award, plenty have followed in the experimental footsteps of Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla with their own unique spin. One such person is visual artist Robbie Thomson, who works with sound, kinetic sculptures and visuals. His recent live performance installation XFRMR has been touring all over the world and explores the Tesla coil as an 'instrument in its own right, with composition inspired by the sounds of space weather and electromagnetic fields'. Few are turning electricity into music quite so literally, or with such spectacular results.

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