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Art and music bring Maeshowe out of darkness

14 December 2009


One of Orkney’s most ancient and awe-inspiring heritage attractions, and one of the finest Neolithic sites in Europe, Maeshowe Chambered Cairn was the inspiration for a unique artistic project and Winter Festival which is being staged at the site later this month.

Out of Darkness is the result of a collaboration by Marianne Pollich, Psychological Psychotherapist, and Elisabeth Holder, Professor for Applied Arts -  both of whom are from Düsseldorf, Germany - and the culmination of five years’ research and planning by the pair.

Their highly original joint project is a two-part artistic presentation of art and music, based on the findings of studies they have carried out at Maeshowe and other Orkney tombs since 2004.

The first part of Out of Darkness comprises an exhibition of drawings and paintings by Elisabeth Holder. This is taking place from 22nd December to 1st January at the visitor reception/centre for Maeshowe which is at Tormiston Mill.

Entry is free and the exhibition is open from 9.30am until 4pm.

The project’s second part is a musical or tonal interpretation by four voices, which will be performed inside Maeshowe itself.  The idea and concept based on tonal experiences inside the tomb is by Marianne Pollich.  The musical composition is by Ruth Wiesenfeld and Michael Eimann (both from Germany) and Gemma  McGregor (from Orkney). It is directed by Neil Price and he and all other singers are from Orkney.  Performances take place on 27th December at 3 pm and at noon on 28th and 29th December.  Admission is by ticket only, on a first-come, first-served basis.

Marianne Pollich said: “Maeshowe is a ritual place. The enigmatic side of it is that the monuments’s structure itself induces a process of experiences in a strict sequence.  The four main phases - dealing with suffering death, acceptance, the wheel of life and hope of renewal - are the background of this specific musical interpretation.

“I think it is wonderful for this composition to be performed in the tomb itself, with its special acoustics and atmosphere.  Thus the ritual experiences transposed into a contemporay mode of expression will be brought back to the place where they come from and where they belong to.“

Elisabeth Holder added: “My pictures are attempts to express the inner meaning of Maeshowe through the medium of drawing and painting.  Driven by artistic intuition, a process alternating between a representation of an objective scene and subjective criteria then leads from one picture to the next, and the theme that was present right from the start develops and manifests itself more and more. Each of the series of pictures on show at the Visitor Centre is devoted to a single theme. Together, they make a comprehensive statement about Maeshowe.”

Maeshowe and Tormiston Mill monument manager Alan Jones said: “This is an exciting and original project and we are very much looking forward to Marianne’s musical interpretation of the site and the exhibition of Elisabeth’s artworks which have been inspired by it.  I have no doubt that visitors who come along to Out of Darkness are in for a wonderful and memorable experience.”

Notes for editors

  • Tormiston Mill Out of Darkness art exhibition - 22nd December to 1st January from 9.30am until 4pm; Maeshowe Out of Darkness tonal performances - 27th December at 3pm and 28th & 29th December at noon.

  • From December 1st 2009 until February 5, 2010 the Maeshowe live web cams are in operation and their footage may be accessed on courtesy of Charles Tait Photographic. Three cameras are in operation - an outside camera looking across to the hills of Hoy, whereby the sun may be tracked along the skyline, and two cameras inside Maeshowe allowing visitors online to experience the sun’s progress along the 10 metre passageway, crossing the toms floor, climbing gradually, transiting  across the rear wall, until it disappears from view as it sets behind the hills of Hoy.

  • Maeshowe, which dates back more than 5,000 years, is a fine chambered tomb which is a prominent feature in the landscape near the lochs of Harray and Stenness.  Located 9 miles west of Kirkwall on the A965, it is one of the most outstanding Neolithic buildings in Europe. The tomb is famously aligned with the setting of the winter sun, and it contains an exceptional collection of later Norse runic inscriptions as well as Neolithic carvings.  Access is by guided tour only with timed ticketing in operation. Parking and tickets are available at Tormiston Mill.

  • Tormiston Mill is an excellent example of a Scottish watermill. It was probably built in the late 1880s. The waterwheel and most of the machinery have been retained. The mill now forms a reception centre for visitors to Maeshowe, which is nearby. Tel. 01856 761606.

  • Maeshowe and Tormiston Mill are two of over 345 outstanding historic properties and sites in the care of Historic Scotland. These include some of the leading tourism attractions in the country, such as Edinburgh, Stirling, and Urquhart Castles, Fort George, Linlithgow Palace, the Border Abbeys, and Skara Brae. For further details visit

  • Historic Scotland’s Mission is: to safeguard Scotland’s historic environment and to promote its understanding and enjoyment.

For further information

Rebecca Hamilton
Marketing Manager
0131 668 8685 / 07788 923871