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The Fine Art Society, Edinburgh until August 28


REVOLVING around the theme of birds, the Fine Art Society’s exhibition of new and old works is a cabinet of curiosities. There is a plethora of Timorous Beasties prints, wild in colour and composition, an ornithological graffiti lining the stairs. There are Silvy Weatherall’s feather and claw geometries, rigorous repeat patterns that become more than the sum of their finely prepared body parts.

On another wall, a fascinating installation of engravings (check) ripped, quite literally, from the pages of American Ornithology, a book compiled in 1832 by Alexander Wilson, a bird-lover who was neither a scientist nor an artist, and engraved and coloured by William Home Lizars. John Byrne fills in the American folk background in his own version of the Mississippi Kite, commissioned for this exhibition, a paddle steamer in the background, the bird restored to its native, idealized Mississippi surroundings.

And amongst it all is Fiona Dean’s taxidermy, the first taxidermy exhibition in this space. In glass boxes, meticulously prepared birds are enclosed in antique cages. A magpie alights on a cage in which another magpie is imprisoned in “It’s Not Too Late.” A chaffinch expires on top of a smaller wooden cage in “Last Breath”.

There are layers of captivity here, from the stuffing of the bird itself to the cage to the glass box around it all. And there’s a little humour too. Dean’s work is “all in the title”, says Camilla Riva, Junior Specialist, as we stand in front of a glossy pair of shags. “The Best Shag I Ever Had”, runs the title. It, unlike the rest of the works here, is not for sale.