THE SOCIETY of Scottish Artists has a long and illustrious history. Founded in 1891, its remit was to hold an annual exhibition to “give inducement to the younger Artists to produce more important and original works by providing hanging space for such works…(and) examples of all schools of Modern Art by distinguished living artists.” Some 119 years on, the SSA still find hanging space in the galleries of the RSA for their prestigious annual Open Exhibition.

There is something of the weight of history in this very contemporary event. In the intervening years, these illustrious walls have been filled with the work of SSA members and invited guests who have included all the big names in Scottish art history, from Peploe and Cadell to Rae and Rennie Macintosh, alongside a large number of international “guests”, including Gauguin, Cezanne, Matisse, Van Gogh, Munch, Picasso, Degas and Dali, amongst others. There was emphasis, always, on the new and adventurous, the challenging and contemporary. That emphasis is still maintained and this year’s exhibition is highly eclectic and very wide-ranging, both thematically and in terms of material.

On entry, one passes Robert Balfour Ward’s evocative Leaving Earth, a collection of 93 finely crafted wooden objects representing the 93,000,000 miles from the Earth to the Sun. Here, then, are all the ways we “leave Earth”, from a miniature Sputnik to a bat, a flying fish and the sun itself. And rockets, of course. Rockets galore. It’s thoroughly absorbing and wonderfully done, a wall of miniatures representing something inherently maximal, the human desire to reach beyond our own gravity-locked sphere.

Escaping, too, are Juliana Capes lost property umbrellas (Diaspora – Paradiso), bursting through the gallery walls and flying up into the sky in a vast flock. Back to wood, down below, with ~in the fields collective’s wooden kinetic sculpture, a double fantail of wooden slats with the aesthetic of a boat, although it is inspired by locks on the Crinan Canal. You have to crouch down to hear the rather-too-subtle sounds of water and mechanisms, but it displaces you, nonetheless. And then there is Thomas Stephenson’s Dibnah, a wooden woodburner, its outlandish and thoroughly redundant wooden stove pipe wiggling its way to the wall.

In a construction in a far gallery devoted largely to video and stills, Bettina Hutschek’s Haus 209 mixes stills and found footage from the 1950s to tell the “story” of a woman imprisoned in a clinic subject to scientific experiments to send her into the “beyond” and solve the crises of war-wracked humanity. Nearby, Su Grierson explores the woods in various fashions, slowly tummy-crawling through the heather as if trying to get as close to nature and its tactile surface as possible or walking without seeing down a forest track.

David Faithful’s Alchemical Aviary is an artist’s book of avian decline, an alchemical interpretation of endangered species in woodcut, echoing his screenprint wallpaper on the wall behind. And I rather liked the hide-and-seek of Gerry Turley’s Hudson Bay and Strait I next door, an Arctic screenprint over a “found” Canadian map.

And there are performances scheduled throughout the run, from the Dionysian bacchanale of Duncan of Jordanstone graduate Anya Gleizer and artist collective La Malle des Indes, whose bloodcurdling baying echoed terrifyingly through the gallery rooms although was much more good-natured in their two hour romp through the city – from the Water of Leith to the Royal Academy (transmitted live to the gallery and now on their Facebook page) – to the hidden logic behind Michael Popper and Brigid McCarthy’s intricate “52”.

As always, the exhibition is very well worth a look. And the artworks are all available to buy, from the low hundreds to the many thousands. But there is also a room full of affordable small scale artwork for sale, from prints to drawings and more, in case you are looking for early – dare I say it – Christmas present inspiration.

119th Annual Exhibition of the Society of Scottish Artists is at the Royal Scottish Academy, The Mound, Edinburgh until November 24