The word on the street…

Mr Michael MacLeod – who’s been manning the #edLIGHTen Twitter deck – took to the streets with us on Thursday and Friday evenings to capture people’s responses to our enLIGHTen projections. Here’s a wee snippet of what he found…


Tour 2! Wednesday 14 March, 7pm

On Friday evening we tripped the enLIGHTen fantastic! Project manager Sara and City of Literature’s Peggy were met under the Melville Monument by a hale and hearty crowd, and together we took a Friday night perambulation around all six projections before continuing an enlightening evening in the pub! Here are Chris Scott’s snaps of the evening! We were delighted to meet so many enthusiastic people and – inspired by people who would’ve joined if they could’ve – have decided to throw a second tour!

Finer details:
Date: Wednesday 14 March
Time: 7pm
Meet us at the gates at the George Street side of St Andrew Square. You will know us by our enLIGHTen flyers.
Duration: the tour should take about an hour, and we’ll repair to a Rose Street hostelry for a tincture afterwards, for those who’d care to join.
Wrap up warm, bring your camera and prepare to be dazzled!

enLIGHTened with… Ken MacLeod

We snatched 10 minutes to get to know Ken MacLeod a little better. His piece, ‘Maxwell’s Platter’, responds to the words of Adam Smith, being projected onto the Royal Society building on George Street.

If you could project any words on any building in the world, which words would you choose, and which building?

‘tantum religio potuit suadere malorum’ on the Vatican. They speak Latin there, they’ll figure it out. It’s from Lucretius.

Has enLIGHTen changed your perception of the Enlightenment?

Just reading the list of the fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh was an eye-opener as to how organised and how various it was – you get the sense of advances on all fronts.

How did you tackle your particular commission? What was your starting point?

I guessed I was expected to write something science-fictional, and a bit of science-fictional speculation seemed like a good way of placing Adam Smith in a situation where even he might be susceptible to superstition, or even enthusiasm. I looked at the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s website, scrolled down the list of founding members, then saw a picture of the familiar statue of James Clark Maxwell near the RSE building, and it all came together.

Which Enlightenment figure(s) would you invite to dinner? What would you eat?

David Hume, Baron d’Holbach, and Madame de Pompadour. We’d eat whatever Hume wanted to cook, because he was rather good at it.

What’s next for you and your writing?

Like my latest book, Intrusion, my next is intended to be a near-future story of ordinary people dealing with some really big problem. It’s still very much in the process of formation, though.

enLIGHTened with… J L Williams

We snatched 10 minutes to get to know J L Williams a little better. Her piece, ‘The Wisdom of Stone’, responds to the words of James Hutton, and is being projected using Puffersphere technology in Charlotte Square.

If you could project any words on any building in the world, which words would you choose, and which building?

The Blur Building was a cloud building built by Diller & Scofidio for the Swiss National Expo 2002.  I wasn’t able to go, but it was my dream to walk inside of this building made of water and air.  My other favourite building is the Curtain Wall House in Tokyo.

Buildings so often seem to be constrained creatively by the formal needs of the occupiers – buildings must have hard walls, flat roofs, strong beams, thick skins.  I love these buildings that play with ideas of firmness, and that suggest other priorities in their design above and beyond functionality; though I believe each is quite functional in its own way.

One of my most beloved lines of poetry is “A little light, like a rushlight/ to lead back to splendour.” from Ezra Pound’s Canto 116.  For me, that line suggests that even the smallest pinprick of hope can save us from being lost, can lead us to a better and more beautiful world.  It would give me great joy to see this line of poetry projected onto the misty skin of the Blur Building, or onto the flapping wings of the Curtain Wall House.

Has enLIGHTen changed your perception of the Enlightenment?

I’m not quite sure what my impression of the Enlightenment was previous to enLIGHTen – I didn’t know too much about it other than that it was a time when many bright people were busy thinking about the world in new ways.  This project spurred me on to find out more about a particular and important contributor to Enlightenment thinking.  It was wonderful to read about James Hutton.  The quote that was sent to me as the starting point for my piece was, “A succession of worlds… no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end.”  Mr Hutton made so many extraordinary discoveries during his life.  He was the sort of person who could think about the world in ways outside of or unhindered by the accepted notions of his day, which seems to me to be one of the traits of great genius.  He was also a careful observer of nature and the world around him, and his thoughts and writing about our sense of time are very poignant, almost poetic or sacred in the scope of their perception.  I love the idea of a succession of worlds cycling eternally, of many worlds existing for each creature, rock, generation, universe.  Another quote that has stuck with me from childhood is from the cartoon movie The Last Unicorn – “There are no happy endings, because nothing ever ends.”  The thought of freeing ourselves from the intellectual constraints of beginning and ending is so exciting.  I can’t wait to explore the other quotations being projected in enLIGHTen, their speakers and the works inspired by them.

How did you tackle your particular commission? What was your starting point?

The quote I was sent was immediately inspiring.  I am really interested in Buddhism.  The idea of cyclical notions of existence is fascinating to me; reincarnation may be hard to get one’s teeth into, but even a cursory glance at human history, a geological history of the earth or an exploration of structures in nature, suggests a marvellous cycling of energies, forms and systems.  I went to an amazing talk last year at the National Galleries of Scotland by the artist Hiroshi Sugimoto, whose work I very much admire, and he ended with a projection of an icy planet (a vision of the earth thousands of years from now?), and spoke of how many people these days think in terms of short periods of time – the next few days, the next few years; whereas artists (and I would imagine geologists) often think of time in a much longer sense, and that this is useful in terms of seeing one’s own life and work in perspective.

In terms of how I approached the task practically, the day I received the City of Literature email inviting me to take part in the project I walked through the Rose Street Lanes on my way home.  It was dark and the cobbles were wet with rain.  I was struck by the sulphurous quality of the dim streetlamps, how everyday objects seemed strange and haunting, and how one stranger meandering past, who in sunlight or on a busier street would have seemed innocent, felt like a threat.  A plastic bag blowing in the branches of a tree was a sad ghost, some people through a steamy pane of glass in a Turkish restaurant were blurred like memories.  When I got home the words of my piece flew out of my fingers, and the sense of repetition, of being able to move freely through time and memory, and of objects and glimpses feeling peculiarly meaningful and potent in a moment of extreme duress all seemed perfect for both the quote and to describe the experience of my evening exploration.

Which Enlightenment figure(s) would you invite to dinner? What would you eat?

Well, Mr Hutton would certainly get an invitation.  I wonder if he would be on time?!  Isaac Newton, John Locke, David Hume, Voltaire.

I would like some women there too, but doing a quick search on Google it seems to be the Enlightenment men who are more readily listed.  Alison Rutherford is one of the other figures quoted as part of the enLIGHTen project, so she could come.  I’d like Mary Wollstonecraft to be there, and as many of the great Enlightenment salon hostesses as possible, as they seem to have been responsible for creating spaces and platforms for the sharing of important new thoughts and discoveries, plus they had serious style.

We would eat pizza and vegetarian tacos, and bagels from New Jersey, and fresh strawberries and cream, as they’re all my favourite foods (selfish me!).

What’s next for you and your writing?

Over Christmas I had a few gorgeous weeks off, and was able to edit one long and one pamphlet-length collection into shape, and to write and edit a second pamphlet-length collection.  So hopefully I’ll find homes for those.  I’m trying to get back into the swing of sending work out to journals more regularly, as I’ve been so busy at the Traverse lately and I haven’t had much time for that.  I’m working to complete a short story project – 30 stories each written in 30 minutes, and I am toying with the idea of writing a poem that goes on and on and on, added to each day for the duration of, say, a year – perhaps that’s been inspired by Mr Hutton, and Sugimoto.  I’ve been asked to read with two wonderful poets at Poetry at the Ivory on the 14th of March and at Alastair Cook’s Filmpoem event at StAnza on the 16th of March .  I’ll be reading at Inky Fingers at The Third Door on the 22nd of May, and the band I’m in with the talented composer and musician James Iremonger, Opul, will be playing on the 4th of May in an exciting VERSECORE gig at The Third Door, featuring bands that consist of poet/musician collaborations.  I’m also really interested in scent and art, and in the way these can inspire one another, so I’ve started a blog about this at, and I’m working on organising a scent art festival with my friend Alison Forbes, that will hopefully take place in Edinburgh in 2013.

Tour! Friday 9 March, 8pm

Regard the enLIGHTened Melville Monument! Photo by David Lesault

What are you up to on Friday evening? Fancy joining us for a free tour of all the enLIGHTen sites? Course you do! We’ll be meeting at 8pm on Friday evening underneath the lamplight at St Andrew Square, then heading forth with project manager Sara and City of Literature’s Peggy to take in the lights on George Street, Charlotte Square and Rose Street. We’ll finish with a wee drink in Rose Street bar Element. All six projections will be on full wattage, so this a fantastic opportunity to find out more about the project, the history of the built heritage and to see the projections in their full glory.

Of course you may be a bit too far away to be with us on foot, but fear not: you can take a tour online, with our enLIGHTen virtual trail, or keep your eyes peeled on our gallery and Flickr, or get the latest on Twitter @EdinCityofLit #edLIGHTen.


We need your help, enLIGHTen fans! We love this projection malarkey so much that we couldn’t help throwing in a last late surprise! We need your help in choosing the words we should project for our final projection. Which of the following four quotations should make the cut? And if you’d like to see something entirely different of an Enlightenment flavour, what would it be…? Voting closes at 1pm on Tuesday 13th March, so get your skates on and vote for your favourite!

This poll closed at 1pm on Tuesday 13th March. Subsequent votes will not be counted. Thanks to all who voted and helped us to spread the word!

Make an informed decision with the information below…

The great end of all human industry,
is the attainment of happiness

–        David Hume

Hume was a visionary who sought to overturn the superstition that dogged progress and rational thought. In his time, religion dominated education and his ideas made him unpopular with university authorities. You can read much more about ‘the father’ of the Scottish Enlightenment on our 1 Rose Street page

the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers – Francis Hutcheson

Francis Hutcheson is viewed as one of the founding fathers of the Scottish Enlightenment. A philosopher, he had great impact as a teacher on Adam Smith, and corresponded with David Hume.

Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day – Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was an American polymath and politician who became president of the United States in 1801. Enlightenment ideas guided his drafting of the American Declaration of Independence. This quote is one of many quotations inscribed on Cox Corridor II, a first floor House corridor of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C.

We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisationVoltaire

Voltaire, the famous French Enlightenment writer, François-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire – is this line written in truth or jest?

Social media call… Thursday 8 March, 8.30pm

Our Twitter pal Dawn Davies took this marvellous photo of Charlotte Square's puffersphere. We want to see yours.

Dear everyone and anyone who uses Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, wordpress, blogger, Blipfoto, tumblr, Vimeo, etc and etc.

You are cordially invited to join us for the great switch on of our enLIGHTen projection on the Royal Society building, at 22 George Street, on Thursday evening at 8.30pm. You’ll have the opportunity to chat to the team who’ve brought you enLIGHTen, to photograph, film, review and write up what you see,  and to share what you find to help us show people how glorious Edinburgh looks with her lights on.

You’ve perhaps already seen our puffersphere at Charlotte Square, and the tumbling fountain of words on the Melville Monument at St Andrew Square, but the Royal Society building is going to be something quite different indeed. The style of lighting is called projection mapping, using video projectors to create animated images “mapped” on the building’s surface, working with our fantastic partners at NL Productions and Pufferfish. We believe it’s the first time such technology has been used for cultural purposes in Scotland. And we don’t want you  – or enLIGHTen fans online – to miss a thing.

PLUS! In breaking news…:

Our friends at have come up with this smashing incentive to get you out on the streets on Thursday evening:

(1)    A unique opportunity to have your photo/blog/review/video/any creative content about the night promoted on its blog. To sweeten the deal, the top ten picks get to win a pair of tickets each to a special Punchline Night of Comedy, in association with Usher Hall* on 15th March 2012. Sign up with Grace, the Clicketeer  who’ll be present on the night.

(2)    For everyone else, is offering a sweet 2-for-1 offer to Punchline Comedy* to everyone present so you can make a night out of it on 15th March – enjoying glorious Edinburgh with her lights on and then to a night of laughter at Usher Hall. This exclusive offer is available to respondents of this social media call from 8th to 11th March (4 days before the official announcement of this offer to the rest of Edinburgh). Ask Grace, the Clicketeer, for instructions on the night.

So join the party. Bring your friends. Let’s tell people.


* limited offer – subject to availability


Thursday evening saw us launch enLIGHTen with the switching on of projections onto the Melville Monument at St Andrew Square and the puffersphere at Charlotte Square! Having gathered first at the Royal Society on George Street, for a few words from our director Ali, Councillor Deirdre Brock, and a multi-voiced re-enactment of Ken MacLeod’s piece, ‘Maxwell’s Platter‘, we had a brilliantly balmy evening for wandering up to the ‘poetry garden’, and enjoying a complimentary cup of something nice and hot courtesy of our friends at Razzo coffee.

William Letford read us his specially commissioned poem, ‘Monuments of the Mind‘, before project manager Sara Grady led a countdown from 10 towards the great switch on! And there splashed up alphabet soup, a great mass of words, rising to the peak of the monument and cascading back down, spilling out David Hume’s wisdom: ‘Truth springs from argument amongst friends‘. Marvellous.

If you couldn’t be there in person, gnash not those teeth! You can see photos of the launch on our Flickr page, and right here in our gallery.You can hear the delicious audio pieces produced by (g)host city right here. And you can join in the conversation and keep up to date with everything via our Facebook page, and on Twitter, using the hashtag #edlighten.

If you have been there in person, we want to see your photos (such as the beauty above of Charlotte Square’s puffersphere by David Lesault!) and hear what you think! So tell us 🙂

Charlotte Square, 1 Rose Street and St Andrew Square are all lit up, with 175 Rose Street, 81 George Street and 22 George Street to follow this week, as well as some other surprises…

So watch this space, and get the drum rolls ready… we’ve only just begun!

enLIGHTen – tonight!

Lo! We said let there be enLIGHTen, and there was! This picture is a wee sneak peek of what you might expect to see on our city streets from tonight at 6pm, until 18th March, captured by our intrepid photographer about town, Chris Scott…

enLIGHTen launches tonight at 6pm at St Andrew Square – perhaps we’ll see you there? – and with it this website, bustling with pictures and stories and enlightening information about the Scottish Enlightenment! Come in, get comfortable and stay a while.

Meanwhile, keep an eye on Twitter @EdinCityofLit #edlighten for the down low, highlights, pics and bits… We hope meet many of you visitors, both on foot and online!

enLIGHTen – coming very soon!

Through enLIGHTen we are shining a light back to the Scottish Enlightenment period and reminding us all that Scotland lead the world as pioneers of thought. Using cutting edge projection technology, we’ll match the architectural brilliance of our historic city with our world renowned literature, and create a spectacular experience for passersby, both locals and visitors – as well as a focal point for those planning a trip to Edinburgh.

Coming soon…!