The legacy of a vast 1930s Scottish clean energy scheme is the inspiration behind Pennies from Heaven? an exhibition exploring energy, climate change and consumerism.

The exhibition, featuring photographs, cyanotypes and 81 specially smelted aluminium plaques, is the culmination of the wider Energiseresidency.

Energisehas been undertaken by internationally renowned photographers Morag Paterson and Ted Leeming, from near Dalry, Jason Nelson, from Dundee and Catherine Major from Moffat.

They worked with the community in the catchment area of the Galloway Glens hydro scheme to uncover how people felt when the huge engineering scheme started and what they think about it today.

The artists have also been looking at theurgent need for changes in how we generate power, the amount we use, and in consumer culture.

The exhibition, at Gracefield Arts Centre, Dumfries from 11 May to 29 June comes after a series of community events, including artists’ walks and a tour of the Tongland hydroelectric power station, near Kirkcudbright (see images of the artists with 1930s equipment at the power station, and at the dam). 

A centrepiece will be a large image, created by Morag, showing the lochs and rivers of the hydro scheme catchment area. The system is so carefully designed that a single drop of rain can be used to generate low cost, clean energy up to five times before it final reaches the sea.

She said: “When the hydro scheme started some people thought of its as ‘Pennies from Heaven’ because the rain on the Galloway hills was being turned into clean energy that could power thousands of homes. And it still powers around 79,000 homes today.

“It’s hugely inspiring that this immense project, which faced resistance at the time, is still going strong after so many decades and that it has become such a well-loved part of the landscape.

“But the brutal reality is that our demand for energy and consumer goods has just continued to grow and we now face a climate change emergency. This exhibition prompts questions about these issues and what we need to do to change.

“The urgency is very real – and it’s significant that at the same time that we were preparing this exhibition that David Attenborough addressed the United Nations, that the Extinction Rebellion protests started taking place and our next generation, young people like Greta Thunberg began demanding change.”

Ted’s photographs, which have been taken in Scotland and beyond, include images that are individually beautiful while disturbing as a collection. 

They use innovative titles to help develop a narrative and encourage engagement and interaction. Shops packed with designer goods and jet planes high above the mountains are set alongside drowned landscapes and fields of nothing. 

He said: “This residency has emphasised the imperative to act quickly. Just doing your recycling is simply no longer enough. We have to change our habits as consumers, and our energy use as a society. The consequences for future generations are not only horrifying environmentally but the costs to alleviate the impacts will increase astronomically. It makes simple economic sense if nothing else to act now.

“In terms of energy, the Galloway hydro scheme set an incredible example of how much can be achieved when there is the determination and the investment to make change. And even though they thought of it as Pennies from Heaven, the reality is that nothing comes for free.”

Jason worked with Galloway people of all ages, asking them to record a message about their hopes for the world of 2030. This is the year by which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says a fundamental shift in energy production is needed to avoid a “tipping point” of irreversible climate change and minimise the effects of the mass extinction of species we are already witnessing.

Their words have been used to create 81 aluminium plaques, each carrying a message, which will be displayed at the exhibition.   

Some are global, like wanting a better environment for their grandchildren, others are homely like hoping for a family of their own – or even a pet dog.

Jason said: “These plaques show the wishes of real people for the future, and that matters a lot at a time when so many feel they are not being heard. Every voice has value, and together they become a shout.

“We are caught in a cycle of consumerism and energy use and the reasons for it are very complex. 

“So it’s not about pointing a finger of blame, it’s about highlighting the issues and asking what kind of world we want, and what we need to do as individuals and as a society to get there.”

Catherine Major, a 28-year-old artist who also runs Moffat Youth Theatre, has been working with Jason to help create the installation.

She said: “A lot of these plaques were made by young people – and so many young people feel that their interests are not being thought about, and they are not being listened to.

“It’s been an amazing project to be involved with because it is all about encouraging people to think about how they can make their voices heard. And while we often feel powerless, it also helps point out that we have power as consumers – and the decisions we make can bring change.”

Energisehas been created by Upland CIC arts development organisation and is supported by Creative Scotland and the Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership.

Amy Marletta, Projects Directorat Upland, said: Energisehas shown how artists and the arts can work with the community to create powerful messages and ideas about the world we live in and about our common future.

“We are very much looking forward to the opening of the Gracefield exhibition which will give the public a chance to see an important body of work that combines visual beauty with some very uncomfortable truths.”

The power station tours took place in the company of Graeme Dickie of Drax, which took over Tongland at the start of the year as part of its drive towards a zero carbon future.

  • Free pictures of the artists at Tongland (by Colin Hattersley) are available in DropBox along with examples of Ted’s photography and some historic hydro scheme photos (credit Dumfries and Galloway Archives)


Notes for editors 

About the artists

  • Jason Nelson is an artist based in Dundee who has over 15 years’ experience as an artist and educator. Embedded in Jason’s practice is the way in which activity can empower and enable expression and action. His work is often a response to context and exists as a result of direct engagement with people, their environments and their relationship to it. 
  • Photographers Ted Leeming and Morag Paterson are based in Dumfries & Galloway and work both collaboratively and as individuals. Collaboratively they have been focused on environmental arts projects including their seven year Zero Footprint and three year Polphaill projects exploring carbon footprints and the conflicts of man and nature in the context of the oil and gas industry. They also created the ‘In Flight’ installation in Dumfries in 2016 exploring issues around migration and climate change. 

About Upland

Upland CIC (Community Interest Company) supports artists and makers based in, and with connections to, the region. It will delivers, events, training, networking, support and opportunities as part of a year-round programme to benefit the region, its artists, communities and economy.

Upland CIC runs the annual Spring Fling contemporary visual art and craft open studios weekend in Dumfries and Galloway. It will work closely with other arts bodies in the region to further-strengthen the sector. Upland is based at Gracefield Arts Centre in Dumfries andexists to:

  • produce and deliver festivals, events, and experimental projects of the highest quality
  • nurture an environment where artistic excellence thrives and grows
  • inspire and educate a wide range of audiences, customers and clients to understand, celebrate, be actively engaged in and supportive of visual art and craft practice
  • raise the profile of visual artists and makers locally, nationally and internationally fulfilling a crucial role in the culture and tourism of Dumfries and Galloway
  • build strategic partnerships at regional, national and international level
  • maintain a financially sound and adaptively resilient organisation
  • use, and encourage the use of, innovative and emerging digital technology
  • work to the benefit the local economy and the sustainability of local communities.

Its funders are Creative Scotland, D&G Council, Holywood Trust, The William Grant Foundation, ASWT, Barfill.Upland is very happy to help journalists. Contact us and we can set up interviews, provide pictures and photo opportunities. In some circumstances we can offer ready-written copy. For media information contact Matthew Shelley on 07786 704299 or at or call Upland on 01387 213 218.