Steph Mann Image 1 MAP

It was not until moving to Edinburgh that I first heard the word outwith. It’s a useful word—signifying something that takes (its) place beyond or outside of a particular boundary (conceptual, procedural, geographic, national… ). Yet its use is not widespread: ‘now chiefly Scotland, Northern England’, says an online dictionary. If use of outwith marks a linguistic community, then it is notable how its words pour across a national border. Outwith this region, people do without.

I keep thinking of this word ‘outwith’, while Stephanie Mann and I are talking.[1] She uses it herself from time to time, but there’s more to it than that. I think it’s because her work seems inseparable from questions of inside and outside, and the always-permeable borders (skin, walls, words, complex bureaucratic decision-making) that seem to separate the two.

We meet twice at a café—first outside, later inside—to discuss the work she’s making as part of the 2018-20 (extended into 2021) Talbot Rice Gallery Residents programme. Over the course of the residency, Mann has immersed herself within the collections of the University of Edinburgh: not only the art and objects (we have about 35 kilometres of historic material, declares the website, which is certainly one way to measure it) but also the people and their stories, the systems and philosophies that form a kind of foundation. In response to this period of research, Mann will make four bodies of work: a group of texts, a series of prints, a film and foursculptural objects.

I write ‘will’, but it feels wrong. I’m used to writing in the perma-present of art criticism, but at the time of speaking and now of writing, the works are not yet available to see. This future tense will mean my text dates fast. Names for the works have not yet been decided either: the titles, Manntells me rather beautifully via email, ‘are still hidden, obscured, encrypted in the work and will reveal themselves when ready’. The name is not selected in advance orimposed through a discourse of knowledge; it emerges in time when the thing is ready.

Covid-19 has severely delayed Mann’s ability to develop the work. For months, she has been unable to return to the university collections or access the required facilities. Things are on hold. This is therefore an unusual moment in the gestation of a project in which to try and write about it. Mann’s work is sensitively attuned to the materiality of objects; something I would want my writing to reflect. But how to respond to an object when I cannot stand before it in the studio or gallery, give it time, return, ruminate, let it speak to me? Covid-19 has also prevented me from visiting the collections to situate my writing among dusty files, unlabelled boxes, and drawers full of stuff. For now, there are no objects to stare at or films to watch. Only conversations and ideas, essays and images. It’s all words really. You’ll have to excuse me if I get a little vague.


I sit in the park reading a printed-out essay by Jane Bennett and little flies are drawn to the whiteness of the paper. They settle, walk, and for a moment, become invisible on the dark curling lines of text. Bennett writes that things are ‘more than mere objects’; that things too have ‘powers of life, resistance, and even a kind of will’. [2]

I start to make some notes, a series of more or less related statements, and I shuffle them around until they fall into the following order:

A thing is more accurately a body. A body is more accurately a place. A place is a collection of things.

I’m thinking about collections of things and collections of words. To collect is to gather together, but also—etymologically—to read together.

Metaphysics, said Graham Harman, ‘is an attempt to dig down a few feet further into the ground than people think you can. It is not to find the bedrock.’ [3]

I remember that old line from Charles Babbage: ‘The air itself is one vast library…’ [4]

But all the libraries are shut and even the smallest particles can bring the world to a halt.

Meanwhile, a mole digs tunnels through the soil and all we know of it are the piles of earth left in lines across the surface of the world.


Biographies for Stephanie Mann and Tom Jeffreys can be found at the end of Part Three (see below).


[1] It is only just before completing a first draft that I notice the Twitter biography of Talbot Rice Gallery curator Stuart Fallon: simply ‘OUTWITH’ in capital letters.

[2] Jane Bennett, ‘The Force of Things’, Political Theory, Vol. 32 No.3, June 2004

[3] Graham Harman and Bruno Latour, The Prince and the Wolf, Zero Books, 2011

[4] Charles Babbage, The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise(1837), chapter IX. On the permanent Impression of our Words and Actions on the Globe we inhabit