Outlandia, originally conceived by London Fieldworks for the Year of Highland Culture is situated within highland landscape with distinctive views of Glen Nevis and Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain, looming directly opposite. Outlandia has been inspired by legends of forest outlaws and outsiders, both an off-ground place of imagination and fantasy and a real place of inspiration. Imagining Ecotopia will be a year-long research programme developed by curator and writer Tracey Warr and London Fieldworks with support from a local steering committee.
London Fieldworks have made a series of ambitious art works in remote, rural locations, two previously in Scotland: the telematic artwork, Syzygy linked the ICA, London with Sanda Island in 1999, and Little Earth (funded by SAC, ACE, Highland Council & Lochaber Enterprise), which involved the formal twinning of two historic mountain-top observatories: the former Ben Nevis Observatory and Haldde northern lights observatory in the Norwegian Arctic. Little Earth also included the creation of a touring audio-visual installation and a publication and was presented at the Nevis Centre as part of the Fort William Mountain Film Festival in January 2005. The exhibition at Fort William involved the participation of 13 rural Lochaber schools in an outreach programme hosted by the Nevis Centre and the West Highland Museum.
Following the Little Earth project London Fieldworks were invited by the Highland Council to make a proposal to celebrate the Year of Highland Culture that would create a lasting contemporary art legacy for the Fort William area. Outlandia is the outcome, a platform from which to consider creative responses to the environment. The proposal was inspired by London Fieldworks' previous experience working in Lochaber: whilst there is an abundance of artistic talent and creativity in the Highlands there are few dedicated contemporary arts facilities in Fort William or in the surrounding area. Many visitors to Little Earth expressed their interest in experiencing more contemporary art projects by visiting artists in the future; at the same time they lamented the lack of facilities, studios and galleries that could help to bring contemporary artists to the region.
The history of Glen Nevis describes an ever-changing relationship between people and land. The manner in which the landscape is worked and lived on changes from generation to generation. Throughout the length of Glen Nevis are many clearly visible ruins of crofts and byres, giving some indication of previous populations. The Outlandia project is sensitive to this shifting ecology between human population, industry and landscape. The site is on Forestry Commission land overlooking the southwest facing side of the glen with its ancient, native trees. This context makes explicit the dichotomy within a landscape under pressure to function as an area of outstanding natural beauty (the area has been branded Outdoor Capital of the UK) as well as a resource for society's raw materials - a schism common to many rural communities.
During its time of service, Outlandia will provide a multi-purpose platform for the use of diverse community groups as well as selected artists and researchers. Outlandia is in line with The Scottish Forestry Strategy that aims to create opportunities for more people to enjoy trees, woods and forests in Scotland, and to help communities benefit from woods and forests.