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The Spirit Case: New sculpture honours memory of Old Royal Infirmary 

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The memory of the Old Royal Infirmary lives on at Edinburgh Futures Institute through the Spirit Case, a new sculpture created from building materials that were once part of the former hospital. 

The memory of the Old Royal Infirmary lives on at Edinburgh Futures Institute through the Spirit Case, a new sculpture created from building materials that were once part of the former hospital. 

The newly restored Edinburgh Futures Institute occupies the former site of the Old Royal Infirmary, an iconic, category-A listed building and a much-loved city landmark. 

The Spirit Case was created using materials from the building’s construction site that were not good enough to be reused in the reconstruction. The materials include Scottish slates from the roof, Baltic Pine from the original floor timbers, and timber from an elm tree that once stood on the premises. A piece of the hospital’s sandstone and original nails also form part of the sculpture. 

The Spirit Case was conceived and designed by Binks Hub Research Fellow Dr Jimmy Turner, with Edinburgh Futures Institute Creative Projects Manager and poet Jennifer Williams, and Futures Institute intern Gintare Kulyte. The project was done in collaboration with woodworkers Jon Slight and Campbell Deeming from the Grassmarket Community Project. The design, carving and gilding, and attachment of the slates was completed by Gus Fisher, artisan stone carver.  

The object also features poetry on the slates and sandstone, written by Jennifer and members of the community with strong connections to the hospital, including the Pelican Nurses who trained and worked there.  

A man with a gray beard and a backpack kneels on one knee, photographing an exhibit in a museum. The exhibit features a large, circular artifact with inscriptions, displayed on a wooden stand. The background has a blue wall and tiled floor.
Image credit: Chris Scott

Recycling a Hospital 

The Spirit Case is the centrepiece of the Recycling a Hospital project, an interdisciplinary arts initiative that connects woodworking, poetry, stone carving, ceremony, and photography. The project began in 2022 with the discovery of interesting materials at the old hospital’s construction site – including the slates and the wood that eventually became part of the Spirit Case. While not used in the building’s reconstruction, these materials retain an important symbolic connection to the former hospital. The Recycling a Hospital project built on this symbolic connection to honour the countless memories connected to the building, which remains a key Edinburgh landmark. 

A crucial way that the Recycling a Hospital project sought to achieve their aim of honouring the Infirmary’s legacy was through connecting with the city’s community. In Autumn 2023, Jennifer facilitated a series of poetry workshops where various community groups were invited to share their memories of the building, which they turned into poems. A word from each poem written during the workshops was selected and later used to create a single collaborative poem, which is now inscribed onto the slates of the Spirit Case. 

The Recycling a Hospital project is ongoing in the form of a photography series led by Gintare. Gintare will be taking creative portraits of members of the public who have memories of the hospital, in a location of the restored building that is significant to them. The photography series will be showcased in the building in Autumn 2024. 

Remembering the past, looking to the future 

The instalment of the Spirit Case at Edinburgh Futures Institute honours the memory of the hospital as space that remains open to everyone.

Jimmy said: 

“The name ‘Spirit Case’ references our desire to provide a home in the new Futures Institute for what we understand as the ‘spirit of publicness’ which animated the building when it was a National Health Service hospital, and our hope that we who occupy the building now can live up to this legacy.”   

Jennifer added: 

“It has been a joy to work collaboratively on this project and to create an object that we hope will act as a portal for journeying both backwards and forwards in time; to celebrate the memories of those who knew the building as a hospital and the discoveries of those experiencing the space anew as Edinburgh Futures Institute.” 

The public can view the Spirit Case on the third floor of Edinburgh Futures Institute, accessible through the clocktower staircase. 

A group of people climb a wooden and metal staircase in a blue-walled building. Some carry backpacks, and they are ascending together. In the foreground, there is a wooden structure with round gear-like components.
Image credit: Chris Scott

Featured image credit: Chris Scott

Further information: 

Visionary restoration breathes life into much-loved city landmark 

Recycling a Hospital 

Binks Hub 

Recycling a Hospital – Grassmarket Community Project 

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