HANNAH IMLACH: RSA Residencies for Scotland, 2016

Nautilus Turbine.  My first visit to Eigg was not as an artist, but as a tourist. Like thousands every year, I came to explore the island, enjoy its scenery and go for long walks. However, the landscape was not the only thing to leave a lasting impression on me during that trip as I began to learn more about the island’s community-run renewable energy scheme. I went on to read Alastair McIntosh’s Soil and Soul, so was aware of the long and arduous process that led to Eigg’s community buy-out in 1997, and the autonomy this had brought the islanders. The more I learnt of the modest wind turbines and hydroelectric apparatus that inconspicuously sit in the landscape, the more I understood that the Isle of Eigg is a microcosm, representing many of the things that inspire and motivate my art practice.

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My artistic research is based on an ongoing investigation into environments and ecologies under threat, sensory experience of natural phenomenon and scenarios of future sustainability. The Isle of Eigg became increasingly relevant to me as a confluence of these ideas; the community peacefully coexist with areas of wilderness, small-scale renewable infrastructure provides power and the correlation between high winds, bright sunshine or heavy rainfall and increased energy supply is felt and understood.

My residencies at Sweeney’s Bothy on the Isle of Eigg took place during July 2015 and May 2016, part of a three-phase residency with The Bothy Project and Glasgow Sculpture Studios (GSS), funded through the Royal Scottish Academy’s Residencies for Scotland Award. My intention was to research the social and technical legacy of the island’s hydroelectric system and create a sculptural response, which could be brought back and documented on the island.

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Arriving on Eigg in glorious sunshine in early July 2015, I spent a productive week based at the bothy. With host Eddie Scott, I spent a day touring the sites of renewable technology on the island – the wind turbines, photovoltaic panels, control room and battery shed. We drove along an overgrown forestry track to the largest hydroelectric dam on Eigg, which overlooks Cleadale and Laig Bay. From there I followed and pipe down the steep hillside to the turbine shed at Laig Farm to rejoin Eddie. Eddie (one of the small team of islanders trained to monitor and maintain the system) explained how the island’s formation and scale had created opportunities for innovative technology to be piloted, it was highly experimental at the time and not known if the combination of infrastructure would work. On successfully completing their grid the islanders were able to abandon the noisy and polluting generators previously used.

This balance of energy production and consumption is only feasible on Eigg because each islander is fully aware of their allotted energy allowance and monitors their usage. The awareness of the energy generating potential of their immediate environment and the power needed to support their lifestyles is very valuable, and an unfamiliar concept to many of us living with a seemingly abundant supply of energy available at a flick of a switch.

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Heather on the Beinn Bhuidhe ridge path.

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I left Eigg after a week of walking, writing, conversations and photography, thinking about the complex social, environmental and economic factors that make the islanders’ energy self-sufficiency possible. On one of my walks I had collected a handful of vibrant yellow periwinkle shells from Kildonan beach, so I also began to consider their spiralling shape, reminiscent of the volute casings of some industrial hydroelectric turbines.

lear waters at Kildonan beach.

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During the following months, including four weeks working at Glasgow Sculpture Studios, I continued to develop my work through research: I looked into the logarithmic patterns of shell spirals, the form of hydroelectric turbines and the patterns of water flowing through and around them. Transforming this material, I made drawings and maquettes, and experimented with different materials, testing one prototype at my local swimming pool in Glasgow.

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The piece I finally created takes the form of a personal turbine, activated by a swimmer. It has multiple kinetic components which are designed to rotate as the sculpture is pushed through water. The physical effort involved in activating the work references the responsibility and labour expended by the people of Eigg in generating their own energy.

I built the sculpture at GSS during April 2016 from tulip wood, birch plywood, Perspex and cork. I had agonised over the piece’s construction, balancing my aesthetic concerns with the demands made by the sculpture’s functionality. I eventually found a solution that would rotate freely and be strong enough to withstand the force of water pushing on each component.

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I returned to Eigg in mid-May with the sculpture, now titled Nautilus Turbine, and theatre-maker Alice Mary Cooper who was to animate the sculpture for documentation at Laig Weir. We were joined at the bothy by Lila Matsumoto, a poet with whom I have been working, and my partner Thomas Butler to assist with the logistics of getting the sculpture to the remote weir site. Islander Neil Robertson provided excellent off-road driving services to take us along the little-used path to the weir where we donned wetsuits to enter the still dark water.

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A photo blog of my time on Eigg can be viewed here: hannah-imlach-artist-residency.tumblr.com

And more information and images of the completed project can be found here: www.hannahimlach.com/Nautilus-Turbine

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Royal Scottish Academy, Residencies for Scotland – Hannah Imlach

Since its inception in 2009, RSA Residencies for Scotland has supported a wide range of artists at 26 venues across Scotland. The Royal Scottish Academy has a proud tradition of promoting excellence in contemporary art in Scotland.  Led by eminent artists and architects the RSA support the creation, understanding and enjoyment of the visual arts through exhibitions, artist opportunities and related educational talks and events. Re-establishing themselves as a leading organisation for the visual arts in Scotland, the RSA have successfully garnered a reputation for the strength of their engaging and diverse exhibitions and the fantastic opportunities they offer both established and emerging artists.

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Hannah Imlach is an Edinburgh based visual artist working predominantly in sculpture and photography. Her practice concerns the nature of our interaction with the environment; focussing on how an art object may be involved in the simplest yet often most overlooked experiences with nature.  Her sculptural ‘tools’ often take on recognisable forms acting as a shelter, boat, jacket, kite or optical device and so hold inherent performative potential. Through their handmade futuristic aesthetic, the sculptures suggest utopian/dystopian narratives in which the effects of climate change are played out and ideas of an alternate sustainable existence are explored.
Imlach’s practice involves research and discursive residencies as well as exhibition commissions and workshops. She recently completed the Edinburgh Emerging Artist Bursary Scheme and undertook residencies with Creative Carbon Scotland, Timespan, Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop and The Association of Icelandic Visual Artists in Reykjavik.
Drawn to the off-the-grid Isle of Eigg as a microcosm of how a future Scotland may function. Imlach intends to spend her time at Sweeney’s Bothy researching the renewable energy resources on the island, in particular the three hydroelectric generators that provide the majority of the islands power. Drawing connections between ownership, responsibility and empowerment the project will result in a gestural, sculptural piece installed back on the island in Spring 2016.

Royal Scottish Academy, Residencies for Scotland – 2022

We are delighted to be a taking part in the 2022 RSA Residencies for Scotland programme. It is an artist-led scheme which provides valuable research and residency opportunities for artists. It forges important networks with centres of artistic excellence across Scotland, ranging from traditional residency venues to specialised production facilities.

Open to visual artists at all stages of their careers, the emphasis is on enabling a period of research, development and production, as well as on the acquisition and exchange of new skills and experiences. Artists can apply for funds of up to £5,000.

Previous recipients who have worked with Bothy Project are: Becky Šik (2019); Bruce Shaw (2019); Hannah Imlach (2015); Uist Corrigan (2015); Sylvia Law (2014);Kari Stewart (2013) and Isla MacLeod (2013). And of course in 2011 Bobby Niven and Iain MacLeod successfully applied for an award with Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, and built Inshriach Bothy!

Aims of the residency programme:

  • To enable artists a period of research, development and production
  • To reinforce links with centres of excellence across Scotland
  • To provide access to technical expertise and assistance to learn new skills and techniques.
  • To enable the exchange of ideas and practice

Full application details can be found here

Image: Becky Šik, still from Mercury, 2021, HD video Commissioned by: Collective. Funded by: Creative Scotland, Edinburgh City Council, Baillie Gifford. Supported by: RSA, Bothy Project