KATRINA VALLE & NIC RUE: Self-Directed Residency, 2013
We walked across the field and through the deep leaves down into the little churchyard.
One grave is covered with a big metal cage, inside on the grave are nestled five rounded stones, they look tactile, inviting. The oldest grave in the cemetery. The stones hold a curse, move them and you will be hurt. Someone had their arm broken, someone else went missing, eventually the footmen of the estate threw the stones in the river. One of them died. The stones were eventually retrieved and discovered years later being used as doorstops by the Laird’s family. They were returned to their grave and a cage built over them to protect them, to protect from them.
The churchyard is the Rothiemurchus family’s private graveyard, reserved for members of the family and staff of the estate. There are 12 vacant plots left now which have all been allotted.
We gave the gravedigger a fright, he doesn’t ever see people in the churchyard anymore. Not since family history research started to be conducted online. He used to regularly find people among the headstones looking for ancestors, relatives.
He used to find bits of meat and weird symbols in amongst the gravestones, especially around halloween, the witches used the place for ceremonies. The gravedigger said he had always wanted to hide out and try to see what they got up to.
One man, new to the job, went along by himself to check the ivy growth among the tombs of the knights who went on the crusades. He ran scared away from the place and refused to ever go back. He wouldn’t say what had happened.
On warm days the gravedigger would lie in the sunshine and fall asleep in the deep grass.
Volcanoes meeting volcanoes. Just a few exits past my neighbourhood are the remnants of Dumbarton Rock. This is the volcanic plug Andrew Patrizio points out in his volcanic eulogy to that and other volcanoes, and to his grandfather, who met Vesuvius at just the wrong moment but grabbed a handful of ash at the crater. Hand Held Lava.
I go to Iceland. I go to Hawaii. I go to Japan. Living volcanoes.
Skye, Eigg, Mull, Staffa – extinct at least in our sense of time.
At the Singing Sands, a long volcanic dyke cuts through stone which looks like hip bones and ribs from an ancient living thing. I am quite excited to be able to explain – here – like volcanic roadways – lava or some melted river of material – a channel cut through and down – different from the rock on either side. The more you look the more you notice them, like a pre-planned road system with routes all running in the same direction at very regular intervals.
Blond sandstone is covered in white fur, slicked down from sun and dried out sea water. What would it would be like to see this fur freely moving under water at high tide with the movement of the waves above, rolling in.
I found white quartz with a small black explosion of another material in one section – like exploded shards on infinite pause midair, surrounded by liquid which froze in an instant, suspending the event forever. Things made visible which are normally beyond what we can see – to see interlocking structures of air and matter together, with all the exact space between them.
Lastly, a cliff face, split in two halves to form a hidden hallway with no ceiling, held open by very small rocks which somehow support a huge rock wall. Tension and weight hold everything. I have a desire to go into this internal rock hallway as far I can, deep inside – like outdoor caving – but it is an Empedocles inspired desire (merging with the volcano/merging with the rocks) – as you cannot help but think – the small rocks will give way. They will have to give way at some point, how do they just sit there in the air supporting walls as thick as mountains? They will roll to the bottom of the precipice – and if inside in the interior architecture at that moment – you will become crushed between the two rock walls – now rejoined into a single rock with a small scar flitting across its surface – like the mineral formed in New York which was split into two, and then separated for 70 years, passed into different hands and sent across the Atlantic – only to end up in the same museum collection almost 100 years apart, and then become rejoined when someone noticed years later – these two pieces are one. Fits perfectly back together again, as if the seam between them did not exist.
Volcanic dykes, crossing Xs seen from a very high cliff above volcanic walls and trenches. Melted sandstone highways that are vertical and horizontal at the same time. I try to imagine the moment when all the dykes were molten, like lines of liquid fire crossing itself off the list.
Write about seeing remains of one phenomena in relation to its active counterpart.
The basalt cliffs on Eigg vs. the candle wax cliffs in Hawaii.
A river of lava entering the sea vs. volcanic dykes. Huge vertical fissures of molten sea that go up, instead of horizontal. In my mind I combine the lava entry ocean points with the volcanic alleyways I see around me in Scotland.
A drawing of lava entering the sea in Hawaii vs. lava coming up through vertical fissures on Eigg, in a place that we now know as a beach, leading into the sea.
Lava moving across land/lava moving up through the center of the earth.
Finding Belemnites at Laig Bay
Looking as closely as possible at piles of rocks, you tune your eyes, look for anomalies.
A slightly different glow = an animal from the Jurassic now in my hand.
Scanning…almost purple, others deep dove grey, smooth like pipes when everything else has angles. The main thing to notice is regularity amongst so much difference – perfect circles, even tubes and glow.
I met a woman today in her 80s down at the pier. She used to live in a bay way across on the other side of the island, and there she lived with her husband, and there she continued to live and raise her 5 children after her husband died 39 years ago. Now she lives across the island, far from the bay and the rough waves and wide sea. When I said I was from New York she asked if I missed home, to which I said yes and she said, yes – so do I – I miss the bay. The scale of a place, the scale of an island, the scale of the ocean, the scale of the earth are totally relative.
Driving through a valley of volcanoes on Skye, en-route to deliver Hand Held Lava, I think – this piece means something entirely different here. In every other instance, we spoke about eruptions, lava, encountering ash from the solid ground of cities that are not formed on fault lines or at the base of moving mountains, but on stable solid ground. On Skye, everything is equally still now, but the carcasses of volcanoes fill your peripheral vision in every direction you look. You stand and talk about volcanoes on volcanoes, near volcanoes, between towering volcanoes – and it feels different even though here the land is theoretically just as extinct as any other place we have given this same talk. But to talk about raw mountains and across deep time and formation where you can see the vestiges of that same action, you understand each experience and place differently – each place more – from the experience of the other – extinct mirroring alive. Active facing quiet remains.
REBECCA SHARP: Self-Directed Residency, 2014
Birch, birch; I never knew there were two of you. Until I found it wasn’t the trees I was peering through, seeing and not seeing in shutters of bark, but my own hands that hid the view.
So I did things differently.
I spent the short January days walking and making sound recordings – found sounds and my own chattering; dogs in the distance and birds. I listened back and typed up my notes at night (worth lugging the typewriter up the hill). I read Nan Shepherd and Hamish Fulton. I played hide and seek. I hate taking pictures; I put moss in a jar. I got very lost only once.
I wished I knew the names of things.
I missed my dog.
Imagine that I found you there, leaves veined with silver, seeping silver, branches swooping low to silver-tip the soil. To lead us underground to the tiny lit pools of what we might have thought was missing.
On the train away from Aviemore, the keenest thing I noticed was the clean laundry smell of other people’s clothes.
Days at the Bothy: Before coming on the residency, I had looked at the history of the island and made a character and had a loose story to work on. My character is that of an old lady, the legendary sole survivor of the alleged massacre of the entire islands population down at the massacre cave somewhere between 1520 – 1560. I am working on this animation with my partner, Bryn.In our story, the character of the old lady is still alive today and wandering the island in loneliness, collecting rubbish and bones for her croft.
Single frame shots taken over time can be a challenge in studio conditions, we were prepared for the challenge of photographing outside in variable light. Over the week, we managed to shoot down at the singing sands, outside the bothy, in the Cathedral cave mouth and the grass outside the massacre cave.
Lucy asked if I would mind showing the children at the school what I was up to on the residency. We spent a morning making some little animations, the results of which can be viewed on my youtube channel: Lesley Rose. I met Camille at the school, whose book ‘Eigg, the story of an Island’ as well as giving a really good background to the islands history, contains an old ballad based of the old lady ‘Sad is the climbing’, which, if set to music, would make a good accompaniment to the animation.
Still from sunset sequence.
We would love to go back and continue our collaboration with the people and places of Eigg, Eddie and Lucy were great hosts and made us feel very welcome.
JOHNNY BARRINGTON: Creative Scotland Residency, 2014
( For full enjoyment of the audio clips we suggest wearing headphones ) Alison and I are old friends. We first collaborated as Live Violinist and Live Visual Artist in the experimental, interdisciplinary company Apocryphal Theatre in London between 2005-2011 and having moved to Glasgow in 2012, it was great to be able to spend a week working together based at Sweeney’s Bothy on the Isle of Eigg, sowing the seeds for a new collaborative project.
Having imagined a retreat-like scenario far away from people all together, this idea was almost immediately dismantled by Eddie who picked us up from the ferry in his landrover and asked us if we would care to join him for a céilidh at the community hall in the evening. Our week on Eigg was enhanced by meeting many of it’s wonderful islanders – a bonfire gathering on the beach, céilidh dancing at the lovely old hall, beer at the pier, a sailor knot-tying workshop led by Celia and Camille with the after-school club and a singing session run by Norah from the Eco Centre.
In spite of this unexpected social life, there was still plenty of time to sink into the slower rhythms of the island and to begin to explore working together again.
We spoke about how in the midst of our busy city lives, creativity only too often becomes a speculative act. In spite of the both of us using improvisation in our work we often find ourselves having to plan work well in advance and come up with something in the time that has been set aside for doing so. The generous ethos of the Bothy Project provided us with plenty of freedom, time and space to slow right down and delve into a much-needed state of stillness together allowing creative thoughts to emerge in their own time.
Sweeney’s Bothy is a piece of architectural poetry. The front wall – one big window facing a beautiful seascape and the mountainous Isle of Rhum, made us feel immersed in those dramatic everyday events – such as when day slowly turns into night and night to day, when heavy rain falls pass by when the gales are howling. The small window by the raised bed lets one fall asleep with a view of the starry sky to the calling of strange night fowls that echo through the valley and to wake up next to a small patch of bluebells that has been planted on top of the entrance.
How might you play these ‘Eigg lines’?
Roughly carved hardwood ‘thorns’, drift wood banisters, a nook to curl up in on a rainy day and browse the bothy’s splendid little library, an outdoor shower and a hatch that can be opened allowing you to enjoy the view whilst on the loo….
Alison and her shadow. Early evening on Laig beach
Megan and Kathryn looking at the stars at Megan’s bonfire party/leaving do on Laig beach. No rotten old visa law will keep this sailor lady away in the long run.
It was good to spend time with the stars, good to spend time by the sea and good to spend time round a bonfire with new and old friends.
How might you play these ‘Rhum lines’?
Like many other beaches Singing Sands and Laig Beach are full of plastic that keeps coming ashore. It’s dizzying to think that this material has been around for such a short time and that we already are drowning in it.
Long strands of old lava formation crossing the Singing Sands on their trajectory into the sea.
A throne for anyone who’ll take it – plastic, driftwood, stones and seaweed that rattles when the wind blows.
We loved Celia’s idea about getting a massive ‘plastic cooker’ and a giant 3D laser cutter installed so that you could make whatever you might need from all this beached junk.
A lovely little orchid
Alison had arrived ahead of me. The sounds from her violin filled the rocky cavity of Cathedral Cave and spilled out into the day.
Black sand dotted with what turned out to be polystyrene beads, ragged rocks and rounded stones covered the floor of the cave. Static electricity extended the un-choreographed patterns of the white plastic beads up the damp walls. Driftwood, twigs, feathers from different seabirds, buoys, pieces of plastic, shards of glass, a blink for sea fishing, lighters, plastic bottles, candles, carpenter’s cork containers, condoms, metal rods, the cadaver of a seal and other random junk had been swept in here by the tides or left behind by visitors.
Dim daylight flooded in through the entrance, causing anything in an upright position to casts a long black shadow towards the deepest bellows of the cave.
A few thoughts immediately announced themselves. The music performance should have an audience. The indifference of the great sea in terms of what it sends a shore… the beings in Plato’s cave contemplating a world of shadow plays… the return of objects to raw material and the death of living creatures…. the immense sadness at a world that is drowning in plastic… the empty rhetoric of contemporary politics…. an uprising of the inanimate world… countless long shadows…. revolution… ‘revolution is a dream’ (- as someone once said) … what’s wrong with dreams?
Everything that can stand will stand
Alison’s improvisations lead to musical arrangements of the inanimate things in the cave
A smell of rose scented shampoo
Music of intimacy…
Alison beneath the ‘omlet’ cave-painting.
Wandering back to the bothy at sunset time.
Down in the harbour on our last night with Dean and Paloma who are trying to see the world through my eyes…
That famous last dance by the prehistoric standing stone in the middle of the island on the way back to our bothy in Dean’s old pick up truck …
… led to the necessity of ‘dancer’s transport’.
Alison looking at the Isle of Eigg from the train back to Glasgow. We didn’t really want to leave this precious gem of the Inner Hebrides and hope to find a way back soon.
I think it began with departure, not arrival. I arrive on the Eigg after a beautiful train journey from Glasgow to Mallaig the day before, and a couple of hours on the ferry over. After a warm welcome from Eddie and Lucy, I finally carry my enormous bag to the bothy. It has been so thoughtfully designed and feels like grown-up den, cosy and with an incredible view across the water to Rum.
My first full day on Eigg takes on a few surprises. Deciding to take advantage of the unexpected sunshine, I walk down to Laig Bay to read on the beach, but instead of the peaceful afternoon I planned, I am asked to clear the beach by someone from the Royal Navy Bomb Disposal Unit. It turns out that an old World War II mine has been buried on the beach with some recent weather washing away some sand to make its shape more visible and these guys had travelled over to dismantle it. I wander off, hearing explosions echoing around the rocks.
Later, after bumping into Lucy, we drive over to the tearoom at the pier for a large community meal with a seven course taster menu of local food for Hebridean Larder. I meet some lovely people and hear stories of how people came to live on Eigg, and eat delicious small plates of mussels, spoots and rabbit. I settle into my own bothy routines, filling flasks with boiled water, showering quickly when there are glimpses of morning sun, and cooking in the fire. Everything slows down – there is no sense of urgency or commitments, building the fire and cooking dinner is slow, and I stop looking at clocks altogether to try and shake my usual markers. I enjoy the openness this presents but realise just how much the obligation of busy-ness and of productivity is ingrained – I just can’t quite rest. Even in the middle of reading from Dee’s wonderful Walking Library I feel the need to do something and find myself checking on the fire again, re-arranging kindling to dry, re-filling flasks.
But I also manage to do some ‘brain dumping’, considering ideas and scribbles, and tape up sheets of paper to the bothy walls to write out notes and see things in front of me and am able to make connections between things that were jumbled before. I also spend a lot of time reflecting on some of my thoughts on experiences and layers of landscape, and of space and place. In the bothy and while walking on Eigg I consider the shapes and patterns of these layers, noting these and tracing shapes from the landscapes, maps, and walks.
My week on Eigg was dry and fair and I was lucky to miss the rain and mud previous dwellers experienced. I pay Laig Bay another visit, enjoying the peaceful, empty beach and collecting views across the water, and patterns and formations in the sand, and colour in rock and moss. During the week, the balance of conversations and encounters with others on the island and the quiet time on my own seem to just fit. The bothy feels private and comfortable sheltered in the landscape and I enjoy feeling a bit remote. I am reminded of this one night in bed when i wake briefly in the middle of the night. Looking out the of window next to the mezzanine bed and in my half-asleep state I get a bit of a fright and think I am seeing things when I see the clear sky cluttered with stars. As I happily remember where I am in my little bothy far away from the city, I fall back asleep.
I like to think about the bothy as home to many different artists, and to think about how it gathers these experiences and the traces that each dweller leaves. It also seems like each bothy visitor left much in the wayof food supplies – and I think that are probably enough porridge oats to feed the whole island for a while. I decide to extend an invitation for breakfast in the bothy and on my second last day cook a large pot of porridge for a morning round the table with stories over a bowl. We chat about breakfast toppings, airports and stories of secret-keeping on an island with porridge spiked with homemade Bailey’s, kindly made that morning and brought along by Ben.
When it is time to leave the bothy and catch the boat back to the mainland for the journey home, I have that mixed feeling of being ready to return and wanting to stay for just a bit longer, but I feel like I got what I needed from my time on Eigg and am already planning to return before I even leave.