ANDREW KERR: The Modern Institute Residency, 2014

 Last nights tea not quite as contentious[column col=”4/5″]Everyday on Eigg I went for a walk. In the mornings I was at the desk drawing or writing.
On the train up I sat opposite Swinburne and his companion. In Mallaig the sun was shining on the crowds catching ferries. I noticed cyclists leaving for Skye. The ferry crossing was smooth, affording sharp views of the Cuillin and Rum. Dark clouds hung above Eigg, strangely.
Eddie met me off the boat and, in the drizzle, we drove to Cleadale. A welcoming cup of tea at the house then Lucy introduced me to the bothy. An evening of unpacking and good-feeling.
The Sunday morning was ruled by indecision. The sun was heating up the back step as I paraded. The dark Cleadale cliffs were inticing. In the afternoon I made my way up through the tangle of bracken, heather and thorny scrub to the base of the cliffs in the hope of finding a gentle gully leading to the top. There were a few aborted climbs until making the ascent easily somewhere above Corrairigh. Once on the Beinn Bhuidhe plateau there was very little of Eigg I couldn’t see, like standing on a roof. I was encouraged and followed the cliff top north. You could see the tide was out, I ambled downwards at Leit an Aonaich toward Camas Sgiotag, from there I clambered over to Bay of Laig. Perhaps it isn’t surprising I knew nothing of the geological riches to be found on Eigg but it doesn’t take long to encounter a startling rock and there was one after another on this stretch of coast: the bedrock has been sliced and carved effortlessly, large pools of lurid seaweed are peppered with prune-like boulders, heavy sandstone bulbs pretend to be sponge cake and so on. Return to the bothy elated, realising what the island contains. Finished off Elmore Leonard by red light.
Monday morning and I dither over whether or not to light the stove, decide against it. At the desk with sketchbook extending lines, plus a visit to the conspicuous sentry box out back. It’s around two p.m. and the sun is blazing. I present ‘Italia’ cap. Down the track to Bay of Laig. I’d almost say it was busy: people trapsing over from the singing sands, people and cows on the beach. I take a photo, so does everyone else. Baking heat, I target south west in order to scale the slopes beneath Sliabh Beinn Tighe. The bracken and heather don’t help but there are sheep tracks criss-crossing the hillside. Ever since spotting the grand cliffs at the far end of the bay I had, for some reason, felt it necessary to go to them. To this end, after gaining some height, I traverse west and approach the clifftop. It is difficult to gauge the drop, the swell in the Sound of Rum offers no indication but affects my balance. I feel unsteady and am content to remain at a short distance from the step-off. I turn and glimpse Beinn Tighe, a great stump of a summit. The ascent is improvised; bounding over the carpet of thick heather, occasionally ducking through furrows filled with crouching trees. The wind arrives. The thrilling view is of expansive open water, Oigh-Sgeir is a dribble of Morse code out in the Minch. Beinn Tighe’s balding crown is cobbled. There is no one about. Small birds, that I have no facility to identify, share the walk. As there is plenty of daylight I continue to An Sgurr. I keep high round Loch Beinn Tighe. A refreshing rain comes on. It’s peaceful while wending my way passed the lochans and knolls between the two peaks. When I make it to An Sgurr ridge I’m frustrated not to see Canna but Grulin Uachdrach opens under me like a drawer. The rain and wind keep me from settling on The Nose. Quickly, I take in as much as I can: Tiree, Coll, Muck, Mull, Ardnamurchan, Arisaig, Mallaig, Knoydart, Skye, Rum and the mirage that is Barra. Sheltering by the bulging damp hull of An Sgurr I plot my return directly across the moorland. I hold a steady pace wading through the heather. A pale bird is patrolling up ahead. As I approach, it doesn’t alter its circuits. I swear it’s an owl and either chaperoning me away or anticipating I’ll scatter voles and mice from the undergrowth. I hit the back of the forestry plantation, there’s a track running along the perimeter. I choose this over whatever’s under the bracken canopy. The track soon becomes overgrown and I let gravity suggest a way through. I am brought to the cliffs above Laig. I’m weary and think there is no better place to end a long walk than a beach. It’s a shock to see a couple fellow walkers pass by, they provide a lead down to the farm. I disturb geese in the final field. The tide is low. Sand hoppers wrestle over shreds of seaweed.
Tuesday is a day spent in the new home with books open on the desk. I draw small sketches using pencils and pens. Abstract compositions precede fictional bodies. There is a notebook to write thoughts and phrases that enter my mind while making pictures. To alleviate the internal focus, every few hours I do observational drawing. I start to draw clouds. In the late afternoon I take the road to Galmisdale where I shop. The dried fruit torments the digestive order. I watch the window all evening, bracken shivers in the breeze.
Wednesday and there is a plan: Talm then the entire east coast. In the mid-morning I take the road to Howlin then cross the fields to the saddle at Guala Mhor. Once over this divide I immediately sense a change. There are no signs of people here. The path is faint and dwindles. The first obstacle is a vast, ancient rock fall; the remains of an unthinkable collapse. Scale is confusing. Sgorr Sgaileach lies beyond the crumpled cliff. When I reach it, brawling gulls and terns are unafraid to challenge me; they swoop aiming for my head. Seals on their backs lounge on the warm rocks surrounding Eilean Thuilm, they are dismissive of my attempts to whistle a tune. Cloud rests on the Beinn Bhuidhe plateau like crust on a pie but it’s the only cloud in the area. A jumble of chunky rocks constitute the coast line and I scramble along in the glare. Although I’d intended to stick by the sea I can’t keep my eyes off the giant basalt wall to my right: precarious ramparts, wayward seams and threatening ruts. The map shows only one ruin in the shadow of the eastern cliffs, Struidh, and I am curious. There I find an impressive amount of much-dated brick work. I take a photo. Instead of dropping to sea level I join the sheep track. They have made a fine highway and it’s still in use; it is only correct that I detour round, at regular intervals, travelling groups of sheep. Over the next few miles the mighty cliff diminishes and becomes less fierce; it’s structure is revealed: tightly packed narrow columns bent wavy by diabolical forces. At one last bay the cliff is nothing at all. I rest a while in this bay and struggle to write one postcard. I wander across the pasture beneath Kildonan then up to the church, I don’t linger as I have the unnecessary idea to catch the shop. I more or less sprint along Druim an Aoinidh and the soft grass before the main road. The shop is receiving the evening sun and folk, seated at outside tables, are feeling its warmth. I buy a bottle of beer and pack of biscuits. I’m reluctant to stay, join the company and after a dispiriting visit to massacre cave, mainly due to my lack of courage, it’s quits and time for Cleadale. At the bothy, enchanted, I witness the clouds and setting sun play out an unpredicatble handling of Rum.
Thursday, the last full day. I had chosen not to walk, to take the day indoors. Devote the time to sketchbooks and draw without interruption. There were periods of drawing from the head and periods of drawing from life. I listened out for words and attempted to note them down too. At night, as I lay facing the rafters it felt very good to have been on Eigg.

SYLVIA LAW: RSA Residencies for Scotland, 2014

A week on the Isle of Shuibhne...My time on Eigg was absolutely incredible. From the minute I set foot off the boat, the Island welcomed a vast landscape of beauty that for a week would become my home. Sweeney (Shuibhne) was said to have been an ancient king who lived in the wilderness alone, naked amongst the birds, insects and nature. It was believed that he had dwelled in a cave on the Isle of Eigg as a hermit, in peace and solitude. I can see why they call it Sweeney’s Bothy…


I arrived to Eigg on Saturday 24th May. It was a beautiful sunny day. The Bothy stood on the hill, hidden, until the very last moment. I took all my wordly possessions to that place; a filled rucksack, food for the week and of course, my companion walking stick.

Nestled on the Island, the Bothy is located in almost complete isolation. Around it forms a mass body of water that creates a constant mirror.  Most of my time up there was spent reflecting on the world around me, echoing our relationship to nature and the land. Immersed in it all, like the great king himself, I existed mostly in solitude (apart from some spontaneous dancing on tables). It was just me and the landscape.

I spent the week visiting and exploring different sites on the island, some which I had previously planned to visit and others which found me. Before going up, I had done some initial research of all the places that I wished to explore. Through reading the book Soil and Soul, I discovered the Well of the Holy Women in Grulin. There were also the famous Caves, both Massacre Cave and Cathedral Cave. And also the tales of the Big Women from Loch nam Bam. Eigg revealed a curious history connecting water to female energy. Yet this is an association that has been voiced throughout many cultural and historic traditions. The element of water is anciently linked to female energy as the bearer of creation. It symbolises both the qualities of emotional depth and intuition.

I lived most of the week in silence, listening deeply to all the different sounds and sites spread around the island. Eigg has a very diverse collection of natural soundscapes; wherever you go the birds and bees travel freely, interweaving their songs as they travel through the air. I felt during my time they became part of my song, and I too became a part of theirs.


One of the best things about the island was that you could walk anywhere. Everywhere was accessible by foot, so it was mostly a case of walking outside and seeing where your feet would take you. I find that this is the best way to venture new places. There was something so beautiful about the life on Eigg, the way everything was so vividly interconnected, each life was part of another. The houses, which had mostly been built by the locals, used the natural contours of the landscape in which to shape and place their homes. Even the sheep lived and grazed freely, taking shelter beside the old sites and chapels. We all occupied and shared the same space.This made the energy of the island feel very harmonious. Each was left on their own, to live within their own nature. This I found was very liberating as everyone had their own space. It was an unspoken understanding between the people and the land. It evoked a great silence and sense of peace, a great space to listen.

Music transports us to a place,

to a place in time,

to a distant memory,

to the space in between

reality and dreams.


One of the things that I discovered on Eigg was how much a space can open up to you. I felt so welcomed by it’s presence. The Finger of God, or  ‘The Big Man’ as I called him, watched over me during my stay. It became a symbol within the landscape that marked home. I had first of all seen him as a figure in the rocks, but when asking Eddie later he told me about the tale. The people’s storytelling about each mark in the landscape was wonderful. I really enjoyed listening to all of their insights into how nature had shaped herself within the island. I personally find it fascinating how we create marks in the land, almost subconsciously to find our placement within our environment. And also to connect with it. These too become internal markings, spaces that form a part of our everyday bearings. During my time up there, I too started to sculpt my own stories. I always looked out for him. He was one of them for me. The man in the mountains watching over us.


I spent the entire week exploring, following the coloured trails to different sites. On the very first day I ventured out around the Bothy, and found myself sounding to all the rocks. I feel that sounding is in many ways like exchanging energy. Like the birds call to mark their presence, so did we. Animals call for a reason, they sing to show that they are alive. And to share their existence with the land. For it too also has many stories to tell. All Scottish folklore is linked to the story of our lands. When I sound a place I feel as though I am opening a world of resonance; all the voices that were once spoken there, the energy of the spirits that once occupied that space, that very time comes back to life again. For rocks are some of the oldest beings that live on this planet. Singing to them allows one to discover stored messages hidden inside them.


Sound to me is a process of locating oneself within ones environment. It is a type of tuning one could say, to connect the internal and external presences of the world into one. That is the magic of sound; it is so invisible and yet so clear. When it speaks to you, it resonates within you. You become a part of it, and it becomes a part of you. For knowing our placement within this world is vital; it is at the base from which we exist. As a medium that flows whilst it is being formed, sound allows us to connect with the realms of both the invisible and visible at the same time, for enters places we see and places we cannot see.

I was meant to come here.

Places call us into being.

Silence reveals all…

Nature is our spirit.



These words came to me whilst roaming the hills one afternoon.

Whilst up there, I was reading the book Soil & Soul, which speaks of the interconnected relationship between people and the land and forms a discourse around human ecology. It was a very inspiring read, especially within that placement as it spoke of so many energies that were rooted on Eigg. Author Alastair McIntosh helped in the bid to make the island self-substainable and owned by it’s own people. This was accomplished in 1997, making it one of the only places in the world that is recognised as being in community ownership. In the book, McIntosh also speaks about his experience growing up in the rural Hebrides of Scotland and about the ancient rituals of our ancestors that rooted us to the land. In the book he refers to the bards, the people’s poet who then played a very important part within the community. The bard would compose by entering a world beyond this one. They sought to enter the realm of the subconscious, the unseen and then share their visions with the people. This was done by doing rituals in which they lay on their backs in a darkened spaces, with a woven cloth wrapped over their heads, eyes covered, and with a stone on their bellies. Whilst I was at the Bothy, I felt drawn to try out these rituals and to also enter that state of being. To enter a temporal world, in between the seen and the invisible. To enter as McIntosh would call it the realm of ‘poesis’.


Whilst there, I too tried to embody this existence. I felt that the Bothy in many ways, presented itself as a womb. A dark space in the middle of nowhere. It was wooden, bare and open. So warm. It formed a hollow in the world, a space of total silence. The stillness of the night there was magical. Everything slept. In some ways embracing the life of a hermit was strange and yet so blissful. At points I became so detached to the external world that that I forgot about all other wordly beings. There were moments I was so immersed in the moment of what I was experiencing, that when I heard the trails of other people, voices externally from my own, it was almost like being drawn out from a dream.


The second day I ventured out to Grulin in search of the Well of the Holy Women. It was a landmark that most of the locals were not too sure about it’s exact whereabouts, but I eventually found a lovely lady who pointed me in the right direction. It was to be found passed two boulders and down a trail that led towards the sea. “Look for the watercress”, she said. “You’ll find it there.”

The pathway took me up towards the Sgurr, the great volcanic summit. I then walked past some wind turbines, a lot of sheep, and an abandoned village with some old stone ruins. It was a spectacular day, the sun was shining and the sea accompanied me on my way, bearing a wall of light onto the outer world to my left. Indeed, I found the two boulders standing next to each other as if in conversation with one another. They hunched over, both like two old men watching over the edge of the island. I walked down, now the land getting boggier and boggier to follow the trail down to the Well. There I found, secretly concealed within the heart of the earth, a beautiful spring of water formed by rocks. It was a truly magical place. It was completely silent there. There was no one who lived on that part of the island, only fairies could have existed there. I sat down, and contemplated in silence, but inside a song wished to be birthed. I felt it soar from me. The landscape called me to sing. Whatever came out of me in that moment, came from that place.


The notes I sang sprang from a place I had never sounded before. They were high and strong, and almost trembling. When I sang to the Well, I noticed a sheep and her lamp came up close to watch me. They seemed bewildered by this sudden projection of sound, and yet they watched so intently, as if it called to them too. I found that during my time on the island, I had quite a lot of strange and wonderful encounters with animals. There was the buzzing of the bees, that sometimes came so close to me that they felt like they were a part of my body. One day a bird flew into and got stuck inside the Bothy. I had to help it find it’s way back into the wilderness. And on my last day, whilst wandering down the long road to the Pier, I stood for what seemed like a good long moment facing a lamb, we both stared into one another’s eyes standing in the middle of the road. In this land, animals really responded to your presence.

During the evening’s, after my adventures I would return home, put the fire on and stare into the horizon looking outwards over the body of water to the enchanting presence of Rum. Rum appears as this incredible surface in the distance, it is jagged and pointed and stands so magnetically. It at first looks smaller than Eigg, but it is in fact twice the size. You are only seeing the very top of something, of what exists as a much much bigger body.  It was quite incredible to face this other territory, which appeared to be so untouched. It stood so beautifully, with its points, and curves. So strong. So still. I think my favourite past time was watching the sunset over that tremendous ocean. The light of the sun would reflect and illuminate the body of water, creating tremendous spectacles. The light surfaced on the water like a moving oracle. It was as if witnessing pure magic.


Another activity I really enjoyed was walking. Walking has such a solitary and yet an accompanied feeling. I took my walking stick everywhere I went and it became a great friend to me during my time there. We spent a lot of time together. He marked the paths as I walked them. Walking in the presence of nature was such a cleansing experience. The landscape allowed you to breath. I walked everywhere, and everywhere I went, I found a new sound, a new place, a new sense of self.

On my final day, I ventured to the Singing Sands to listen to Eigg’s sounding beaches. It was highly recommended by the locals, and being very close to the Bothy up on the northern side of the island, I followed the coast to reach it. The white quartz which is spread across the beach is what makes this space sound. It is called singing, but it is really more like squeaking. Walking on the sand creates these great tones, which are unique to Eigg. I went down with my sound recorder and captured the sounds. Whilst there I was found by Paloma, a young spanish lady staying on the island who asked me if I could record her dancing on the sand. I really love the spontaneity of events on the island, everything happened so naturally. She danced around me, using her feet to sound the space. The squeaks of her feet hitting the sand created a beautiful sequence of rhythms. She told me, you must experience it with your bare feet, so you can ‘feel the music’. She was right, to truly listen we must feel and embody the vibration of the sounds we are are creating through our bodies. I took my shoes off, and the minute my feet touched the sand something magic happened. I felt like a child again, dancing in nature.


Sounding myself to the landscape created a wonderful connection between my body and the place that it stood in. It was the landscape of the island that inspired every song I sculpted. Each space vocalised something different in me. By the end of the week, I lost my voice. I had sang so much. And this was a wonderful feeling.

Here now, I share some of these moments with you. As a record of the exchanges and dialogues I made with the land during my time on the Island…