ROB SHERMAN: Residency, 2016

I came to the Bothy on a palanquin of Quorn, wine and Pepto-Bismol, and without a single retainer, to hunt. I had been told that there were many new species as yet unknown to science endemic in the Cairngorms; that they were invitingly slow, and easy for amateurs to track. I had come to pick off individuals for my collection, truss them for display, and to spirit them back down into England.

My baggage train arrived on the Inshriach Estate in late sunshine, the first of a weekful, and I bashfully loaded it into one of the Estate’s roosting brood of Land Rovers. The chickens rumbled between my feet in a quivering chassis. The Bothy is some distance from the Farm itself, along a small rutted valley beside the River Spey, and I was whiplashed up there in the Rover by Sam and Izzy, a beamish young couple from Glasgow who had recently moved here to help on the Estate. Izzy, an artist herself, sat in the back seat cheerfully asking me about my work, shushing and restraining a clanking lei of clean pots and pans. I watched the treeline for early quarry.

When we arrived at the Bothy’s birch-stuffed hollow, Bobby from the Project was hammering long, flouncy spars of steel onto its corner-posts. There had been a fashion shoot the week before, and I was to reap the benefits of swept floors, fresh cladding and a confident fire already burning deep into the stove. Bobby showed me inside, marked the corners in which I might start baiting for specimens, warned me to get the cranky, crankless radio working under any and all circumstances, and left me to it. The car shuddered off down the slope into the valley (taking Bobby, his lengths of pine and his whining tools with him), and the moreish sound of the river percolated up into the dense sieve of bracken. It stayed there.


Inshriach Bothy


I was there, of course, to work on a project; a mixed-media installation which would tell the story of a woman called Anne Latch. Anne was a mill worker and a ‘goodcouzin’ from the village of Nighthead in Nottinghamshire who, in the summer of 1760,  found an enormous and paranatural creature living in a large crack in the skirting board of her kitchen. At first she thought it was a fairy, a superstition that relatively few of her generation maintained, and latterly some affectionate, vibrant sort of Devil. Eventually she discovered that by supplicating it with certain foods, under certain phases of the moon and certain weathers and at certain times of the day, she could induce the beast to do some small things of her bidding. She named the creature Long Yocto, and took up the role of a cunning-woman; a conjurer, fortune-teller, astrologer and community magician, using her peeping familiar as a strange sort of appliance; operating it for predictions of weathers, deaths, diseases and betrayals.

Over the course of one short year she kept a bundled collection of parchment, detailing recipes, spells, manuals and accounts, documenting the uses and uselessnesses of the “half-long spyrit”. When it is finished the installation will reproduce these documents, as well as Long Yocto himself in the form of a computer simulation. Through microphones and touchscreens, sat cross-legged in the corner of a dark room masquerading as Anne’s little cottage, you will be able to care for the beast yourself; performing her rituals, divining their story and, perhaps most importantly, auguring its character.

Creating character, the simulation of beings, is very important to all my work. I think that I would be right in saying that it is important to many of the artists who have come to Inshriach Bothy. We get very anxious and bilious over the creation of ‘quality’ characters, and the definition of ‘quality’ differs from medium to medium; I work increasingly with computers, and creating characters in this way has challenges which are not shared by other, older methods. How do we judge the ‘quality’ of a character, especially when that character is not a static, unimpeachable artefact on a page or reel, but instead part of an unpredictable computer system? How can my “spyrit” be realistic, relatable, honest, vivid, thematic and humane (and whatever else we might mean by ‘quality’) when it must also contain all possible versions of itself, to be partially revealed through the whims, prods and explorations of its audience?

A skillet-grey Faraday hut in the woods, with no Internet connection and only a single, benighted solar panel to feed a table light (on a good day) seems like an odd workshop in which to address this challenge, but it was not an idle choice. My laptop and its ever-hot charger was never going to be a part of my baggage, which became more or less cake and booze all the way down. I was interested in tackling this issue without the aid (or hobbling) of a computer, and coming to the woods to approach character, to stalk it, in a different way. Here, I was approaching it sidelong, hunting for it in the dells, fens and views; hunting the wildlives of my own head. My pith was firmly on the inside.

This hunt was designed to provide evidence of my ideas; that landscapes and environments are often as characterful as those that inhabit them. As deeply complex systems of exchange and interchange, growth and decay, seasonal variation and geological integrity, natural and human places and spaces have long been individualised, venerated and personified by the people who lived in them, witnessed them or read about them. They have been positioned, in our culture, as enemies to be overcome, malicious agents, constant companions, even gods and spirits in their own right. Japan’s Mount Fuji, in the native language, is called “fuji-san”; the same honorific that is applied to other human beings. Unusually large or old trees are called ‘veterans’ in England, and are treated with as much (if not more) respect than the human elderly. The imagineering of these locales crosses cultural categories between the sciences and the arts, and it is in this metaphor, of ‘environment as character’ and ‘character as environment’, that I think I might find some help with the challenge of Long Yocto. Rather than using the heroes and villains of literature, film and the visual arts as exemplars of ‘quality’ characterisation, computer characters might instead benefit from looking to the hills, streams and woods, in which complex systems, augmented by the human imagination, grow into a form of personhood.

So, this was a tentative assaying; a smoking-out of these characters in a space far removed from the human or the metropolitan. I was here as much for the raw materials of the landscape as for the effect on my own imagination, stretched to vulnerability by a bit of isolation. With patience, some walking, some thinking and some attention, I thought that I might find a starting point for building my own landscapes; my own agent, companion and spirit.


popular magic picture


Unfortunately, it didn’t have any of the slow, teasing plot that we have all come to associate with hunt narratives; as soon as the Rover had gone, my mental wildlife became blatant, as it always does when human beings are left on their own. I was more or less fully alone for the entire week; three days went past when I did not see any other human being, not even at a distance or in the mirror, and I was surprised that I was not more lonely. Very quickly the Bothy took on the qualities that I had imagined in Anne’s cottage; dark at night, gloomy in the day, quiet enough that I could hear the hobs and goblins in the creaks, pocked with pockets of deep cold and intense heat, spread throughout it almost phrenologically.

I washed every morning and every night in the plastic fruit bowl, hulking naked and lemon-fresh in the darkness. I looked up at the stars, and the zodiac was so obvious that I ignored it almost at once. The distant stags called day and night, steaming in heat. I found flaccid antlers, discarded and cream, lying in wrinkled fallows. At night they chuckled like Beelzebub, mooed like brontosaurs, spoke for hours. Some animal returned night after night to scrape its claws along the corrugated walls, puzzling with the zipper on my Kool-Bag. Shivering beneath four blankets I started to concoct a very detailed cosmology, relating to the cardinal direction of each window, ghosts in the woods and the alignment of the hills. I imagined a different figure appearing from the north, east, south and west, one each night, to warn me of something, and wondered what would happen on the fifth and final night.

I suppose it was no wonder that I got so superstitious, considering my reading material for the week. I read about the dead explorers scattered over Everest, serving as landmarks for later attempts. I read about Robert Macfarlane’s “mountains of the mind” (I apologise for not leaving my copy behind) and flicked through a photobook of the Cairngorms like a naturalist’s dirty calendar. I read about women like Anne, and about spirits like Yocto; about the Devil and cunning-folk and witch-bottles full of piss and nails, and dried cats wattled up in walls. Bobby had told me that the walls of the Bothy are packed with sheep’s wool, and I wondered what such benign standing spirits would protect me from. Every night I read until just before the electricity ran out, before climbing up amongst the bottles of dried Tesco herbs to the sleeping platform, dropped just below the eaves, and peered out. It was a hide looking across the marsh of my own mind.

I did not talk to myself as much as I thought I would and so every single sound I heard became an utterance. I made grass dollies and hung them on the door knobs. I ate bars of chocolate like breath mints, and put so much whiskey in my tea that it started to taste like vanilla ice cream.

I spent most of my time with the stove; resurrecting it each morning while stamping my strawberry-and-cream feet, tending it lovingly through the day, opening the hot, vented door to check on it like a rising loaf, or a clutch of chicks, or a reliquary. I read the tongues of flame licking through the vent as lips. I was so worried about having to endure a night without hot food or warmth that I fell into a fanatical series of unerring rites; the same amount of the same type of wood every single time, lit in the same places, with the same Eucharist of firelighters. When I ran out of newspaper on the penultimate day I cried for about ten minutes, but that may have been the loneliness.

I was there to divine the characters of natural landscapes, but it was that stove, and the fire that it implied, which had probably the strongest personality of anything that I encountered that week. It was right there, a tool begging to be activated, to which my relationship was rather elemental. It spoke, as all fires do, with its mouth full. Over the week I discovered its hotspots, its favourite woods, managed its tantrums and its ashen depressions. It required tenderness, and attention, and nursing, and sometimes just to be left alone. It behaved according to rules that I only dimly understood, but as time went on a consistency, a familiarity, emerged; a sort of friendship, or at least a mutual reliance, if it does not sound too bizarre. I came to love the sound of its idly pinging chimney as it cooled late at night.




I spent a lot of time like this, coming to know the character of the Bothy, and its various denizens, in the way that I had known other buildings and other appliances. It was a domestic setting that I could not ignore, and between us was precisely the sort of relationship that Anne and Yocto must have had; user and tool, owner and pet, dreamer and dream. However, I knew that I needed to occasionally slither out down the B970, stretching my half-useless legs, to see something of the landscapes that I had come so far to characterise. One day I walked fifteen miles to the edge of Glen Feshie, one of the most fondly-imagined landscapes in the world, looked in at the weather and walked home again. Another day I bypassed the deep, agate pools under Feshiebridge and returned to the Estate, where I managed about three minutes in the River Spey, acupunctured out of my wits, obliterated by the reality of it.

Another day I set out towards Loch an Eilean, before coming across a herd of deer and their orbiting stag. I was getting selfish then, after all the isolation, and I thought that it was a bit crude to actually see them up close like this; I had preferred them at a distance. But then the stag began to bellow, and stood up to reveal that he was about eighteen hands high. I scrambled up a sheer wall of rock. At the top of the hill I found a Victorian cairn, muddling obese through the trees and with a view of the Loch that was ridiculously encompassing. I had already decided on the characters of all the lochs near the Bothy from their shape and situation on the OS map; an Eilean was long and bayed, an elegant sort of place, and it looked just the same from up high. I went down to it through leg-twisting deerprints and allts hidden in the brush, and spent the rest of the day picking my way around its shores. I began to think about the arbitrary and mobile way in which the animist mindset subdivides a landscape into its constituent individuals; from the crag above the loch, the loch itself was an individual, composed of many elements in harmony. Down at the shoreline, I found an isolated castle, a perverse and marooned personality of its own. Beetles crawled painfully through the mattress of needles, iridescent and bumbling. When I stopped for a rest, I found a cracked stone which slotted into itself like a couple, like a stone knight and his wife in effigy. A shaft of sunlight illuminated a single conifer in millions, offering it up for specialty. Figures laboured on the opposite bank. The hills, as always, loomed above, starkly defined, offering up differing, vulnerable slopes of themselves as a reward for my effort.

My last trek was up the Meall Buidhe, a big yellow hill hiding between two nearer peaks, as if it was tinkering with something that it didn’t want me to see. I had glimpsed it many times in the week, and become familiar with the way the light moved across it, the starkness of the treeline, the temper of its bracken. At a human scale it was constant, immobile, but a spot of geology told you that it was really as flighty, in the long run, as any mayfly. I spent four hours climbing up into it, hauling myself close amongst its systems. I followed a gully filled with waterfalls and looming boulders forever; realised that it was this which gave the northeastern side of the hill its characteristic cleft. It was interesting how differently I felt about the hill when I was up in it, a feeling that Macfarlane articulated precisely; “when we look at a landscape, we do not see what is there, but largely what we think is there.” My own, unavoidable systems, my running nose and screaming legs and wet back, were eclipsing the mountain’s persona; its reality was quite different from what I simulated down in the Bothy. Three-quarters of the way to the top, the weather and my ankles turning, I gave up the summit as a mug’s game, thinking of the expensive logistic involved in airlifting my plaid carcass back down to sea level. On the endless, spooky logging roads back to the Bothy, in those first places from which the light disappeared, I became profoundly and spiritually uneasy. I felt evil, rank, wrong, oppressed, the trees waiting for me to trip. It was as close as I came in the week to Anne’s mindset; a rational mind beset by daily exhaustion, by a small degree of ignorance, and a world around it that seemed pregnant with encounters.




Back at the Bothy, I began the odd process of digital design without a computer. I had brought a thick roll of wallpaper lining with me, and set up the Bothy’s pull-down desk so that I could work on the scroll gradually, letting completed work drizzle to the floor on my left while unrolling fresh sections on my right. I went on like this for the entire week, smoothly, unabashedly, filling the paper with whatever I fancied. It reminded me of a film reel, or a sefer in a synagogue, or the continuous ticker tape of a Turing machine.

I became intimate with how the sun moved across the Bothy, like neighbours putting out their daily bins, and I designed a system to have an artificial sun move across Long Yocto’s face, and how he would bask in it. I designed a weather system as the wind got insistent outside. I designed Long Yocto’s eyes, how they would cry and fill with sleepydust, using the Meall Buidhe’s gullies as a template. I designed the tiny parasites that would move with their own purpose and story over his skin, copying the apparent algorithms by which the sheep in the Farm’s field clustered and flocked away from me. I wrote snatches of Anne’s speech and mores and appearance, byting her into being; I drew the magical symbols that would let her summon Yocto, and have him cure her neighbour’s cankers.

The week ended very quickly. On Saturday morning I descended the ladder as I felt I had always; I lit no fire, as I would not be there to be thick with it, like thieves.  I walked the six miles, in the first real rain of the week, to Aviemore and the station. I had eaten all the Quorn, and drunk all the wine, and the light in Tescos made me squint. I was surrounded by computation once more. I smelt of chicken crisps and people avoided me. Things got both more and less complicated.

As the train hiccoughed out of the Highlands, and the phones in all the hands around me chirruped and the packaging roared and nobody at all spoke, I couldn’t tear my eye away from the window, where crowds of characters, many of which I would never come to know, saw us off with entire indifference. Grotesque mountains, elephantine with schist; suspicious forests, bristling with alert; lordly, pompous hills, wrapped in mists of state; all in diminishing heights, depths and glooms. Most people on the train around me did not look out of the window, and I imagine that it’s similar to how everybody ignores each other in big cities. If you acknowledge the tide of personality around you, you would be overwhelmed.

Soon we had reached Fife and the coast, where the sunshine hadn’t been in weeks, and the land was more like that of southeast England, where I grew up; wealdy. It is harder to characterise such landscapes, especially when you are barging through them at speed, but it is not impossible.

Past Edinburgh with its noise, and then onto Crewe with its noise, and even further south into the noise, I clutched at the specimens I had collected over the week, the castle and the stove and the stags and the parties of hills. They did not need to be dried under a lamp, or frozen into position, or fixed with a pin. They will not be labelled and placed into those darkwood cabinets which I have no room for, and into which they would never fit anyway. I never stalked to kill; only to increase the biodiversity of my mind’s reserve. They roam, they subdivide, they whelp. I purled together my understanding of how a place like the Cairngorms works, how it fits together, how its components seem to function to an observer, both up close through gasp and sandwich-breath and in repose later beside a fire, as the thing looms above and around and under you.

It remains only to thank Walter, Molly, Sam and the Inshriach Estate at large, as well as all those at the Bothy Project, for orchestrating such a glorious, and very quiet, safari.



FERGUS WALKER: Inches Carr Residency, 2016 (Made Draft, March, 2020)

The Bothy Hack toolkit

Ferry Time!

Rum sun set

Bothy home comforts

Following the grain

Sweeney's Kettle

Bramble prototype 1

Carl's bendy gate

Offcuts from Carls Bendy house

The mighty sycamore

The hazelnuts of knowledge

Eddie's Workshop

The bramble picker in use

Crofting museum tools

I suspected that spending a week in Sweeney’s Bothy on Eigg was going to give me fresh insight into my practice as a designer, and after returning I knew that my suspicions had been well founded – but like all creativity those inklings are not easy to translate into words. By the end of this blog I hope to explain something of my thoughts regarding the matter, as well as relating my escapades on that remarkable island.

I spent the week there from the 10th to 17th September, on an Inches and Carr funded residency for the new Bothy Stores project, with the mission of designing a product for bothy living. I was also accompanied by my partner Jess, who, being an artist, had undisclosed reasons of her own for being there. Apart from those parameters there would be the refreshing absence of the humdrum world crammed full of telecommunications, schedules, bustle, or endless opportunities to be a good consumer.

Much of creativity has a wild untameable element which can fill you with trepidation, and the weather leading up to the crossing to Eigg seemed to affirm that feeling. The ferries had been cancelled all day before we were due to travel, were due to be cancelled the day after that, and in the event only just ran as far as Eigg and Muck, with the sea being too rough to reach Rum and Canna. With a replacement boat service run by Staffa tours (due to the main boat being in dry dock), the crossing was exciting to say the least, a rollercoaster ride of steep short waves, crashing spray and looming scudding rain showers in a packed little boat of 50 people. The crew were completely unfazed and as a result the passengers were bedraggled but grinning. The Sgurr of Eigg hove into view and we had arrived.

The pier-head was crowded with the great and good of Eigg: ferry-time is the social highlight of the day in Eigg, and it’s the time and place to get the craic, nab the best shop produce that’s just come in, or make plans. We were met by Eddie Scott with his distinctive green landrover and laconic style, and given a lift to Sweeney’s Bothy on his croft. Lucy was away in Canada that whole week so sadly we did not get to meet her.

The first two days were full of gales and rain and it was the perfect time to hunker down in the bothy and drink in the surroundings. White capped waves and Rum putting on and off its coat of cloud as the showers barrelled in.

The chattering mind does not want to let go of purpose. What am I doing here? What is my goal, my schedule? Surely I need to treck up to the school and answer all those emails that must have come in! But the bothy has everything you might need in exactly the right place and there is no reason to go out in the rain.

Who was Sweeney, and how did he end up in Eigg? I am captured by the story of Sweeney, it resonates with the place and with the state of the bothy traveller. We listen to a recording of Irish singer Liam O’Flynn through the ingenious ceramic horn amplifier, and wonder about a song in which the narrator curses Sweeney at his fireside, content with his lot of trying to plough the barren rocks of Bawn. “Don’t hire with any master till you know what your work will be”. What if, as a designer, you don’t have any master and you don’t know what your work will be until it is made?

On the third day the weather cleared and we went on a cycle trip to the shop – unluckily Jess came off her bike and bashed her leg, leaving her house-bound for the rest of the week and unable to explore the island like we had hoped. Things are never what you expect – and an entertaining lift with Eddie to the doctors for a check-up, enforced contemplation and an ambitious hobbling trip we undertook most of the way up the Sgurr at the end of the week had their own merits and challenges! Meanwhile I was left to pursue the plan of designing and building a product for bothy living – or developing a toolkit or philosophy of the Bothy Hacker.

I see bothy culture as an expression of innate human resourcefulness. We are a tool-using species, and the desire to make a home wherever we land up sparks our creativity and natural cleverness. There is a joy in possessing only basic tools yet being able to make all that you need in the moment: carving a wooden spoon at the fireside with only with a knife is more fulfilling than bringing a titanium spoon bought on Amazon. So before I left I packed a bag with a basic woodworking and metalworking toolkit and lugged it with me, along with bike, clothing and supplies.

Designing a product for bothy living is not a straightforward design challenge; the bothy dweller has come to the bothy in order to escape the world of overwhelming consumer convenience – to ‘reconnect to nature’ and live the simple life. Apart from anything, Sweeney’s bothy has been so well designed that there is nothing more to add or take away (apart from perhaps a shower screen to stop the wind blowing the hot water sideways!). A magazine article in Sweeney’s library suggested the following life philosophy: “Perhaps the wisest thing we could do is to make peace with purposelessness”. But that very Zen approach seems to go against the restless curiosity of the creative bothy dweller.

That was what led me to propose a Bothy Hack approach. ‘Hacker culture’ stems from the pioneering days of computer science in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, when a ‘hack’ was defined as a “project undertaken or product built not solely to fulfil some constructive goal, but with some wild pleasure taken in mere involvement” (Steven Levy, Hackers, p.23). A programming ‘hacker’ will carry on experimenting with new code right through the night, purely because the work is so fascinating, joyous and fulfilling. It is also a very sociable activity. The best design work stems from the same approach.

I entered into the spirit of the unknown, exploring the singing sands with their collection of welly boots and other flotsam, and experimented with carving a storm-blown branch, following the grain with my shiny new axe. But it wasn’t until I went to the shop on the fifth day and chatted to Sue the shop manager that the creative process reached a turning point. Sue was a catalyst, someone who provided me with a list of all the makers on the island, a picture of the history and economics of the island – all of a sudden the ideas started to flow. A bothy dweller can have the illusion of being in self-sufficient isolation until the nature of living in the place is reflected back with its complex network of social and material support.

“What are you interested in? Woodwork? Have you met Catherine and Pascal the basket weavers? You should go to speak to Carl the knifemaker who builds his own houses. Do you know we need a better supply of good quality firewood here – and in the old days there used to be hazel coppice up the back of Cleadale? It would be a great project to rekindle that practice.”

“We have an abundance of wild garlic in spring and obviously brambles right now – so something that would help in processing those would be useful”

You never really know where an idea comes from, but streaming off that one encounter at Eigg’s social hub they started to emerge, bubbling up in my head. Amongst them was something I could build with my hitherto underused toolkit, lugged all the way from Edinburgh – an idea for a new improved bramble picker.

I felt the effects of the first three dreamy days immersed in the shape-shifting world of Sweeney and Eire/Alba mythology. Storytelling—prototyping. The twisted stick I had idly carved after the storm suddenly had a new purpose, stem bent using boiling water from Sweeney’s stove; a colander borrowed from Sweeney’s kitchen shelf became the bramble picker’s basket. There I had it, a multipurpose tool to maximise the bramble harvest potential in the short picking season. You can wield it like a jousting stick, fending off the briars, save your arm muscles by extending the pole right into the bramble bush and avoid losing all the best berries by picking directly into the pot at the end of the stick. I was dead pleased!

There was a challenge beyond that one – that of taking the hacker philosophy beyond the confines of the bothy – as even the noblest of cabins cannot ignore the land on which it dwells. What is the intense curiosity that motivates the maker who lives on such an island?

I paid a visit to Carl the knifemaker and his partner Katrin, who welcome me in. Carl is a maker of many things, including a circular wooden house and now a new curved wooden house. He seemed like the man to speak to about how to make my design from Eigg materials – and he was. His new house was built partly using pine trees felled from the site, and he just happened to have some slim offcuts left over that would be the very material to make the bowl of my blackberry picker. He also pointed me towards the spruce forest where I could cut a thin spruce root to sew the bowl together.

I also needed a wand of hazel from the below the base of the cliff at Cleadale. I could have sneaked off and taken one, but I was a guest on the island – why would I want to feel like a thief. I asked Eddie if I could cut some hazel and would I be able to make use of his workshop?

“Would you f*ck!” said Eddie in his deadpan way, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. “Yes, of course you can, help yourself! And if you go up the top of the croft, the big sycamore up there is well worth a visit”

My expedition to collect the last vital material for this new design was epic: an hour struggling through shoulder height bracken up the steep hill to the top of Eddie’s croft, in thick mist and drizzle. It was worth it though, the otherworldly hazel grove and the mighty sycamore felt like the land of the faeries, and in cutting a few wands I felt the need to offer my grateful thanks, thinking of the nuts of knowledge from the nine hazel trees in the story of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Salmon of Wisdom.

Once I had all the materials assembled, it was a case of setting to in Eddie’s workshop, borrowing his kettle from time to time for the bending process. There is nothing like the joy of creating things from green wood.

On our the last day of the trip, Jess’ leg had healed enough that she was able to hobble up most of the path to the Sgurr, with the aid of a stick cut from a fallen larch branch. We made it up to the base of the Sgurr itself, and I went of ahead to the top while she waited. On the way back down I thought of an old Gàidhlig saying:

Breac a linne, slat a coille

Is fiadh a fìreach,

Meirle anns nach do ghabh

Gaidheal riamh nàire.


A fish from the river,

A stick from the wood,

And a deer from the mountain,

A theft no Gael was ever ashamed of.

Except, on a welcoming, community-owned island like Eigg, there is no need to thieve, only to ask.



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.



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.

Sweeney’s Bothy



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.



Heather on the Beinn Bhuidhe ridge path.


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.


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.










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.





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.









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