DAVID LEMM: Life Off the Grid Residency, 2014

I was invited to a residency at Sweeney’s bothy as part of Life Off the Grid project with Edinburgh University.  Inspired by the story of the infamous 1806 William Bold map, the project aimed to examine how maps are perceived and used on the island; exploring their significance and value as tools of way finding, instruments of organisaton, material artefacts and repositories of meaning.

Rum from the path to up to the bothy.


In particular, I was interested in exploring the idea that maps fundamentally describe how we navigate the world through graphic abstraction and also how markings in the land can influence graphic notation or vice versa.

The Bothy is even more perfect than the photos I had previously seen, the ideal spot for contemplation and work.  As soon as you light the fire, the place is beyond cosy and it’s amazing how quickly it feels like home.
The shower, at first a strange novelty, quickly became a source of vitality and the views to the Beinn Bhuidhe cliffs from the bed window beginning as ominous, dark shadows invading my dreams, soon became a comforting blanket, as the weather changed from dreich mist, rain and gales to crisp winter days.

Beinn Bhuidhe cliffs from the bothy.

Anthropologist Dr Alice Street from Edinburgh University and Co-Leader of Life Off the Grid joined me for the first few days, staying down the hill in a holiday rental, as we set up meetings and began our research.

Firstly we met Camille, a local historian who agreed to show us the maps in the local archive . We met at her house and she chatted us through the history of the island as we walked to the archive at the school. Camille guided us through various maps stored there, including sea charts, OS versions and maps made just prior to, during and after the buyout. It was fascinating to see how the island had been charted through the ages. Each map triggered Camille to recall stories and describe everyday life on Eigg at the time the map was made, uncovering a rich and layered history. The sections showing Cleadale were particularly interesting with the markings describing  old farming systems.  Those printed lines, the borders of the past farms/crofts, now visible as permanent physical scars in the landscape.

Camille shows us the maps in the archive
Camille shows us the maps in the archive.
Sea chart in the archive showing Eigg alongside Rum, Muck and Canna
Sea chart in the archive showing Eigg alongside Rum, Muck and Canna.

The following day I was fortunate enough to go out for a walk with the farmer Alec around his land in Grulin – past An Sgùrr and looking out to Muck and beyond. He gave me a great tour of the land, sharing his extensive knowledge and pointing out ancient settlements, land boundaries and other markings/tracks, invisible to the unknowing eye, as we chatted away.

An Sgùrr as we drove onto Alec's land.
An Sgùrr as we drove onto Alec’s land.

Alec dropped me off at John and Christine’s house, local map enthusiasts who had kindly agreed to chat with me. John was instrumental in the setting up of Eigg electric and the grid. They took me through their map collection, speaking at length about the makers and the social context in which they were made. John also showed me the map of Eigg electric, which was a real insight into how the island works –  the grid an artery keeping the island alive, allowing for modernity, and attracting/keeping the next generation on the island – thanks in no small part to the connectivity afforded by internet technology, “sky roads” as described by Christine.

As part of the residency program I arranged a lino-cutting workshop with the residents in the community hall. Participants were asked to create symbols representing life on Eigg, thinking specifically about how things work, what they do/what  they need/where they go on the island, patterns in the landscape and visible/invisible infrastructures. The end goal was to make a experimental map which explored the idea of what a map of the island might look like without directly representing its geography, which only contained symbols deemed significant and created by the residents.
I also held a map making workshop at the school, asking the pupils to map the island and how they get around, which they accomplished with impressive detail.

Lino workshop in progress at the community hall
Lino workshop in progress at the community hall.

As I entered the second week I began to consider my own work and what I might produce from my experience. Lucy had arranged for a a mini exhibition of the work produced in the workshops on the Friday, and I hoped to show some of my work then too.

I decided to create a series of lino cut prints, turning the bothy into a mini print studio. The idea was to create experimental maps which use narrative, memory  and experience as as a basis for creating a map. The “maps” created aim to represent particular narratives from conversations, journeys and observations made during the 2 weeks – referencing locations, routes and elements of visible/infrastructure. I produced a series of 6 test lino cuts onsite, which I then developed into a suite of screen prints on my return to Edinburgh.

You can see the final collection of prints alongside other new work at my exhibition at Edinburgh Printmakers from 17th Jan – 7 Mar 2015. Full details here

Work in progress in the bothy
Work in progress in the bothy.
Print test;s drying in the bothy
Print tests drying in the bothy.
Print test;s drying in the bothy
Print tests drying in the bothy.
Final "map" of the bothy. Digital and Screenprint, 280x380mm, 2015
Final “map” of the bothy.
Digital and Screenprint, 2015

I hung all the work created in the community hall on the last Friday night, coinciding with a dinner and quiz raising funds for the school. I was glad to celebrate my two weeks with the new friends I had made – firstly in the hall, then through the stars in the clearest of skies,  to the tea room and into the night.

Work from workshops hanging in community hall
Work from workshops hanging in community hall.

I left the following afternoon,  with the winter sun hanging low in the sky, inspired, re-vitalised and looking forward to my next visit.

Leaving Eigg
Leaving Eigg.