ELLIS O’CONNOR: Self-Directed Residency, 2017
Window out to the West. I began my journey up to the Isle of Eigg on the 3rd of January. I went to Eigg to walk, to amble through the wild terrains, to think, to be surrounded by wild weather and to make a brand new body of work made up of photographs, prints, drawings and writings in direct response from the atmosphere and surroundings of the Bothy. The first artist residency of the year and sure enough the wild weather did not disappoint
I intended to think about the layers of the place, the formations textures and the geological immensity and presence/ relevance of it through the dramatic surroundings and changes in the light and colour.
The long yet impressive 4 hour ferry Journey from Rum to Muck then finally onto Eigg. Passing staggering mountains and jutting basalt rock formations, misty Isles, peaks hidden in fog and the distinctive alluring shape of Eigg casting a luminous shadow in the distance.
As soon as I approached Eigg a calm washes over me, the endless vast horizon of open sea and open landscapes overwhelm yet open your mind. A relationship back to nature and a realisation already of what I want to achieve and focus on with my mind cleared in a serene place. Arrived at the Bothy at 3pm whilst the midwinter January sun hangs low in the sky. Spent the remaining hours of light acquainting myself within the place, settling in within the confines of the wild place. Reading in the final light, wandering around the surrounding land and writing in the darkened hours.
Realising this is me in my element, a connection to a true place, a real natural horizon, an unwavering sense of what is important and my senses already re tuned to the nature and vast mountainous areas around me. Being here, suspended in time will grow stronger as the days go on. The framing of Rums impressive mountains is already changing every minute, light covers and then uncovers the peaks and details on the land. Fog lifting and recapturing my attention of the place.
Moonlight climbing over the cliffs. Quiet, calm, still. The weight of the darkness that surrounds the bothy. Cradles yet immerses itself around me. Being immersed in the deep deep North West. With the night brings silence.
Awakening during the night to see the bright moon, with no light pollution comes sublime real light. Awoke early to the dark ridges right outside the window, what an amazing view to arise to.
Slow morning, started working on my artists books and drawing. Rum is not visible this morning, just white out towards the west no distinction between the sea and the sky.
Went on a steep climb up behind the Bothy, surrounded by burnt colours, bracken, and distinct textures flow around me in drastic comparison to the darkened columnar basalt formations that frame this part of Eigg. Film photographs, exploring and plenty of walking around the area.
More drawing outdoors, preparing paper and drawing outside. Rum appears from out of the fog and the light intently captures me. Forcing myself to sit still and just look at the overwhelming surroundings.
Sit still and be.
An intense heightened feeling of sensing something between me and the landscape. We are all made up of the same rhythms of nature. Getting away from society and civilisation as such to a real place, untouched land, suspended in time. Reading more and more about Eigg and its fascinating history, the folklore and history embedded so deeply into the place, affecting how I see and interact with the Island. Sweeney was a man who was turning into a bird, the relevance of Sweeney’s Bothy and the geological space around it.
Feeling at ease with myself and the place where I am, your mind is re awakened and overwhelmed in places like this that forces you and trains you to not think about anything else other than what matters and being within the place.
Wide horizons – widens mind.
Fogginess, the weather bounds me into the Bothy today, relentless hail, gale force winds, and very wild North West weather. A day of reading, writing and drawing surrounded by the dim faded light outside.
Awoke to clear skies. Can see the dramatic peaks of mountainous Rum once again. The snow lies on the mountains and the sun is streaming through the clouds.
Taking photos of the surrounding area of the Bothy, the colours are so bright and vivid. As soon as the light changes even for a second, it is almost as though there has been a light switched off and everything turns into a misty grey colour. Everything then becomes dark and brooding. Landscapes altered every second by light.
Started the long walk up to the Tulim part of the Island to study the basalt rock formations and geological forms of the Island. Such a calm and clear day. Lots of abandoned crofts, it’s amazing to think that for such a small Island there is so much history to it. Basalt columns and formations everywhere.
Made it up to the winding path of the Northern tip of the Island. Overwhelming views out to the Skye Cuillin, Canna and Rum, the sea a vivid crystal blue colour, powerful wind surrounds me but a clear day calls to walk.
Jagged cliffs and plateaus that jut out of the sea, scrambled down the terrains and found many bright textured coloured rocks. Walked around the ridges and areas that are very exposed, finding intricate patterns on every part of this land. Treaded softly through the winding path down to the Singing Sands and spent hours walking through the passages of the cliffs and caves. A hail storm cane and went, the low hanging sun streamed back through the clouds and dramatically altered the detail and texture of the patterns that invade this coast line.
Headed back to the Bothy capturing more parts and new ways of seeing the island on the way, everything can look different at any second here. It’s fascinating how well you can connect with the land and see how quick it changes boldly when there is nothing in the form of materialised masses in the way.
The sun already went way down and it’s getting close to dark at 4pm. Want to capture the darkened skies against the mountains and see a different variation of Eigg. I find the same spot that comforts me every, right up the winding path at the back of the Bothy. I go there nearly every day to sit still and look out to the horizon, a calming rhythm that settles in me. Eigg seems to have everything in abundance of geological beauty. Drawing and reading into the late night.
Cocooned in by the darkness outside.
Howling winds last night.
Awoke many a time to hail stones and 100 mph winds rushing over my space. There’s something quite calming being sheltered amongst all of it though. Today the weather warnings of more wild weather come and go. Today has the kind of wind that you can barely walk in. Started the day off listening to the noises outside rattling the secure place. No Rum today, no faint glimpse of anything out there, difficult to decipher between the sky and sea when all is so white.
A lot of reading and drawing today looking out the window, sheltered in within the confines of the dim light.
Was invited to the local singing group tonight, went along and we sang Hebridean songs that connect with the land around us. The sky is so clear tonight and on the way home amidst the howling winds, I can see the stars vividly and the huge lightning bolts brighten up the sky. Walking back to the comfort of the Bothy. The small warm beacon against this very dark backdrop. Content and happy to be in this place, working late into the night, looking out to nothing but black.
Weather warnings nonstop. The winds and hail batter against me and I realise how wild these Islands can be.
It eased off for a while so I took full advantage of the clear skies and white dusting on the mountain ridges and the ground. Took a long walk along to Laig Bay in the cold still of the morning. The windy sand dunes and then the sun came out as I soon as I arrived. Grey calm sands, Rum completely revealed, small secret cottages hidden down here clinging onto the coast. Walked along the whole bay and revelled in the vivid colours of my surroundings, calm thoughts, sitting on driftwood capturing the sea.
Walked the whole length of the island down to Kildonnan. Grassy meadows, sunlit piercing the lower part of the land, the pier in the distance and the crashing shoreline up ahead. Followed the sheep tracks and white washed cottages to the burial mound and ruined church where I feel completely connected to the history of this place, a lone being amidst this symbolic presence of the important land that has stayed true here without intervention.
I feel on a different level of time here, nature controls everything. I then proceed to walk back and climb the God’s finger ridge, the Jurassic cliffs and oppressing forms surround me.
Chatting to locals of the impressive stories of sea journeys around this Island and challenging yet a beautiful dedication to this place.
The dark came in quick and so I read for a long time into the night. From 4pm here you see nothing but the backdrop of the surrounding ridges and immense shadows of Rum in the distance. Listening to the rumblings from the harsh weather outside, thunder and lightning and high winds. Finding comfort within here and enjoying the wild weather, nature in full force, you feel somewhat disconnected with the business in the city life.
What will come of the rest of the week?
A day of uncertainty. I have been told the Ferry will come today which I can go on and leave my residency a day early or take a chance and stay however bad the weather will get.
I choose to stay. I would much rather be here for longer than leave early. I am already settled into Island time.
The whole place is shaking, hail stones rattling everywhere and the wind throws you in every direction. How immense it is and how real it is. On a wild day I choose to visit the caves, Massacre Cave to be precise. A haunting place, a place that is covered in history, yet the weather restrains me from entering as the stormy seas advance in quick. The geological forms of the exposed rocks and shoreline around this area are very impressive, cradled against the unforgiving seas. The ferry comes in and I choose to stay I want to get to know the place further.
I walked through the forest surrounding Galmisdale and headed back up towards Cleadale a stormy walk, the rain battering against me. I work late and tuck myself in waiting for the storms to come.
My natural instincts are thriving here.
The night came in very quickly again and I had my last night in the Bothy with the wildest weather yet and it is the most peaceful I have ever felt. Completely isolated from outside elements, from outside distractions, just a complete focus on my art, my writings, my quiet reflective thoughts and natural alignment with this life. Unware of the outside world and outside time.
The storm is due to get worse overnight yet this heightened exposure to the elements comforts me, a realisation of the true natural land and the way in which we truly are controlled by nature itself. I have been thinking a lot about the ecology of time here upon reading Soil and Soul and reflecting on the way in which we as humans need to come back if only for a while now and then to reflect, to engage with our primal instincts and to only be with the natural world, no connection to manmade materials of technology. It is here where we truly thrive.
Everywhere there is horizons and vast Jurassic basaltic mountainous areas and it is here that is real.
I am on a different level of time here and everything is measured differently. No pressures as it all relies on the weather and outside forces. I will miss the howling winds and the distant sounds of the waterfall in the black light not so far from where I stand.
Day 8 and days 9, 10, 11 – longer than expected.
The day I am due to leave yet I don’t. I don’t end up leaving the Isle of Eigg until the 13th of January. 4 more days longer than I was supposed to be here. But that’s what happens when you visit an Island in the mid-winter harsh climate of the west of Scotland, you go with the knowing in the back of your head that you can’t predict the weather, it inevitably controls what you do and I enjoy that, it is real that way.
The ferries were cancelled until Tuesday and so I had longer to connect with Eigg and deepen my knowledge of the place and work within it.
I move into the Cleasdale Bothy to make way for Bobby who arrived on the Friday. I spent the last few days on Eigg anticipating when I would leave but not wanting to leave, this Island grabs hold of you when you are here for longer than a few days. A way of life that comes very easily to me.
I’m cut off here from existential matters. When the sun glows on Eigg and the blue crystal waters of the sea light up the surroundings you know you’re in a special place. Do I feel like I’m missing out on things in my ‘otherworld’ back in the business of it all, no I do not. This is my real world too, I have disconnected and reconnected with what matters and what is important.
I have for the next few days another Bothy with four windows which frame every part of the Island I have captured, and connected with. From the front is the lookout to Rum, the framing of the crofting land, to the right of me is the Jurassic cliffs and the ridges, the back window frames the God’s finger look out perfectly with the cascades of the waterfall rising from the wind not falling downwards and to the left I find myself in awe still at the misty framing of the Sgurr, the distinctive form standing defiant in the distance.
I leave on the Tuesday when the weather settles, 11 days on the Island, longer than expected but on the Ferry back over to the mainland I find myself thinking I have to spend longer here. I have connected with this place in a way I have never connected with an Island before, walking all over, learning how to slow down and leave out all existential matters; just be here present in the place and matter.
Against the weather warnings, and the wild west coast, I found comfort and sanctuary within the place, mentally and physically.
I will forever remember that window out to the west.
- Sweeney's Bothy