RYAN ARTHURS: Self-Directed Residency, 2016

Strata. “The island is pervaded by a subtle spiritual atmosphere./ It is as strange to the mind as it is to the eye. / Old songs and traditions are the spiritual analogues / of old castles and burying-places and old songs / and traditions you have in abundance. / There is a smell of the sea in the/ material air / and there is a ghostly something in the air of the imagination… / You breathe again the air of old story-books.” -Alexander Smith, ‘A Summer in Skye’, 1885


Sweeney's Bothy, Isle of Eigg, September 26, 2016


Massacre Cave, Isle of Eigg, 2016
Massacre Cave, Isle of Eigg, 2016

Outside of Massacre Cave on the Isle of Eigg, I refreshed my iPhone and read about the tragedy that occurred immediately in front of me. There was a longstanding clan feud that ended when a raiding party found the entire town hiding in the cave. They started a fire at the entrance and asphyxiated roughly three-hundred and ninety villagers who hid inside.

Mistaken Point, Newfoundland, 2016 (left) | Cathedral Cave, Isle of Eigg, 2016 (right)
Mistaken Point, Newfoundland, 2016 (left) | Cathedral Cave, Isle of Eigg, 2016 (right)

For the past year I have been photographing thresholds. On Newfoundland Island; Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; and the Isles of Skye and Eigg, Scotland. I have recorded remote, outport communities that, in the modern age of globalization, remain isolated. These islands are situated between worlds, both geographically and metaphorically. They’ve come to embody the old and the new—spaces where time collapses, where past and present collide.

Fishing Stage, New World Island, Newfoundland, 2016 (left) | Sea Cave, Burnt Cove Ecological Reserve, Newfoundland, 2016 (right)
Fishing Stage, New World Island, Newfoundland, 2016 (left) | Sea Cave, Burnt Cove Ecological Reserve, Newfoundland, 2016 (right)

These spaces share the quality of liminality: they occupy positions at boundaries and borders; their dimensions include physical, temporal, and spiritual registers. They are property lines, rivers and bogs, lochs and ponds. Some have obvious boundaries and borders, while others are transitional and ambiguous.

Drying Cod, Cape Norman, Newfoundland, 2016 (left) | Low Tide, Isle of Eigg, 2016 (right)
Drying Cod, Cape Norman, Newfoundland, 2016 (left) | Low Tide, Isle of Eigg, 2016 (right)

On the threshold of a cave, I can sense an ancient past. “Old songs and traditions are the spiritual analogues / of old castles and burying-places.” The opposite must also be true. Caves’ rocky recesses trapped the heat of our fires. They served as our earliest shelters, our first stages, and the soot-blackened walls provided us with our first artistic canvas to depict the world around us.

Residence, Advocate Harbour, Nova Scotia, 2015 (left) | Tally Marks, Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland, 2015 (right)
Residence, Advocate Harbour, Nova Scotia, 2015 (left) | Tally Marks, Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland, 2015 (right)

Liminal spaces disorient us. While we recognize some of these locations for their features, we sense others as a feeling, a sort of thin veil between our world and the next. We experience these feelings in isolated or remote places that instill us with fear and the sense that we aren’t welcome. These feelings are often heightened at certain times: dusk and dawn, under the glow of a full moon, or other celestial events, or during certain holidays, particularly Halloween. Liminality is a key concept in supernatural thinking, liminal times and spaces often serve as settings for supernatural occurrences in storytelling.

Motorcycle, Isle of Skye, 2016 (left) | Two Horses, Isle of Skye, 2016 (right)
Motorcycle, Isle of Skye, 2016 (left) | Two Horses, Isle of Skye, 2016 (right)

Storytelling arises out of an experience of disorientation. It seeks to explain what we cannot rationalize or understand. In a time where satellites orbiting the planet can triangulate our physical location in seconds, the experience of disorientation is more distant. My ongoing body of work explores some of the ancient sites that connect us to the past via the strange folklores, myths and legends that have been passed down. I distill history into visual elements, photographing to prompt future stories. The role of the historian or storyteller is to piece together the fragments she has, and spin them into a narrative. While I have arranged my images, my work asks the viewer to become the storyteller himself.

Sgurr na Banachdaich, Isle of Skye, 2016
Sgurr na Banachdaich, Isle of Skye, 2016

Stories relating to these liminal spaces have accumulated over thousands of years. Information packs into layers of sediment; the mineral strata describe millennia. As the most permanent surface in the natural world, rock formations carry etchings, paint, and the wear of thousands of footsteps. To the trained eye, rock faces read like sentences and paragraphs. The landscape reveals its history.

Ying Yang Wolf, Mallaig, 2016 (left) | Sandstone, Isle of Eigg, 2016 (right)
Ying Yang Wolf, Mallaig, 2016 (left) | Sandstone, Isle of Eigg, 2016 (right)

The accumulation and superposition of narratives and culture is not a seamless process. North America—where I grew up—hosts a strange and troubled convergence of societies. The people who moved here in the past 500 years have almost completely covered those who first arrived over 13,000 years ago. Indigenous Americans tell stories of creation and origin; people of European descent tell stories of exodus. Two separate histories cohabitate the same spaces.

Burning Pallets, Portree, Isle of Skye, 2016
Burning Pallets, Portree, Isle of Skye, 2016

On a planet of constant change, thresholds are inevitable. Through my work, I hope to understand and record these transitional spaces, to return to the viewer a sense of liminality, history, and disorientation, and, in the process, reopen the door to storytelling.

Ryan Arthurs was the artist in residence at Sweeney’s Bothy in September 2016. www.ryanarthurs.com 

RACHEL HUNT: Self-Directed Residency, 2016

Using Sweeney’s as a place to explore the ‘out-dwelling’ skillscape. My trip to Sweeney’s was well timed, unintentionally so. It came in the midst of my write up, during a particularly fraught couple of months, when a years worth of empirics was being turned into just five chapters of a thesis. I am studying huts and bothies in rural Scotland and have found that, as Nan Shepherd wrote, ‘The thing to be known grows with the knowing’. Even in a thesis there is never enough room. I was stressed and frazzled and it was a wet, wet winter. Sweeney’s offered welcome escape.


The bothy was warm, well built, and opened onto a fantastic view. It was a place for writing, a space for thinking and strangely liberating outdoor showers. I woke every morning to light the stove, make bread and soup, walk the dog (Lucy had kindly allowed me to bring) and then settle down to write.


It was there, in the bothy, that I wrote chapter 7. Emboldened by the words within the bothy library, and Nan Shepherd in particular, it began to take shape. It is in this chapter that I look to the ideals and idylls of hut and bothy life, address the issues of journey, health, gender, nature, biophelia and lastly attending to skill. It is for this last section to which I am most indebted to my time at Sweeney’s. My introduction to this chapter states the following:

…this chapter will turn to the ideal of skill. It does so to advance a series of observations: 1, that there is the potential for a innate skill to ‘get it’, a knowledge rather than an act; 2, there is the claim that simplicity in itself is skilful – the ability to make something look simple, is in fact, where the true skill lies in this case, embedded in an impressive relationship between ‘out-dweller’, thought, practice, and environment; and 3, that while living simply is often typecast with the trope of ‘return’ or ‘escape’ to a ‘simpler’ existence, to be successful in that endeavor can require a complex ‘skilling up’ – a process of learning, adaptation, creativity and flexibility which is, arguably, ‘akin’ to what is routinely expected in the modern world.

Living in a hut, albeit a particularly luxurious one, allowed for an ascetic aesthetic which acts upon the self, focusing the mind on the physical tasks to be done and, in my case, the mental task of what was to be written. Mind and body worked together over that week to the tune of 10,000 words, and a calmer mind. For me at least, these are not normal work outcomes. Not together and not in the same week. Heidegger once write of Building Dwelling Thinking, without commas, to emphasise the harmonious linking of the three ideas and so I would argue that Sweeney’s, and buildings like it, offer a space for Hut Thought Word. I would thus like to thank Sweeney’s bothy, and the Bothy Project, for allowing me to explore the notion of a hut as a space to think, to write, and to be. Buildings have the capacity to act upon their users, impacting upon the work they produce in that space and I learnt a great deal about this process during my week here. I am thankful for every moment of this opportunity.

I have, in other spaces, written of the words people leave in the bothy, particularly in the bothy book and so I am also grateful for those who left their words, images, and as a first for me, their sculptures, for me to find.


While visitors books can be seen as inconsequential lists of names, dates, times I would rather see them as treasured individual literary gems, works which, in their handwritten state, become a modern day manuscript reflective of the initial days of the revolutionary move from orality to literacy (Finkelstein and McCleery 2002). They take us back to a time when there was only one book, one ‘object’, in one place. The makers thus mimic the monks of days gone by, creating books to be valued and protected. These ‘gems’ above, may well make it into my thesis, and they certainly demonstrate the need for greater attention to the guest book and the treasure they hold.

OX ART: Self-Directed Residency, 2016


Ox On Eigg – Isle Land Life. Psychic Experiments and Site Worship is the Ox Art residency at Sweeney’s Bothy, on the Isle of Eigg, selected and hosted by The Bothy Project. Ox Art are collaborative artist duo Annabel Pettigrew and Rob MacPherson. During our time on Eigg we performed daily psychic experiments using Zenner cards, and read the Tarot. We filmed and captured lots of footage in view to making a film of our time in Eigg, which will be exhibited later in 2016. We explored the island and performed ritualistic respect to the sites we visited.



Isle Land Life, image by Ox, 2016



Black Hole Cave, image by Ox, 2016

Isle Land Life (audio)


Isle Land Life

13.00:57          A black hole of the mass of the sun

33.03:18          About to begin

34.01:04          Low 150 miles South-West

30.01:44          Now for ten years

14.03:26          But there’s another kind of Hawking radiation


13.15:06           Fragile from the storm

04.03:35          Smile a certain sadness

28.00:10          Tears must be cried

32.00:52          To forget

31.01:00           Sun is high

03.02:21           And the Loan Piper walks off into the distance


04.04:48          (Instrumental)


20.00:30          We get so close, near enough to fight

05.02:06          Recognised, if that makes sense

13.06:11            Know the positions of particles

27.05:34           Promise, melt the ice

13.11.:17            But you couldn’t come back to our universe


Isle Land Life, poem and audio by Ox, 2016


Isle Land Life, ‘The Collector’, film short by Ox, 2016

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Isle Land Life, ‘The Collector Suggests The Tarot’, image by Ox, 2016


Isle Land Life, ‘The Collector Deals The Tarot’, image by Ox, 2016


Isle Land Life, ‘Polarised Ponais’, image by Ox, 2016

Isle Land Life, ‘An Sgùrr’, film by Ox, 2016

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Isle Land Life, ‘An Sgùrr’, film still by Ox, 2016

Ox would like to thank the people of Eigg, and Lucy and Eddie for their tremendous hospitality.

Further credits can be found on oxart-uk.com

All images, audio, text, and moving images remain the intellectual property of the artists.



CASPAR HENDERSON: Residency, 2015

An Acrostic of Appreciation for Sweeney’s Bothy and the Isle of Eigg                                                                          Sweeney     In Seamus Heaney’s poem, Sweeney is  “wind-scourged, stripped/like a winter tree/clad in black frost/and frozen snow.” But the bothy has a warm hearth, the best designed garlic crusher on the planet, and a hot outdoor shower for use in rainstorm or starlight.

Wonder      “How strange,” wrote Hugh Miller, “that [these seas] should have once thronged with reptiles more strange than poet ever imagined…”

Echo     What creates those meanders across the surface of the sound on a calm day? The paths of breezes? The borders of different bodies of seawater? I was told they were the tracks of freshwater streams flowing out from the island.

Every flower, every rock, every moment.     In geological time, the cliff behind the bothy is a wave a thousand foot high. And it will come crashing down. (Elsewhere, Kathleen Jamie writes: “Wind and sea. Everything else is provisional. A wing’s beat and it’s gone.”)

Not known      What to make of great round stones in the rocks beyond the Singing Sands?  Giant fossilised bubbles? Fossilised stromatolites? What?

Exploration      “The feeling of intelligibility is like an ocean surrounding the small island of things we truly know…We are engaged in a fragile ongoing project of making sense.”

Yesterday      Imagining Rùm as it was: a volcano 10,000 feet high. Imagining Rùm as it was: under a mile of ice.

Story      Duncan MacClellan of Tigh an Sitheanan lost four sons to the Great War.


Bed      A platform lifted up like a nest on the branches of a tree. Good for sky dreams.

Oak      Scything bracken to allow the saplings some light, I took the top off an oak. Fxxx.

Tarn      Studying the tracks of the wind racing over the surface of a miniature tarn* on Beinn Bhuidhe. Beyond, across a wide blue sea, the Cuillin Skye-line.

Hebrides      You may go days without seeing them and then, over a blue sea or over a golden sea, 30 miles beyond the southern tip of Rùm, there they are: Barra, Vatersay and Sandray.

Yes      Skye Red and Skye Black, brewed by the Isle of Skye Brewing Co. and sold at the Isle of Eigg Shop, are both good beers. I didn’t get around to trying the others.



Caspar Henderson is the author of The Book of Barely Imagined Beings. He is writing A New Map of Wonders. He stayed in Sweeney’s Bothy from 18 to 25 July 2015.

* Tarn – northern English dialect for small mountain lake. In Scots, a lochan I guess