‘Skin & Bones’: 1 Royal Terrace, Glasgow

Skin and bones can be an architectural term, with ‘skin’ referring to the material used for the building’s exterior, and ‘bones’, the basic structure within. Early design sketches of the new Reid building for The Glasgow School of Art (GSA), by architect Steven Holl, compare the skin and bones of the Mackintosh building with that of its new neighbour.  In the design process, the two buildings were denoted as binary; a thick skin of brick for the Mackintosh versus a thin skin of recycled glass for the Reid; then thin wooden bones of the former versus thick concrete bones of the latter.

skinbonesposter

The exhibition ‘Skin & Bones‘ (8.6.14-22.6.14) is a ten minute walk from the GSA. It takes place in the airy and generously proportioned front room of a domestic tenement built in 1777 which has been repurposed as a gallery for a six-month long exhibitions programme. 1 Royal Terrace is located at the beginning of the West End. The gallery windows overlook Kelvingrove Park, which was established by the City between 1852 and 1854 to be one of a series of parks to combat the ‘skin and bones’ condition of the masses, following the Industrial Revolution. 1 Royal Terrace‘s closest contemporary gallery neighbour, is The Common Guild [1], the latter to be found on the higher ground of Park Circus, built for the upper classes to reside up wind of the factories, in the cleaner air. 1 Royal Terrace resides in the middle ground.

1 Royal Terrace is, historically speaking, not the only gallery to have sprung up from a domestic space or to reference the domestic realm as a more natural place for experiencing art.  ‘At Homes‘ was a series of performance and musical events that The Glasgow School of Art Club organized in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, allowing for informal collaboration and gatherings within institutional exhibitions. Events included ‘Conversazione‘ in 1901 at The Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, on Sauchiehall Street, created a more informal space for group gatherings, in the gallery setting.

A second example, The Gallery of Modern Art Glasgow, was originally a townhouse built for £10,000 by ‘Tobacco Lord’ William Cunninghame (1731-1799), the year after 1 Royal Terrace was built, in 1778. He renamed the street outside to match the tenor of his new residence- Cow Loan became Queen Street- after George III’s wife. Cunninghame then sold his townhouse to the Royal Bank of Scotland; when the bank moved the building became a business centre and exchange, which was when the Corinthian pillars were added; then a library established by Glasgow Merchant Walter Stirling; then in 1996, finally, a gallery for the City’s collections. The changing functions of the one building breathed different lives into it.

1 Royal Terrace is also a building that has experienced changes of use over its time, primarily the oscillation between private and public domain- from middle class domestic dwelling, to insurance offices, returning to a home. Andrea Zittel refers to this layering and change of a building’s purpose as,

“… incremental building… where there are layers of decisions that happen over time for different reasons by different authorities, where the building is a rich combination of all those different decisions”. [2]

The six month long exhibitions programme at 1 Royal Terrace, should be viewed in its entirety on the same terms as ‘incremental building’. This exhibition ‘Skin & Bones‘, by the gallery co-founders and curators Ruth Switalski and Petter Yxell, is the concluding iteration of six exhibitions. Rather than jar as an example of curators curating themselves, it is the fitting conclusion that mirrors the close conversations between firstly Switalski and Yxell, then with each of the five solo practitioners they selected [3]. Instead of treating the gallery space as a tabula rasa for each show, the programming of 1 Royal Terrace has purposefully allowed a flow between the shows of artists that didn’t necessarily know each other well; from Helen Shaddock’s bright low-rise ‘Gathering‘ of parquet tile sized colour casts to the slowly discernible objects from the darkness of Augustus Veinoglou’s ‘Below the Spillway‘. The curators placed an emphasis on the solo show format, as one they perceived to be missing for emergent practitioners. The majority of the practitioners also utilise the casting process in their work, with each show exploring materials. A key objective cited by the curators of 1 Royal Terrace has been to foster a group of artists who were predominantly ‘outside’ the Glasgow ‘scene’ and to provide a professional platform complete with website and print, all undertaken by Switalski and Yxell so not outsourced. Perhaps a distant echo of the ‘At Homes‘ series of last century Glasgow School of Art Club, a series of open conversations with the 1 Royal Terrace artists has also punctuated the duration of each exhibition; its regularity allowing for overlaps between each of the involved practitioners to find out and consider how each has responded to the opportunity.

1 Royal Terrace architecturally echoes aspects of the ‘white cube’. Brian O’Doherty in ‘Inside the White Cube; The Ideology of the Gallery Space’ (1976) [4] explores the genesis of the gallery into a white cube- “The ideal gallery subtracts from the artwork all cues that interfere with the fact that it is ‘art’.” [5] White walls, uniform floor, no windows- these elements become part of the equation for this room to become ‘’a placeless gallery”. [6] However, the gallery in a flat operates within a ‘place’, the domestic realm, which lies beyond.  As a room it can be formalized, through emptying it of recognizable objects. It may also take on a number of the accepted givens of a gallery, in the case of 1 Royal Terrace, which places itself through address, the gallery adopts the clear language of white walls, gallery lighting, parquet flooring. However, this type of gallery is on the terms of the occupation of the owner and collaborators. It also places itself in a network; as a mode of activity this model has credence and is accepted in the wider art scene of the city. The ideology of the gallery in a flat lies in its immediacy and possible economy. The artist need not wait to attain visibility by being picked up or invited by an institution. The individual can become owner occupier of their own production, and that of invited others who cross its threshold. As a model, it makes artwork visible in a vital way. For the audience, there is an intimacy with the work and the host.

'Skin & Bones', Ruth Switalski, Petter Yxell, 1 Royal Terrace, Glasgow (2014)

‘Skin & Bones’, Ruth Switalski, Petter Yxell, 1 Royal Terrace, Glasgow (2014)

Whilst ‘Skin and Bones’ exists in a domestic interior, with works referring to materials that relate to buildings and the body, this exhibition retains an edited formality which suits the nature of the gallery space created at 1 Royal Terrace. The precision and editing of the works, follow the tradition of a Modernist hang; allowing the objects to breathe with plenty of white space around.  Switalski and Yxell talk of having had to negotiate the space of the room as the first two person show to inhabit it, following five solo presentations. This is quite literally seen in the division of space that Yxell’s work I know where my bones are buried creates, with the placement of six scaffolding planks, standing elegantly between floor and ceiling, to take on the volume of the space. In visual detail, reminiscent of Roger Ackling’s (1947-2014) simple wooden works where sunlight was angled onto surfaces through a hand held magnifying glass to burn the surface, Yxell instead uses a blow torch to char simple areas on the top of each piece of pine board.

 One of the stand-out works in the exhibition is ‘Stratum Coneum (horny layer)‘ (2014) by Switalski. A grey silicone ‘skin’ coats an entire length of wall, covering even the light switch. ‘Le Moi-peau‘, translating as ‘The Skin-ego‘ (1974) by Alain Didier, details his psychoanalytical theory on the skin as interface for the individual, a container of ideas and boundary marker between inside and outside. Didier quotes Sylvia Plath, who at a formative level, experiences a severing of connection with her mother when as a two year old she is superseded by another baby: “I felt the wall of my skin. That I am I. That a stone is a stone. My beautiful fusion with the things of this world was over.” [7]

'Stratum Coneum (horny layer)' (2014) Ruth Switalski. Image courtesy 1 Royal Terrace

‘Stratum Coneum (horny layer)‘ (2014) Ruth Switalski. Image courtesy 1 Royal Terrace

There is no space between the gallery wall and the ‘skin’ of Switalski’s work. Its surface holds the painterly marks of its application. ‘Stratum Coneum‘ covers the surface of the dividing wall between the gallery and the domestic  apartment that lies beyond, providing an interface between the hidden ‘id’ of life in the apartment, and the presentable ‘ego’ of the gallery as a rational and controlled container of objects for audience perusal. This ‘ego’ is very much the opposite to Erica Eyres and Sigga Bjorg Sigurdardottir’s 2014 Glasgow International presentation Sniffer, where the ‘Id’ of the protagonist, detailed as having been ‘abandoned by his parents at an early age’ (a more physical type of abandonment than Plath experienced), roams uncontrollably through a filmic and object installation in a Victorian tenement apartment on Alexandra Parade, in the east end. Sniffer’s Freudian ‘drive’ sees him stalk an unseen prey and also, through a separate film, the viewer able to see the grotesque ‘skin’ of his hand, leaf delicately through a jewelry catalogue.

The reference to skin, skeleton or container continues in Switalski and Yxell’s other works within the gallery at 1 Royal Terrace. Switalski’s piece ‘St Bartholomew‘ (2014), hangs a ‘flayed’ silicone skin on the wall beyond ‘Stratum Coneum’, meeting Didier’s medical observation that ‘a piece of skin detached from the body shrinks greatly‘ [5]. The body, in this case, is defined as the gallery itself. A further two works by Switalski continue to reference the body through the skeleton.  ‘Scleractinia‘ in both its title and form, refers to a type of stony coral which generates its own skeleton. ‘Inverted Acetabulum‘ (2014) presents part of a pelvis, made from graphite. It is interesting to note that Yxell orders the space in his work ‘I know where my bones are buried’, whilst Switalski’s work often references the body or skin. Mark Wrigley argues in his chapter ‘Untitled: The Housing of Gender’, in ‘Sexuality and Space’, that the skin and bone of architecture are gendered: ‘The feminine materiality of the building is given a masculine order and then masked off by a white skin.’ [8]

'Inverted Acetabulum' (2014) Ruth Switalski. Image courtesy 1 Royal Terrace

‘Inverted Acetabulum’ (2014) Ruth Switalski. Image courtesy 1 Royal Terrace

Yxell’s ‘In advance of a broken line‘ (2014) creates an axe made from wood, fusing this elemental manmade tool with the material it has been invented to deal with. Using this work’s title as a metaphor, where and how does 1 Royal Terrace sit in the lineage of other examples of recent and past manifestations of galleries occupying domestic spaces? A defining feature of grassroots activity in the contemporary visual arts scene in Glasgow has been the proliferation of galleries within domestic flats. It should be noted that within Scotland this is not purely a Glasgow phenomenon, with examples such as ‘Annuale’ in Edinburgh (2009-) often taking place in flats, or Magnifitat (2002-2007) set up by Kim Coleman and Jenny Hogarth in a flat in Bruntsfield, Edinburgh. The home as a site for artist work and studio is also well documented. A concise, detailed narrative of US and European examples is recorded in the excellent Sternberg Press publication, ‘The Artist’s House: from workplace to artwork‘ by Kirsty Bell (2013).

'In advance of a broken line' (2014) Petter Yxell. Image courtesy 1 Royal Terrace.

‘In advance of a broken line’ (2014) Petter Yxell. Image courtesy 1 Royal Terrace.

Back in Glasgow, over the last twenty years, key examples have included Cathy Wilkes’ Wilkes Gallery (1995-7) in a spare room in her ‘flat in the Dalriada tower-block in Anderston’ [9], to the origins of Mary Mary, established by Hannah Robinson in her corner flat with views on Alexandra Parade in Dennistoun. Switchspace, ran by Sorcha Dallas and Marianne Greated (1999-2004) began in Dallas’s west end flat then, through partnerships with the city and an interested property developer, created opportunities for artists in a series of newly renovated empty flats. This format of a gallery in a domestic interior has been an immediate, flexible and independent means to create a space for making work and showing it. As co-founders, Switalski and Yxell were very aware of the lineage of such spaces in Glasgow, and have seen 1 Royal Terrace as “adding to the historical heritage of an [art] scene so rather than ignore or find a gap, we have updated the model” [10]. In choosing in 2014 to make a gallery within a private dwelling, Switalski joked that they wanted it, “… not to feel like it has an outdated 90s’ house party vibe“.

As a model of self-sufficiency and signifier of independent activity, the gallery in a domestic dwelling has continued to endure, in particular, in its appeal for students and recent graduates. Examples from the recent present include ‘Friends’ (2013-), at 42 Charlton Place, by the river Clyde, run by GSA MFA graduate Lauren Hall. rez-de-chaussée [11] on Woodlands Drive, led by five GSA MFA students, existed for a year in 2011, in a front room of a flat on Woodlands Road in the west end of Glasgow.

To compare 1 Royal Terrace to an enterprise which has ran separately yet concurrently in Glasgow, Friends, some formal differences arise in approaches. For  Lauren Hall, ‘Friends are pals’, which has led to an organic series of solo presentations and collaborations with immediate peers in the domestic flat she rents. For 1 Royal Terrace, a main premise of selecting the artists for the six monthly shows, was that they would not necessarily know each other and were predominantly chosen as they are outside the perceived Glasgow art scene. Formally, the front room of 1 Royal Terrace has been transformed into a room that reads successfully as a high spec gallery space, with its specially installed lighting and synonymous white walls. For ‘Comfortably Warm’, Hall’s 2014 collaborative Glasgow International project with Jay Mosher, the domestic life and nature of the flat, even when reduced through the process of emptying out all furniture and belongings, could not be eradicated.

The life of an independent gallery in a flat is often a finite one. Such initiatives have lived, breathed, altered shape, and had different lengths of life span. The evolving nature of technology and social media since the 1990s’ may help to serve these recent enterprises better with a more visible afterlife of documentation on the web. [12] The form of the projects they house and the duration of the entity are closely intertwined with the paths and individual trajectories of the artists who have ran them. The gallery may flex into another kind of enterprise, for example, when awarded funding, or more likely be closely tied to the tenure of the location; if rented property, or a conclusion in education, the person moves on. Individuals also may chose to focus solely on their own practice again. In 2014, as Switalski has concluded her Masters of Letters at The Glasgow School of Art, and Yxell moves to London to do an MFA at Goldsmiths, the activities of 1 Royal Terrace, following a conclusive and finite six month run, the initiative is in abeyance to see what naturally arises from the protagonists’ own trajectories.

Footnotes

[1] The Common Guild was established in 2006, and is a charitable, not-for-profit organisation, originating from the development of The Modern Institute as the latter evolved fully into a commercial enterprise. The Common Guild is sited in Douglas Gordon’s Glasgow house.

[2] P.119, Andrea Zittell’s interview with Kirsty Bell, ‘The artist’s house, from workplace to artwork’, Sternberg Press (2013)

[3] The exhibitions at 1 Royal Terrace have been Helen Shaddock (‘Brimming’), Nick Thomas (‘Quote Spam’), Rachel Levine (‘Here, Create distance, Tension It… Feel It Flex’), Augustus Veinoglou (‘Below the Spillway’), Caroline Inkle (‘Re:Production’) and Ruth Switalski / Peter Yxell (‘Skin & Bones’).

[4] ‘Inside the White Cube; The Ideology of the Gallery Space’, Brian O’Doherty (1976), originally in Artforum in 1976, then first book edition 1986, The Lapis Press, San Francisco

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Sylvia Plath, ‘Ocean 1212-w‘, p.120, ‘The Skin-ego’, Alain Didier (1974)

[8] Mark Wrigley, ‘Untitled: The Housing of Gender’, ‘Sexuality and Space’, edited Beatriz Colomina, Princeton Papers on Architecture (1992)

[9] P.200, ‘Social Sculpture’, Sarah Lowndes, published by Stopstop Publications (2003). This book details the programme and aesthetic of Wilkes Gallery and exhibitors

[10] Conversation with Ruth Switalski, 8.7.14

[11] rez-de-chaussée was run by five GSA MFA students in 2011 – Justin Stephens, Suzanne Dery, Zoe Williams, Marie-Michelle Dechamps and Geneva Sills, ‘aim(ing) to provide an experimental yet critical environment from which to work with a diverse range of emerging artists, from Glasgow, rest of UK and further afield. Shows included Nicolas Party, Kate V Robertson, Lawrence Leaman and Sheena Hoszko http://www.rezdchaussee.blogspot.co.uk

[12] Whilst 1Royal Terrace have had a cohesive website knowingly reminiscent of an organizational website with archive section and new section, ‘Friends‘ has moved out from a website as starting point, to individual Tumblr platforms for each project, which operate as a holding page of abstract images to represent ideas and processes.

Jenny Brownrigg, August 2014

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Hanna Tuulikki: Away with the Birds

You stand water-loud

From the poem Ben Eubhal, Mary Maclean, (1952) [1]

'Away with the Birds', Canna (2014) Image: Daniel Warren

‘Away with the Birds’, Canna (2014) Image: Stewart Connor

These words by the North Uist poet Mary Maclean (1921-2004) are addressed to her island’s mountain, where she describes the speed of its streams as moving fast from the summit then, ‘Gentle voiced to the quiet bevelled edge of the shore‘ [2].

The phrase ‘You stand water-loud’ is highly apt to describe Away with the Birds/Air falbh leis na h-eòin’ , a performance (29/30 August 2014) addressed to the surrounding sea, sky and land of Canna. Staged on the foreshore of Canna’s harbour, this location was noted by Martin Martin in 1695 as having ‘good anchorage‘[3]. Ten women dressed in costumes based on shore birds, such as the oystercatcher and redshank, performed a score composed by Hanna Tuulikki. The composition was drawn from fragments of traditional Gaelic songs where different birdsong is mimicked.

The foreshore defined as the area of land between low tide and high tide is a strange zone of land. Historically owned by the Crown, this land is always in a dance with the sea. The choreography of the piece, by Nic Green, deftly picked up on this. Over the duration of this one hour performance [4], the ten singers [5] moved over manmade and natural elements of terrain which included the old pier, new purpose-built jetties designed in the v-formation of a skein, and the seaweed coated rocks. The weather altered from overcast to a light rain, then sun. In the fourth movement entitled ‘flock and skein’, the tide had sufficiently drawn in over the wooden jetties for the crabs to run over the singers’ red neoprene feet. Further out in the bay, a curve of six horn speakers- each standing at four meters high- transmitted the calls of the women. During interludes, as the singers silently dispersed to re-congregate in another position, a series of field recordings by birdsong expert and wildlife sound recordist Geoff Sample, of birdsong from the Western Isles, was played. This clever shift in sound created a transitory space, suggestive of the women moving between human and avian form.

Tuulikki carefully evolved ‘Away with the Birds’ over a period of four years, with the score beginning with one person, moving to three, nine, then finally ten singers for Canna. As Margaret Fay Shaw (1903-2004) noted in her book Folksong and Folklore of South Uist, ‘To sing a complete waulking song alone without anyone to take up the chorus imposes a considerable strain on any reciter’. [6] The score is drawn from fragments of Gaelic lullabies, children’s songs, keening, dance and work songs from the Highlands and Islands (all women’s songs or sung from a woman’s perspective), from Barra to St Kilda, that include bird song within the narrative. Tuulikki, with Gaelic expert Mary Smith and Geoff Sample, analyzed the transcriptions of birds ranging from seabirds on cliffs, to redshank, oystercatcher, whooper swan, raven, Manx shearwater, geese and ravens. In the subsequent performance of ‘Away with the Birds’, through repetition and vocal techniques such as ululation, the score truly created ‘syllables that carry the air’ [7]. The vocalists who joined Tuulikki, all brought with them their own reasons for creating sound that makes a connection with nature, ranging from a belief in ‘wildness’ [8], a connection to Canna, (Nerea Bello is the niece of the Canna House Archivist Magdalena Sagarzazu), to a background in Gaelic singing. In the seven week rehearsal period that led up to the Canna performance, the group went ‘deep into the material’ [9] in a series of sessions around improvisation and play, in order for Tuulikki to organically develop the skeleton of the composition.

Tuulikki sourced a number of the songs from the Canna House Archive and John Lorne Campbell’s recordings. Magdalena Sagarzazu, whose life’s work has been dedicated to working with Canna House, describes this house and its remarkable contents perfectly:  “I often think of Canna House as an island within an island” [10]. This archive was created by the island’s previous owners, the photographer and folklorist Margaret Fay Shaw (1903-2004) and Gaelic scholar, environmentalist, farmer and folklorist John Lorne Campbell (1906-1966) who gifted the island and archive to the National Trust for Scotland in the 1980s. Canna House, their collective archive and preserved home, contains their lifelong work of recording Gaelic songs from the islands and chronicling Gaelic culture through its language and traditions. Also, contained in the House’s archipelago are Shaw’s photographs, Campbell’s butterfly collections and possessions including an engaging cornucopia of ephemera relating to cats. Pattern cascades across wallpaper and curtain material, with bird curtains in the bedroom (now archival room) and fish swimming across the walls of the bathroom.

The couple would have no doubt have greatly appreciated both the high spec technology embodied by the speaker horns and the sounds of women singing in ‘Away with the Birds’. A trawl through the Canna House archives shows that methods of recording and writing alter each time technology superseded itself, from recordings on wire, to reel to reel, to VHS. In Campbell’s own voracious correspondence and research, his notebooks and papers show that he utilized a typewriter, then carbon paper, followed by the earliest photocopies to the first computer printouts on voluminous concertinas of green lined paper with perforated edges.

Hanna Tuulikki

Hanna Tuulikki

Tracing the lines that Campbell’s correspondence took from the island as he compiled a Gaelic dictionary is like following the flight path of birds. The correspondence shuttled back and forth between Canna House and destinations from all over Scotland and the world, in the days before the internet. There were letters from Sister Veronica in Nova Scotia; Father Allan Macdonald on Eriskay; Annie Johnston from Barra (Tuulikki drew from Campbell’s recordings of Annie Johnston and her husband Calum); and correspondences with academics from the universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen amongst others. They worked with Campbell to try and pin down Gaelic for phrases like ‘a crop of pimples or to describe specific types of seaweed or on phrases relating to ‘Strange Things’.[11] These lines of words in flight are very much present in the beautiful notations of Tuulikki’s scores for the performance, where the lyrics can form the chord [12] of a wing or denote the lift and fall of a bird in flight.

Both ornithologists and folklorists have established methodology to recognize particular song. With many versions of the same songs existing, due to locality, dialect and additions of verses, according to length of activity, Margaret Fay Shaw in ‘Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist’, identified it was often ‘the chorus called the fonn or ‘ground’ and is the means by which the songs are popularly identified’ [13]. For the bird-watcher, where the sound is often in advance of the sighting, the mnemonic is a human aide-memoir for identification. Tuulikki’s score gathers the Gaelic mnemonic along with the narrative. The techniques that Tuulikki and the nine singers developed, ensure mimicry through concentration on pitch, volume, complexity of sound. The numbers of voices in the acoustic structure cross over on notes. Some species of birds can split a note, to sing both at the same time. At times, the sound created by the singers is often spectral in its mimesis, which is no small feat given that the avian vocal organ, the syrinx, is at the bottom of the trachea unlike the human larynx which is at the top. In order to explore the voice as an instrument itself, Tuulikki has long used the ‘extended vocal technique’ and improvisation to “find ways to define self through similarity with the more than human world“. [14]

The costumes, designed by Deirdre Nelson, cleverly combine symbolism and pragmatism. The colouring and detail of the costumes reference the distinct visual appearance of waders, whilst also drawing upon their Celtic meaning. The name of the Oystercatcher, or gille-brìghde , translates as servant of St Bride. The book The Peat Fire Flame, Folk Tales and Traditions of the Highlands and Island, tells the following tale about this bird:

When Christ was being pursued from one Hebridean isle to another, he was hidden at low tide by two oystercatchers, who covered Him with seaweed, and kept watch over Him until His enemies had passed. [15]

The costumes are a key element of production linking ancient belief in nature to the spiritual. The colour red in Celtic culture is associated with the otherworld. The redshank is the bird who sings to the soul on its departure to the next. Nelson references red in the singers’ legs and the pleated insert on the back of the tunics. The designer cleverly combines contemporary with historical fabric in the singers’ costumes. Local Canna wool made by islander Julie McCabe is used in the tunics, whilst hi-tech red neoprene creates the legs of the garment which allows the singers to move in the water. The hoods of the woolen shrugs, somewhat monastic in nature, are based on 1930s’ patterns of fishermen hoods, providing a protection against the elements. The hood is a key part of the outfit. When drawn up over the singer’s head it aids the visual transition of human turning into bird. The detail of the reveal is key too, with knitted white inserts in the sleeves under the arms, detailed with a ‘v’ pattern, mimicking a skein of birds in flight. Tuulikki mentions in a studio visit that she enjoys the wordplay of ‘skein’, meaning a skein of wool or birds. At the back of the charcoal grey tunics, an inserted red pleat accentuates choreographed movement. The transformation of the human form into the unknown is reminiscent of Margaret Fay Shaw’s photograph of islanders dressing up in sheep skins for Halloween.

One of Tuulikki’s source material songs ‘An Eala air Loch Chaluim Chille’ -‘ The swan on St Columba’s loch’- suggests the bird’s association with this Saint. The sonic properties of Sounds are recorded in the ‘Life of St Columba’, by Abbot Adomnán, where visitors frequently stand on the far shore of Mull, to call over the Sound to Iona, asking to be picked up by boat. Indeed, Canna’s original chapel was dedicated to Colm Cille, with Campbell stating in his book ‘Canna: The Story of a Hebridean Island’ that the Saint ‘certainly must have visited [Canna] on his missionary travels during his exile in Scotland, AD 563-97‘ [16]. ‘Away with the Birds’ fills the Sound of Canna with a new sound. Sailors coming in to moor in the bay during the rehearsals later remark on hearing mysterious, magical song.

A collective feeling is created by ‘Away with the Birds’  through the experience of meeting fellow spectators travelling to and from the island, from time camping together, a camp fire and chance encounters in the social spaces of the island at the community shop and café . By the time the audience gathers on the shore road to watch the performance, they form a migratory ‘skein’ from the mainland and Skye. Following the first performance of ‘Away with the Birds’, an illustrator, Kieran Austin, goes camping to Garrisdale Point, over on the west of the island. When he returns several days later to Canna Harbour, he finds it uncanny that two hundred visitors have flown and that the island has returned to normal. This humanity is also very much present too in the Canna House Archive where, as well as the scholarly interplay on Gaelic phrases, throughout this correspondence a warmth flows between the writers. Academic secretaries thank Campbell for Christmas gifts; anecdotes describing local situations are swapped; greetings are passed onto spouses and people promise to come to Canna again soon. Indeed, the table in Campbell’s office is a billiard table, which he used a respectable office ‘table’ during the week thanks to a sheet of wood placed over it, and as the site of an on-going billiards competition with islanders at weekends.

For the final movement ‘night flight to the burrow‘, the ‘birds’ move up to positions behind the audience to sing. Woven from fragments of a St Kilda lullaby, this movement is dedicated to the Manx shearwater,  a bird once prevalent on Canna (indeed Campbell commissioned a special stamp bearing its image).  Tuulikki sees this movement as an incantation for their return. The dramatic backdrop to the performance, Rum, which lies five miles away, is now centre stage. Geoff Sample observes this island beautifully in his field notes:

‘I find the architecture of Rum’s western mountains constantly satisfying. They aren’t quite as ruggedly spectacular as the Cuillin proper. But their serrated vertical ridges, swooping down to the sea, hemmed in lush green ribs, mark the course of the day like a sun dial, as the light changes.” [17]

At its conclusion, with any human physical presence removed from the scene, the sound more than ever filled the land and seascape. Whilst the people and their voice are the source of oral tradition, with Tuulikki taking her place with this rich interpretation, it is the land and the sea that will endure.

Return to the sea

                                    Breathe           [18]

Footnotes

[1] P.56, The Voice of the Bard: Living Poets and Ancient Tradition in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Timothy Neat with John MacInnes, Canongate, (1999).

[2] P.56, Ibid.

[3] P.167, A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland Circa 1695, Martin Martin. Birlinn Ltd (1999).

[4] Attended 29.8.14 performance.

[5] Vocalists: Hanna Tuulikki, Lucy Duncombe, Nerea Bello, Anna Sheard, Judith Williams, Nicola Scrutton, Mischa MacPherson, Kim Carnie, Megan Henderson, Kirsty Law.

[6] P.73, ‘Folksong and Folklore of South Uist’, Margaret Fay Shaw, second edition Birlinn Ltd (1999). First published Oxford University Press (1977).

[7] P.73, Ibid.

[8] ‘My practice is wildness and not knowing’, Judith Williams. Vocalists biographies, ‘Away with the birds’ brochure (2014).

[9] From conversation in Tuulikki’s studio, 12.9.14.

[10] In conversation with Magda Sagarzazu.

[11] Any of the Gaelic words that Campbell could not categorise or that related to myths, second sight and ghosts, he entered into his ‘Book of Strange Things‘.

[12] In terms of birds and aeronautics, the ‘chord’ describes the imaginary line drawn between the leading edge and trailing edge of a bird’s wing.

[13] P.73, Folksong and Folklore of South Uist, Margaret Fay Shaw, second edition Birlinn Ltd (1999). First published Oxford University Press 1977.

[14] From conversation in Tuulikki’s studio, 12.9.14.

[15] P122, The Peat Fire Flame, Folk Tales and Traditions of the Highlands and Islands, Alasdair Alpin MacGregor, The Moray Press, (1937).

[16] P.1,Canna: The Story of a Hebridean Island, John Lorne Campbell, Fourth Edition, edited by Hugh Cheape, Birlinn Ltd, (2004).

[17] Geoff Sample, from his notes taken on Canna, Aug 2014.

[18] From verse (v), 5. Night-flight to the burrow. Away with the Birds score, Hanna Tuulikki.

 

‘Away with the birds’ is part of the Culture 2014 programme.

 Jenny Brownrigg, September 2014

A Story to be Read Inside a Tower

The one thing I am afraid of is moths.”

 The moths are in the tall turret, wrapped up in the green leafy carpet that climbs up the stairs. By torch light, we see them flit, contained in their own vertical cosmos, well beyond the stately rooms. We climb up to the highest point, gingerly stepping up and out onto the flat, flexing zinc, to look over the balustrade, past the concertina of tiled roofs to the horizon line beyond. A ship tanker lined in white fairy lights, glides from left to right, as the more adventurous of us rattle doors, on our quest to learn the layout of the house’s many passageways or to scare the ghosts. In one of the books lifted from the Library shelf, the writing on the page is so tiny, that the black ink coalesces to nearly cover the white.

The common clothes moth tineola bisselliella when caught between fingers turns to a gold dust, causing the sheerest cast of light over the ridges of fingerprints. The chine-collé printmaking technique sees an image transferred to a thin surface which has been bonded to a heavier support. The lighter paper pulls the finer detail from the metal plate. A print, now unwrapped and placed carefully on the studio table, has travelled from Dundee to Brazil and back. A subtle golden sheen embedded within the weight of the pressed black panes, causes a shimmering light to dance through the scratched inky darkness. The print now travels to Glasgow as a gift.

Uma Ray, Work in Progress, Hospitalfield Arts Residency, Aug 2014

Uma Ray, Work in Progress, Hospitalfield Arts Residency, Aug 2014

‘Of all that was there/ and of what there was none’. This house is a strange compression in time. In the Cedar Room, a man from another period holds a clay bowl, which has been simply made from coils and decorated with circles. On a shelf next to this portrait, this exact clay bowl sits in amongst the detail of the room. The bowl exists as both a painted artefact and a real object. Over in the artists’ studio, another bowl sits, perched on the head of a hovering blue body. What kind of spell is this?

A bump, the bus lurches and stops, reminding two of us of their journeys through India. A body moves involuntarily from back to front seat. Bang! A goat is held. Wheels dangle over the cliff edge. A man is hit. Don’t worry, we are the mountaineers! Now see this yellow transparent cloth suspended from the ceiling, in the studio. It is the cloth she picked up in India. The recent shared stories have served as a marker for her to return to this once visited place, through her work. Look through the material’s lined pattern and see the happy detritus of this space of making, from the man with his love of art who began it, to the present occupant. His plaster busts line the mantle. She makes her own discreet whittled objects as an everyday exercise. Half torsos here, a sewing needle there. All are in constant motion and rearranged, until they too come to a pause, resting on the curve of a pregnant belly, hidden in a unisex white office shirt.

A conversation begins on cadavers. A pencil presses too hard, then too light on the paper. It is hard to commit to the tracing of death. Another of us conducts a digital examination of Deleuze’s corpus. It is not about ‘being’ but ‘becoming’ (devenir). The action lies in the flow and the space in between, until it stops.

A row of static caravans, so neat and so ordered. Surely these oblongs are shaped to hug the landscape and horizon. A different kind of static, to the ones she has known, so it must be recorded onto reed paper. This image awaits its turn with others, ready to be suspended in the white curved track, to become a painted length of film.

Look up and see the golden light and the turned soil of the field through the window. Flatness becomes animated. Hands are helped in order to gesture silent words. They make for a strange yet moving couple, the child-like puppet who sits in the woman’s lap, out in the field. Indoors, the watercolours of their words and actions lie under the studio table. Again, a further step back in time into the bedrooms of young German Princes. The portrait of another couple, divided by age, hangs on the wall, warning youth of the outcome of hurried choices. Another of us dreams about this ill-matched couple.

Now in the courtyard, a small wire-haired dog dances in the concrete trough, his movements as exact as a puppet, disturbing the black water and green weeds through the regular rhythm of its paws. One door swings shut, locking out the dweller. A man climbs a ladder and moves through the window gap. His legs can be seen by the audience below, with toes slowly pointing, as they slide gracefully from view. Meanwhile a whippet opens other doors, without a care, nor good reason, but to dance on steel surfaces. A woman, with great care, places fresh flowers from the garden, onto tables throughout the house and forgets a pile of runner beans.

The Latin beat of Nosce te Ipsum is carved into the fireplace of the Picture Gallery, originally Plato’s maxim inscribed on the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. There are many translations here in our house, from Norwegian into Croatian, whispered through the grand halls. The translator follows the paths by day that her words take at night. She stops to admire blue wallpaper as seen in mirrors, or meet the outstretched hands of the figures in the tapestries. Another figure, another night, this time in white silk, moves through the house and up the stairs. An out of tune pianola plays.The leaves wind around the house’s ornate stone pillars. A stone tortoise takes refuge in the column’s base.

Another, whose name means Flax in Sanskrit or Bright in Hindi, methodically turns garden wire, then lengths of white paper, in her hands, and the gentle shapes of leaves begin to cascade. Raw material falls into the shapes they cannot refuse.

The house’s dwellers and visitors act as an encyclopaedia for each other as connections and new views are cultivated in a spirit of generosity. A film, ‘Solar Breath’ (2002) by Michael Snow, is recommended. For the film’s duration, as the cabin inhales and exhales, the curtains at the window rise and fall, to reveal the solar panel outside that fuels the camera and the enterprise.  A continuing circulation of ideas, conversation and actions fuels this particular house. The people within make an almighty collaborative generator which continually transfers energy from the original owners to the those who care for and guide this place and its inhabitants; to those that are invited to share a fragment of time within its walls. Several rivers flow through. One leads to Venice; another winds from India to Scotland and back. A smaller, regular tributary carries the willing recipients’ stomachs and mouths from work to dining table and back.

The last mystery: “Do all Canadians know each other?”

 

‘A Story to be Read in a Tower’ was written following a week spent with Hospitalfield Arts Interdisciplinary Residency practitioners in Arbroath, Scotland (Aug 2014): Mireille Bourgeois (CA), Yael Brotman (CA), Christine Goodman (UK), Libby Hague (CA), Birthe Jorgensen (UK), Anja Majnaric (HR) and Uma Ray (IN). The story picks up on what each person was working on at Hospitalfield Arts, along with fragments of conversations and experiences of the week spent together.

Jenny Brownrigg, August 2014