My friend Lynn Bennett MacKenzie from Gairloch, runs an artists residency in collaboration with Somu Desai from India. Last year the first Ceangal=connections residency was based up in Gairloch, there was no funding but the invited international artists were put up and fed by people in the community. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to help out & take part, i found it quite an emotional roller coaster working intensely like this on conceptual pieces, to have so much artistic liberty after decades of commercial, material, time and societal constraints. for Ceangal 2012 i managed to blog most days of the event. Ceangal 2013 ( blog posts here ) has been a bit different, i didn’t have much time in the run up to help out Lynn as much as i wanted to. My new position at the Fire station means its difficult to get time off away from the village for meetings etc. I booked a couple of weeks leave in order to take part in the actual art work. Again the Creative Scotland funding application bid that Lynn had worked so hard on fell through, getting funding can take months of time, and seems to only go to the same few favorite organisations in Scotland every time. However all was not lost because this year SNH ( Scottish Natural Heritage ) were able to partner Ceangal and help out, it is Year of Natural Scotland, and the Ceangal residencies are all about responding to the natural environment of NW Scotland. So this year we were based at Beinn Eighe nature reserve near Kinlochewe. The Highland Council also granted a small fund towards things to help for printing, food and transport costs. A massive amount of good will, and even more hard graft on Lynn’s part was required again to make this happen, Somu was on the other end of the phone & internet to oversee things as well. A few volunteers were also there to help with cooking, baking , transport etc. The local church lent a mini bus a couple of times which helped with excursions for the artists, accommodation and working space was provided at the SNH field station in the hostel dorms where environmental students stay. This arrangement was brilliant as it meant that everyone was together rather than spread apart, the bio-science students were able to provide some insight and inspiration to the artists too.
I had to commute daily to and from Lochcarron as I couldn’t stay over with my doggie, Bruno. This was a bit of a trek but it meant i got a good night’s sleep and could keep up a little with some of my other jobs as i rushed past. I didn’t have time to keep up and blog the intense experience however, just rushed some photographs each day onto facebook pages. It is a great experience meeting new people, lovely to experience other cultures, and their fabulous cooking, how friendly and polite some peoples are! how warm and kind! It was strange to see how women have different roles elsewhere, i wonder what they made of us strong Scottish lassies who do ‘mens’ work!? It is also a great insight to see out land and communities through other people’s eyes, it sends our familiar flora, fauna, geology, history, politics, traditions and cultures into sharp focus. Interesting questions about how the land ownership ended up the way it is, indeed. Also people were a little shocked when they heard some of the rules and regulations we are up against, not quite so democratic as our world wide reputation would have, it seems. We had artists from Inverness, gairloch, lochcarron, North Uist, and Japan, india, poland, and france. We all work in a variety of different media from different backgrounds. The UK artists all seem to reflect the constant struggle to live financially and be a practicing artist, is it so difficult elsewhere i wonder?
This year was less stressed for me, putting the art head on and pushing aside other work is always a battle. When i looked at the programme it dawned on me with horror that I only really had 2… or 2.5 working days out of the 2+ weeks ! between the excursions, having to stick to one of my teaching commitments, to head back on thursdays early for Fire brigade commitments, and having the weekend away to be a guest at a comic con in Oxford… I simply had no time to faff about and let the art work flow and evolve. I’d learnt at other events and last year , that i tend to push myself to the maximum, to make the biggest, most , bestest, elaborate and technically challenging thing i could. So this year i resolved to let go of all that and have a more playful attitude, to ‘ keep it simple’ and just do what i could. I had lots of ideas that involved sticks, wood, lanterns, fabric, masks, burning things, arrows, film, paper, waste, boats, water. I suppose i filled my head with ideas, and filled the car with junk & set out to play with a rucksack on my back wondering into the wilds looking to explore places i normally don’t have time to.
The first experiments with waste paper boats and sails and burning didn’t really work, it was too windy and wavey on loch maree. this symbolised me sloughing off the normal information overload, work, tasks junk, clutter of life, burning it and sending it off transformed into the natural world like the rubbish that it is. However at a welcoming ceilidh for the visitors i’d taken lots of photos of the sottish dancing, the dances are celtic knotwork interlacing in my head, i wanted to bring those dances into the natural places, i thought about paper people, but had a bag of clay with me, and started making stick people instead.
The clay people arrived on paper boats, and started colonising the land from the seas, the first days’s work seemed to evolve into a story about the first peoples to the holy loch of maree. I had to fight the clutter in my head, fight the waves, fight the wind, fight the clay, fight the dog whining and barking at rustles in the forest, fight time, fight my battered small cheap camera and the biggest battle of all was the midges. However these little clay people were the break through i’d been looking for, they just begged to be put out and about, for me to go and explore. If i had five minutes or 5 hours, i could fit these in and around the time, the space, the weather. As it happened i got a lot more than 2.5 days i managed to squeeze more out of it and get lots done. I experimented with burning to see if i could harden or half fire them in sitchu, as suspected the wet clay cracked and exploded, but the flames engulfing them were spectacular. Peoples reaction to these clay figures was brilliant, everyone seemed to find something in them, in fact so much so that i started to worry if they were not ‘conceptual’ enough! One day myself and the dog had a massive trek up 500m a hill pass and got very badly midge bitten, i’d hoped to go right up to BeinnEighe, but my doggie is getting old & has a sore leg so can’t manage such a big walk any more. So the wee figures just waved at the mountains instead.
This residency ended up not being stressy or challenging for me, i enjoyed myself, inspired and relaxed. Still exhausting though! The company was wonderful. new friends made. The final show was amazing, i really didn’t expect many people to come, after all people are busy in the summer, it’s a small wee west coast village and conceptual contemporary art, so expectations were set pretty low. Now while no-one bothered to attend from my village 30 minutes away, plenty of other people came in their droves! we hadn’t had time to set out canapes or get changed when they started pouring in! local people we’d met through the time, passers by, tourists, curious people from other communities, a constant stream all afternoon and evening. The reaction to the artwork’s was also very positive. It just shows that contemporary art need not dumb down for non-artists to understand or relate to. The residency was a fantastic success and the local communities who welcomed the artists should feel very proud of what they achieved, as should Lynn who worked so hard to keep all this together.
We fought the weather
we fought the midges
I will put my a gallery of final work & my statement on a new post. Here.