I think it’s time I told you my news. I’ve been rather quiet on here over the last couple of months although I have an exciting Studio Conversation coming very soon so come back to see who I have been speaking to. No, I’ve been very busy working on new work because next Spring my Boundaries series is going to be exhibited within the new Gairloch Museum up in Scotland’s North West Highlands. I submitted a proposal in July and I have been given the go-ahead. The exhibition will open on 7th March and will be open until 25th April 2020. I’m absolutely delighted and very excited.
The area is one of enormous personal meaning to me. Our family holidays were always spent up there – my first visit was when I was three – and the fortnight was filled with feeding pet lambs, collecting eggs from the hen house on the beach at the bottom of the cliff, walking along the shore to a beautiful beach where we would play all day and other simple pursuits. My parents enjoyed our hoidays as much as I did; it was the highlight of our year and there was always a feeling of regret when we left to come home.
Last year during the lovely summer I was noticing the boundaries of fields as we walked. Those areas of edgelands, the strips of land between cultivated and uncultivated, tamed and wild. Nowhere is this more evident than the crofting areas of the North West Highlands of Scotland where this new work is based. We had a September holiday in Gairloch and were walking along a very familiar road in a remote area when I suddenly saw a large wooden post, wrapped with old rusty wire, and it really was a lightbulb moment. This post, along with the hundreds that dot the landscape were used to mark out the boundaries between crofts.
Once I realised what these posts were I started to note them wherever we went and on our return I arranged a visit to the Highland Archive Centre in Inverness to learn a little more about the crofting system and its history. I was particularly interested in the time around the 1886 Crofting Act and how it impacted on my area of special interest and I wasn’t disappointed with the documents I found.
Here’s the History bit. Until the 1886 Act, crofters, a traditional way of life, had no security of tenure – stories of the Clearances are well known but if you want to read a short novel about that time I’d recommend Iain Crichton Smith’s Consider the Lilies. However Professor Sir Tom Devine of Edinburgh University has written the definitive account in his recent book The Scottish Clearances: A History of the Dispossessed 1600 – 1900. In the Highland Archive Centre I found an interesting document dating from a couple of years after the 1886 Act that was the contract between Sir Andrew McKenzie and the community in Melvaig to hand over for a nominal cost a plot of land to build a school. McKenzie was the local landlord of a large area of land there although doesn’t appear to have been one of the ‘baddies’. I’ve always had an interest in history and projects have to engage my interest at that level, hence the Marks in Time series where I looked at the marks made by Medieval stone masons. It’s an immersive process. I want to read and collect information so I feel I know about my subject. It also explains why I find it difficult to switch from this immersive process to produce a one-off piece with another subject. Does that make sense?
During the stay last year I kept a sketchbook to make visual notes, lots of photographs and since then have been using these to explore ideas. Earlier this year I told you about the wonderful workshop I did with Sally Payne at Hospitalfield and in September I did a workshop with Matthew Harris which moved some more ideas on, including incorporating a few lines of text I’d written.
That then is my news. A solo exhibition, my first, in the new Gairloch Museum in the Spring. When we visited Gairloch last month I went to see the gallery and meet the staff. There has been a Heritage Museum in Gairloch for many years however they have moved into a former Cold War nuclear early warning bunker so a large concrete box has been transformed into a 21st century museum. It looks super and the gallery space, shop and teaching area offer the community a super facility. The new Museum opened on 1st July this year, opened officially by Princess Anne, and when we were there was attracting many visitors. I have agreed to do two workshops and a gallery talk so the early part of the year will be very busy and will mean a couple of trips to Gairloch. Not that I am complaining about that, it’s a beautiful place to be. I look forward to working with the staff there to make this exhibition a success
Memory of Place [a walk in time]
More information and reporting of what I’m up to in the coming weeks. In the meantime look out for my next Studio Conversation.