Catalyst Arts: Collective Histories of Northern Irish Art series; this exhibition, and schedule of performances, talks and presentations curated by Chérie Driver. Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, 24 October – 30 November, 2013 … pictures are from a 45 minute performance – for ghetto blasters, pre-recorded cassette tapes and voice – I made on 26 October, 2013. A catalogue, with essay by Chérie Driver is available from the gallery.
I’ve spent a lot of the last month watching the shadows of whole clouds climb mountains; guiding on Skye, in the Cairngorms, in Feshie and Torridon. By contrast, for a few days, I was also in Belfast. I’ve seen landscapes shimmer on the far side of a glen in a haze of mauve, grey, green, orange vapor; the slopes seemingly on fire as the sun set, and as language set on my ability to describe just what it was that I was seeing. The object, and place as the origin of the object whose purpose appears to be to mark place, landscape and memory, has recently perhaps been where my casual reflections have been exercised; the extent to which we confer greater value on one aspect of lived experience as opposed to another, and the reasons why we confer value on this object, this picture, this action – irrespective of how empty, full, Grand, picturesque, menacing, ambiguous or beautiful their qualities appear to us to be – instead of all the others we could have selected … I began to get closer with these lines from a poem I was writing: ‘I think of you waking to this flat sky, a cup of hot water and a piece of toast / slipping out of your chemise of light, / thinking in pieces of sky made by the branches of a tree.’
From the seashore at the cleared settlement of Boreraig on Skye, an ammonite fossil; from the armchair in the front room a sketch of a big tree made near midnight on the longest day of the year; a glass marble (this fell to the ground from a third story window of a closed convent in Jerusalem as I walked under its eaves); those arrangements of materials and objects – like the pillows and garden chair in the photograph – that play with sculptural purpose, experimentation and misrecognition; a theatre of pillow talk, and domestic theatre (though in this instance the arrangement was wholly utilitarian – the towel was pegged over the pillows to prevent songbirds from landing and excreting on them); the crescent left on a window sill by a winter moon … or the heavy concrete stars seen near the summits of some mountains (stars that have been made, carried and left in place by the artist and climber, Dan Shipsides … near the summits because when I was talking with him in Belfast about the project he was clear that they had to be set down off to the side and away from the summit – as an object to be at first uncertain of, to be seen, over there or out of the corner of ones eye, only then to be approached, out of curiosity? fear? wonder? and explored close up … A different but no less perceptive view of things may be to think about Robert Macfarlane’s observation, made I think in his introduction to Nan Shepherd’s book ‘The Living Mountain’, that getting to the summit of a mountain is on the whole a very masculine aspiration – getting to the top and looking down on the world below – whereas, he argued, Nan was happier in and around the Cairngorm mountains and their lower reaches, off to the side, or, that lovely Scottish word, outwith, the plateau she so clearly loved … she looked up and into, as well as down and upon the mountain and its surrounding landscapes, being more likely to be discovered in the mountain, as opposed to on the top of it … and I think a similar guiding principle is at play in Shipsides project); a facsimile of an early pen, wash and chalk drawing by Paul Nash, Falling Stars (1912) reproduced in The Penguin Modern Painters booklet on Nash’s work published in 1944 with an accompanying essay by Herbert Read; a child’s coloured pencil drawing propped above the fireplace depicting one day at the shows (carousels and dodgems, rollercoaster, queues of parents and children!, candy floss and ice-cream stalls); an old wooden coat hanger of my father’s; a shard of frosted patterned glass that the garden gave up one summer; assorted shells and pebbles; an ornamental hedgehog … a symbolic landscape of objects in place and Time.
This exhibition finishes on the 4th of May at the Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh and includes works by Rachel Barron, Miranda Blennerhasset, Paul Keir, Kevin Henderson, Lorna McIntyre, Andrew Mackenzie, Jo Milne, Neil Nodzak, Malcolm O’Connell, Eric Schumacher and Alan Shipway (firstname.lastname@example.org / www.facebook.com/talbotricegallery) A catalogue with an essay by the curator James Clegg is available from the gallery.
If you know the Cairngorm mountains of Scotland, even just a little bit, then it’s not too difficult to imagine that a few minutes after taking these pictures at Lochan Mor the temperature dropped another couple of degrees and it started to snow on an off for the rest of the evening … made for a chilly night in the tent for spring! I’d been out last Friday on a recce in advance of a group arriving from Belgium next week for three days of mountain biking. As Nan Shepherd writes in The Living Mountain, ‘Summer on the high plateau can be as delectable as honey; it can also be a roaring scourge. To those who love the place, both are good, since both are part of its essential nature. And it is to know its essential nature that I am seeking here’ … As I rode on my own for those four or five hours, I journeyed “outwith” the mountain, and once more into my own life; momentarily beyond desire. As I mull over that afternoon riding, I’m beginning I think to understand what Shepherd means when she ends her book with the line: ‘To know Being, this is the final grace accorded from the mountain.’