Timespan's Artist in Residence programme is supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Eurpoean Community Highland Leader 2007-2013 Programme

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Monday, 19 July 2010

Walking to Portgower and back again

Five – Portgower, Lothbeg, Helmsdale – I cross the bridge but instead of turning right up to the farm I continue past Gartymore and turn right on to an overgrown farm track. I cross a stone bridge over a burn running rapid and brown. I turn left and climb through scrub land on a stony path – there is a buzzard sitting on a pylon – it does not move. I climb over a gate and see a tumbledown croft on the right which is bigger then most and in better condition. I climb over another gate and follow another path which hugs the side of the hill and cross over the burn again on a flat wooden bridge and walk towards Raven Rock Road. Afterwards I am told the name of the road by Penny (Arts Committee) and Jean (Chairman) thinks that the field between me and the croft is called Fox Meadow. This part of the walk has been intense with colour and atmosphere, I can’t remember any noise or birdsong – I think I must have been concentrating so much on finding the way that my eyes were my focus of attention and I did not listen. I cross the A9 and walk through Portgower then turn down to the beach. Portgower is tiny, some houses detached and some in a terrace with their land on the other side of the narrow road. There are gardens here, flowers, vegetables, pigs, chicken and sheep – there is a hum of people talking and dishes clattering, a TV shouts from an open window. To reach the beach I cross the railway line then sit on a rock, drink my water and eat a sandwich. The air feels soft and again the world is silver grey and calm. I walk towards Lothbeg then realise that today I will not have time to reach there so I begin to walk back along the beach to Helmsdale beside the railway line. I take photographs of the stones. Pinks, yellows, greens, greys, blues and blacks – worn smooth and rounded granite veins circle them and some erode in such a way that they look like distorted heads. I find one piece of sandstone that has a slice taken from its surface, I turn it over and there is a sunset coloures within the stone. Julia (Timespan’s Artist in Residence) tells me that such stones are found here often. I never find another. The walk back takes three hours, partly because of taking photographs and also because the tide is in and I have to scramble over rocks and shingle. This I don’t mind – on the way I find two beautiful sticks of wood, one curved and one straight – I am surrounded by a moving cloud of Oystercatchers which wheep at me because I am near their eggs and chicks. I see the chicks fluffy and desperately running away ahead of me, and I see two clutches of eggs – pale green/grey with freckles. I do not touch them or stop to look – the birds are agitated enough already. The rain begins and I am drenched, I keep my head down to make sure I don’t tread on any eggs and slowly become aware of a new bird call which I did not hear straightaway as my hood was up. I have not seen these birds before, there is a flock of around 30 around me and they look as though they have been attracted by the Oystercatchers’ alarm calls and are attacking their chicks and eggs. I feel awful and then I realise they are also attacking me. They swoop down and scream around me, banking up into the air before turning back to have another go. They’re absolutely beautiful – their tail is forked and flows behind them and they dive and climb sharp and swift. I will look them up in my book when I get back. I watch them for a while then move on. When I pass below Gartymore they leave me alone. By the time I reach Helmsdale I have been soaked three times and have mostly dried off. I am exhilarated. I look the birds up, a choice between Artic Terns and Artic Skuas – because of their size I choose the Skuas.

Friday, 16 July 2010

The Land and the Sea: Alastair Cook

On the 29th July, I open my new exhibition, The Land and the Sea, at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall in Leith, Edinburgh. Since showing Sutherland | Caithness at Timespan this year, the support from the gallery has been wonderful, and we release a postcard pack to celebrate The Land and the Sea. The Land and the Sea draws together work I made in Sutherland and in Caithness, alongside other photographic work from the Eastern Seaboard. I'm also lucky enough to be returning to Helmsdale in early August, to begin a project surveying a number of ice houses, about which I am irrationally excited! I cannot tell you how much the support of Timespan means to me in my development as an artist.

Lindisfarne, Northumberland.

Forse, Caithness.

Tyningham, East Lothian.

Berwick Upon Tweed, Northumberland.

Berriedale, Caithness.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Plan for the week

Back to Helmsdale tomorrow morning. Can't wait to see how the knitting group and kids are getting on with helping make an installation for the exhibition.

Busy week ahead returning fires to the fireplaces in a couple of ruins in Wester Helmsdale for photographic works.

Featured on Man Shops Globe for the Sundance Channel

I was interviewed by Man Shops Globe on the Sundance Channel last year to be featured in a programme about Edinburgh. I can't see a clip of the programme online yet but there are photos of me and my work, including these chandeliers titled 'A Wee Bit of Light Relief', which I made collaboratively with artists Clare Waddle and Rebecca Wilson. I'll keep you posted if I spot a clip.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Walking Weather

Four - Eldrable Hill – I cross the Telford Bridge over the river and then the railway and follow the road up and around West Helmsdale towards a small farm where there is a track towards Eldrable Hill. At first the track is narrow and enclosed on either side by yellow gorse then there is turf and hill and sky, heather and peat, tiny bog flowers I have never seen before - and a whole herd of red deer which run as I approach, bounding away and springing over a fence then out of sight over Creag a’ Choire. Today the wind is strong and constant in my face the clouds in the sky hang low and rain threatens. When I have followed the deer I cannot see the path behind me and I move into a new place of land and sky all around – no sea or sound of the sea. The river is hidden in the strath below so I look over to the North over Caen Hill, Solus Craggie and Cnoc Meadhonach and I see Morven - triangular peak blue and pointing to the sky. The hills all advance and recede according to the light, sometimes they seem more sheer and close and at other times it is almost as though they are at rest – stilled - a vast stone sea, it’s motion so slow according to our vision that we can only sense it with another part of our being. All the colours of the world are muted, purple and green grey and brown and I can hear nothing apart from the wind. I try to find the track that cuts down past Creag an Taghain and passes through Gartymore before returning to Helmsdale but I cannot. So I climb no further, I finish - deafened by the wind and turn back home the way I have come – chased there by the rain.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Edwyn Collins live and direct

Who would have thought that I would be kicking back in Timespan with a glass of vino and listening to a live rendition of 'Rip it up' by the main man himself, Edwyn Collins!A bizarre but welcome opportunity, which I will never forget!
Thanks Edwyn

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

An explanation of sorts

As well as these longer walks I go out from Timespan each day and walk over the Telford Bridge and up around West Helmsdale and Gartymore, then back down to Helmsdale via either the A9 bridge or the beach and the path beside the river. The River Helmsdale is quite narrow and as it passes beneath the two bridges before reaching the sea its level becomes a focus for my attention. I begin to watch the water closely, noting its ebbs and flows, the difference in its surface according to weather and light – the vegetation and animal life around – the stones and sand on the river bed that are revealed twice each day. The summer nights are light and this year the sky is overcast much of the time, during this stay I never see the moon but can guess its nearness to the Earth by the height of the water under the bridge. Before coming here I thought that any work I made would contain elements like water and processes like time - and now watching the tidal flow of the river I decide that water and time and place will be the focus.

Water notes (images)

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Fifth day - Navidale beach and farm

There is a soft grey and silver sky and silver smooth water, where both meet at the horizon is hidden - blurred except where far away patches of light mirror the sun. No wind today and tiny waves fold clear and quiet on stone and sand and rock that looks white sheets laid out to dry. Duck families swim and dive, bobbing up in turn, gulls swoop and scream and cormorants spread their wings. There are butterflies, black spiders, beetles, bees all buzzing in the warm air. Climb the green hill behind and up from the beach -lush with grass that soaks the feet. A path leads through part of the farm beside a deep calm pool that reflects the sky above then tracks past a walled and gated graveyard to the road beyond.

Walk to Navidale

Friday, 2 July 2010

Crackaig Beach

Crackaig Beach. Sheep cropped turf with minute flowers behind the dunes, caravans mostly empty some look abandoned, concrete structures left over from the war, sand and stone beach, rock pools, cormorants and shags, plovers and oyster catchers, a dead seal and dead barn owl beyond, one white wing blowing upright against the wind, salt crusts on the stones, black marked rocks like paint spilled – this part of the Earth rests on one of the many fault lines in Scotland. On the beaches you can see where one part of the world has slipped under another – some of the rocks spread out like quilts on the sand, some recline on one arm and resemble figures in the sun, others angle upward - sharp and dark splitting easily and revealing ancient fossils within – the stones in the rock pools are like jewels in the shining water.

Thursday, 1 July 2010


Birch trees Gorse coloured River Helmsdale Water Colour

Finally managed to get Time

A blog which looks back over my shoulder– a blog for the time span between 2nd and 28th June.

This is not something I do so much now – writing I mean. So basically it will be a list of where I have been in and around Helmsdale during the first part of my RSA Residency at Timespan in June. The second part of the residency will take place in November and December of this year. It’s interesting thinking about how ideas for work begin. Before coming I had already thought about how I would investigate the passage of time, light nights and dark days, the movement of the tides and the difference between fresh and salt water. Now I was here in this remote harbour town on the north east coast of Sutherland with some basic knowledge about how and why the town had come into being and some ideas for beginning work. What follows is parts of my memory of being here. Weather permitting I will visit these places again in the winter and definitely visit the people I have met.

Places (Images to follow)

Walk One – Walk to Marrel between the hill Creag Marail and the River Helmsdale. The hill of Creag Bun-Uilidh on the other side of the river behind the town is coloured by the striking deep yellow of gorse – the blue sky makes the yellow stronger. Smell of coconut – except that really coconut smells like gorse because the scent of gorse was here first. Greens of willows, birches, sycamores, broom and grasses. Wild flowers blowing, bird song, sheep bleating, lambs running, insects buzzing, fish jumping and water flowing. A silent landscape full of noise.