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

Monday, 31 January 2011

Rocks and Waves

31 January

The stones pictured below are on the shore towards Portgower. The only stone I can reliably identify is quartz. I used to be better at it when I was a child and I suppose the knowledge is still filed away somewhere in my brain but I can’t find it. Many of the stones have markings which resemble faces, the first one below for example.

Back home in Blairgowrie for a few days I go the library and borrow ‘Leviathan or, The Whale’ written by Philip Hoare – in the first few pages I read the following and immediately think of the sea and the River Helmsdale –

To the careless, the water may seem the same from one day to the next, but under observation it becomes a continuous drama . . . played out at he edge of the shore or on the open ocean. It is a natural spectacle capable of rising dozens of feet up into the air, or lying low like a glassy pond, so mirrored that it might not be there at all, seamlessly joining earth to sky. Surging and peaking, self-renewing and self-perpetuating, it can take away as easily as it gives.

I am looking forward to traveling back tomorrow.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Burn’s Night, Musical Spray Paint, Bed Rock, Fault Lines and Pebbles on the Beach

26 January No pictures yet

Ok - I've completely lost track of time now - so much keeps happening here.

On Saturday 22 after a day spent on front of the computer I was ready to spend the evening at the Timespan Burn’s Supper , organised and delivered by the fundraising committee aided by volunteers. A very good night was had by all, about 60 guests came along – there were many smiling faces and much laughter. A bowl of broth to start and then the celebrations were introduced by Jean Sargent when Jamie Kelly (extremely smart in his kilt) piped in the haggis and eating began. The haggis was announced to be eminently tasty – it was accompanied by generous helpings of tatties and neeps and lined the stomach nicely - ready for the trifle to follow. The trifles were made by the organisers and so delicious I had to have spoonfuls from at least five of them – some were alcoholic and some were not but they were all fantastic. After dinner speeches were made by Jacquie Aitken (Timespan’s Archivist) and Christine Cowie (Heritage) – both received hearty applause. Amongst other excellent entertainments Lisa Macdonald from Timespan sang and dancing was by the Kerry Findlay Highland Dancers, four young women who gave an original take on the familiar form. I was impressed by their performance in such a small space surrounded on all sides by the audience. Gerry Wood and Penny Woodley kept the kitchen going and the tables waited/weighted with food. Caroline Kelly kept the guests well watered with various beverages and Lorna Jappy persuaded people to buy tickets for the raffle which made a substantial contribution to the funds raised. (Approximately £1000!!). The raffle took place after a very popular game which involved seeing who could roll a pound coin nearest to a bottle of Clynelish Whisky (from Brora). The man who won was very very happy.

On Sunday and Monday I reflected that sometimes I spend as much time with my head down looking at the ground beneath my feet as the sky or the sea or the river. Down on the shore towards Portgower the small stones can look like sweeties, humbugs, and the like. While walking I was thinking about the Earth - how it spins and we do not really notice, how it constantly shifts beneath us and we hardly notice – unless there is an earthquake or a volcanic eruption. Here at Helmsdale an ancient fault line can be seen in places, the Helmsdale Fault means that one part of the Earth's crust slid under another part - how suddenly did it occur? Was it imperceptible or did it heave and crash? My favourite reading at the moment is The Excursion Guide to the Geology of East Sutherland and Caithness (eds N.H. Trewin and A. Hurst) which I found in the archive. It has detailed descriptions of the rocks etc between Golspie and Ousdale with a lot about Helmsdale. I understand hardly anything in the book at all, it is a poetical foreign language with classifications of these stones I see beneath my feet. It has no pictures so I can’t match what I see with what is described. Therefore the pictures of the rocks, stones and pebbles for this blog must wait, the photographs I have taken must be developed and printed. Then when I post them people can tell me what they are – instead of me describing them as mottled pinky orange or striped grey with an oblong of darkness in the centre.

Remember to come and see Dufi’s exhibition Teenage Kicks while it's on at Timespan, – and on Monday 24th Jan there was an excellent Musical Response Workshop where we all had to bring our favourite LP’s with our favourite tracks and play them on an old stereo in the gallery space. I like this exhibition, Dufi (Al MacInnes and Fin Macrae) call themselves Graffiti Artists and here I see more evidence of how Graffiti Art is taken more seriously at this time than it has been for a while. The work is highly disciplined and well- thought out. Each piece functions by itself and they all work together as an installation. As you enter - on the left wall behind you there is a shelf with cans neatly ordered on top. The wall under the shelf has narrow stripes of multi-coloured paint sliding down towards the floor and a chameleon is concealed within them – I had to be shown it! Call myself an artist or what??? On the long left wall a selection of LPs are mounted – some you can take down and play on the stereo and some cannot be played because they are now works of art. On the back wall are prints of images stimulated by the lyrics from the albums that Dufi selected from their own list of about 500. On the right hand wall behind you as you enter is a stencil work which seems to hover above the gallery wall, pale blue and as fragile looking as a robin’s egg. The stereo system in the centre is placed on a cabinet which itself is placed on a square of typical living room carpet from around the 70’s. There is an armchair to sit in and headphones to listen with.

The workshop was friendly and welcoming – the two artists invited us to eat sweeties that reminded us of our childhoods, fruit salad chews and liquorice blackjacks, cola cubes and jelly gums, Tunnocks tea cakes, caramel bars and snowballs, Kool-aid from Canada and Creamola which had to be added to water and then fizzed. That reminded me of Spacedust and Flying Saucers. We then sat down and made our art works on paper embossed with the shape of a 7”single. Excellent fun was had by all – even those who insisted they could not do art demonstrated that they could.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Watching the water and “The Silver Darlings”

I am watching the river and the sea - still fascinated by their unending changing characters - colours, surfaces and movements, all within a hundred metres of each other. This morning I walk up to the new (ish) A9 bridge over the river mouth and look down at both waters moving towards each other. It is low tide and the wind blows from the North-West (I think) – lifting tiny waves on the surface of the bigger ones. It chases them the opposite way and they flee skittishly out to sea and towards the approaching sun.

The water is steel gray, purple, darkening blue towards the horizon a line so straight it could have been drawn with a ruler. Close to the shore the colours change, turquoise, pale yellow, pink and green and as I walk down the path to the beach the tide begins to turn. The slope here down to the sea is steeper and the waves pull the gravel and pebbles back with them after they crash down on them. The sun is a tiny sliver of molten orange bright and far away - the clouded sky has many layers in the sun’s light – trails wisps of pink and orange, huge washes of yellow ochre almost brown and back to the blues and the grays. Behind me the rain approaches, the sea changes again and although it is not rough I am reminded of the talk the night before last given by Tony Sinclair from Wick Heritage Society about herring fishing. We watched early films from the Johnston Collection which showed Wick in the days when it was a thriving part of the fishing industry. Some of the newer boats were powered by steam and some were still sail – but the most obvious difference was the sheer number of them – the sense of busyness, of hard labour, of noise – even though the films were silent. Men carrying huge weights of coal, of fish, women gutting herrings with cloths tied round their fingers to protect themselves from the knives and the salt. This work was piece work, the more you gutted the more you got. The herring were salted as they were unloaded by the men from the boats, salted again and then packed - belly up - in wooden barrels made by the cooper at the harbour. The herring were left to settle for a week or so and then more packed on top. Tony Sinclair then showed us a short but terrifying/wonderful film of a film on a Kinora home viewer. These worked on the same principle as a child’s flick book but were operated by turning a handle at the side, only one or two people could watch at a time. The film was of the lighthouse in the harbour being swamped by storm waves – and part was of a young boy standing at the end of the harbour wall. The mechanism of the Kinora was so smooth that the separate frames could not be seen – these images were also in colour.

I thought about all of this while looking at the sea, I thought about how frightened I would be if I was out in weather like that, I thought about how hard life can be, and is, and was, for some of us. I was woken from considering all of this by a warm nose snuffling at my hand – I turned and looked down and there was a light-eyed, brindled dog looking up at me and wagging its tail . . . time to go home for a hot cup of tea.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Sunday 15 January - Timespan-Third Stay

The weather was still cold when I came back on Wednesday this last week although it was not so intense - much of the snow had gone. When I looked through the photographs that I had taken here in Helmsdale before Christmas the light had a different quality then than it holds now.
In December I had said to Lorna, who works here, that what I loved about winter was the colours and yesterday we spoke again about the clarity of colour when there is snow and ice around. Violets and oranges, greens, blues and reds. Sometimes they are muted when there is mist or rain but when the sun shines and there is ice in the air they sing all around. Sing is the only word I can think of which speaks of the feeling they create- the colours resonate-resembling birdsong at dawn or robins at dusk.

Now, in January of the New Year, I am back by the River Helmsdale in the morning sun – warm and watching the water pass below the Telford Bridge. Under the arches the icicles have melted and the last of their drops rain down on the stones revealed by the ebbing tide. The resident crows take flight from the clock tower of the war memorial and clamour raucously as they swoop overhead, their wings flashing blue and black against the sky. A solitary heron beats its wings and trails its long legs behind on its way to the harbour.
At the harbour everything is quiet and still. I go to the Harbourmaster’s office and ask for tide tables so that I will know which way the water will be flowing – it is not always obvious. He comes downstairs and I mention the silent stillness. He has worked here for years and in that time the harbour has lost the last of its fishing boats because of the quotas imposed on Scottish fishermen by Europe. The restrictions have become tighter and tighter and are strangling the industry. At the moment the British public are taking more notice because of Hugh’s Fish Fight, but how long will the impetus for change provided by celebrity input last? Jamie Oliver’s successes with the quality of school dinners have had the feet cut from under them by the latest chancellor’s spending economies.
Food – it concerns us all – not least because most people’s access to it is controlled by big business. Many people wouldn’t recognise an entire cod – still less know what to do with it once they had managed to catch it.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Wire Music- only 12 hours left to listen

I listened to this programme over the New Year break and thought of the wires stretching over the car park at the clearance village at Badbea which produce an eerie and lost sound that enters the body and emphasises the sense of loneliness around. I decided to learn more and looked at the Allan Lamb website
Definite material for thinking about art.