In Summer 2017 I worked with moving image and sound artist Jo Millett, and sound artist Rob Gawthrop with the support of Shetland Museum and Archives, and local people, to create the installation 'Confusing shadow with substance'.
"Our approach considers the sea as neither inert substance, nor neutral space, and examines the close relationship between land and sea particular to the locality".
Investigating the traces - tangible and intangible - of a once thriving fishing station at Stenness, Northmavine, Shetland, where hundreds of men worked and lived for the summer months in the 18th and 19th centuries, Confusing shadow with substance examines the relationship between past and present and the interplay of land, sea and human activity at the site of one of Shetland’s busiest former fishing stations. The material remains of the Stenness station are elusive today, yet the more we explore the landscape, the more its traces are revealed.
The resulting three screen video and sound installation, looping continuously with images and sounds, navigates between distance and nearness, permanence and transience. Poised between land and far haaf, the shoreline draws us to the sea, a constant presence in a world of embedded memory. Weaving together contemporary and historical images, Shetland voices merge with the sea, drawing breath with the tide. The work is concerned with the interplay between that which is gone, that which remains and that which drifts between the two.
Initially shown during the summer 2017 at Shetland Museum in Da Gadderi, Lerwick, we secured further funding from Creative Scotland for a tour of the installation to be shown in Scotland and outlying areas across Shetland - initially scheduled to take place in 2020 it was postponed until 2021/22 due to Coronavirus.
(Confusing shadow with substance’ is a phrase used by local fisherman Davey Smith, describing the process of direction-finding and use of local landmarks called ‘meids’ to aid navigation).
Funded by Creative Scotland
For more information see: http://www.confusingshadowwithsubstance.co.uk/
Stenness Sound Walk was initiated in 2020 as a response to the coronavirus and the need to make work that could be experienced alone and outside. It uses voices recorded both during the video and sound piece, plus more recordings of local Shetland voices. This is now permanently set up on Stenness beach and accessed via a QR code and download (see leaflets that can be obtained from Lerwick Tourist Information and Braewick Cafe, and Lerwick and Tangwick Haa museums.
Landlinks/Groundwork: The Walk, March 2020
On 22nd March I took part in a synchronised walk. The project's aim was to observe and respond to changing landscapes, artists walking and studying the landscape in randomly chosen places/landscapes on the same day and the same time; to walk and record using multi-discipline art forms. The exhibition’s aim was to avoid 'attachment' to subjects that are 'interesting' or 'beautiful' and to leave that choice to chance.
Two days before I started this project I was in Iceland in a snowstorm; suddenly I was back in the UK on the Mendips trying to come to terms with the strange situation created by the pandemic, stuck in Somerset unable to get back to my house in Shetland. I found myself walking, never having been to this location before, with no idea what I would find. I tried to think myself into the place; spent a lot of the time lying on the ground, crawling about looking at and photographing things that are often unnoticed, hidden in undergrowth, and recording sounds. Negotiating the terrain - climbing over and under fallen trees, losing the path, scrambling up slippery banks, getting tangled in bracken and brambles. Just sitting listening and writing notes about what I could see/feel/smell/hear.
Having combined my images with my field recordings of natural sounds, I asked sound artist Michael Fairfax to respond to these. So it became a collaboration; the resulting sound track provides an unsettling edge – alluding to the fear that hovers in the background despite the beauty around us - the fear of not knowing what the next few months – years - hold for us all.
This is a link to the piece made: https://vimeo.com/432160454
Link to an interview about my response to the project:
See also: http://www.michaelfairfax.co.uk/
Stenness Fishing Station 19thC (courtesy of Shetland Museum & Archives)
The sound walk invites you to explore Stenness beach as it once was - an important fishing station until the late 19th century. A unique, yet elusive, part of Shetland’s heritage, the soundscape encourages you to re-imagine the beach as a hive of activity, where communities of fishermen and traders made temporary homes over the summer months.
Placed in the landscape are audio fragments of sounds and voices - observations of early travellers visiting Stenness, archival documents relating to ‘haaf’ fishing, agreements binding men to the summer fishing, indebtedness, accounts of storms and loss of life, and even what the fishermen bought for their tea - so you will encounter many different voices.
The map of the beach indicates the area containing about twenty sound clouds – but it’s up to you to discover them. Take your time; slow down; absorb the place and sounds as you meander around the beach. Your entrance into a sound pool will be heralded by changes in the background sound – you might hear the crash of a wave, a bell ringing, a seabird calling, or even a 'ludder horn'. Sound will change as you walk in and out of sound pools, voices will come and go.
To access Stenness sound walk is an easy 2-stage process: You need a mobile phone and headphones. The app holds all you need. Once downloaded the GPS signal on your phone will trigger the sounds.
IMPORTANT: download this before you go to the beach from somewhere with a good signal.
Stage 1: Search & download 'SatsymphQR' from the Appstore or GooglePlay (it's free). It’s best to download the app from a fast wifi connection before setting off for the beach.
Stage 2: Once you have downloaded this app, open it. Point your phone camera at the QR code here and allow to download.
How to navigate: Go to Stenness beach, Northmavine (Map: Landranger Sheet 3 Shetland - North Mainland, or use Google maps). Put on your headphones, open the Stenness app on your phone; it will start immediately. Put your phone in your pocket and wander.
This is a site-specific sound walk so you need to go to Stenness, Northmavine and use the app while there to experience it fully.
If you can't get to Shetland or don't have a mobile phone there is a shorter linear mp3 version available on the website:
Background: Significant as one of the largest of the summer haaf fishing stations, hundreds of men worked and lived at Stenness for the summer months in the 18th and 19th centuries. At its zenith 60 - 70 boats used the station, rowing out to the far fishing grounds to fish for Ling and tusk, the main salt-cured species for exporting.
Further information about the history of the fishing station is available on the
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