familiar settings in which my recent walking and mapping projects
have found themselves – A Company ofMountains(14 mountain conspectus on the Isle of Skye), Walking and Seeding the John Muir Way, a walk and planting from Dunbar to
Helensburgh, and there were our own /there were the others, a series of silent walks of remembrance at parks and
gardens in England in the care of the National Trust – are, in their distinct characters, at odds with the wild
atypical uplands of The Cabrach. This peaty 'gamekeepery' region is lodged between the Cairngorm massif to the south and the
ferm-touns of Strathbogie to the north. Here there are hills, but no definitive mountain
range, and glens, but set within expanses of boggy mire. To the novice it seems a region likely to
endanger ankles and displace the mind from sensible landmarks and settled
word-mntn (Cairngorm), poem AF, photograph LA
Cabrach is, in human terms, semi-extinct. It bears the traces of settlement, transhumance and wayfaring, in shieling, drove roads, blue-stone cairns, fords, wells, stone circles, and bothies – all hinted at in place-names. Nowadays the hills are dominated by the old and new technologies of factory grouse shooting and
wind-farms, which lay down metalled tracks, erect deer fences, and speak to the horror vacui of forced
decline and exploitation. Land ownership in Scotland remains an issue that froths and grumbles but awaits the full spate of reform.
project that I have been working on over the past year was commissioned by Deveron Arts Hielan’ Ways, co-ordinators of The Walking Institute. I have given the work the title:
Some Colour Trends:
a genealogy of
place-names relating to colourin the Cabrach and neighbouring regionswith new
translations into English
Here trend is shucked away from its metropolitan context: trend, from treid,
trod: a drove,
a path, a direction of travel. My trending is a tweet-free zone.
Unlike previous journey projects, the road north and Out of Books, which revived the traditional
notion of The Tour and renewedcultures of viewing, in The Cabrach I could find no figures to follow – no Basho & Sora, Boswell
& Johnson, Pennant, or Burns, to act as visitors and guides. Aside from some local history there were no obvious significant texts to rub
shoulders with. Its an oral landscape, best known for its bothy songs.
At first I felt thwarted by the seeming lack
of definition in the landscape – one could almost say, in contemporary-speak, the place seemed to lack topographical 'celebrity', compared to Skye, with its famous mountain peaks. The drove roads – or trends – that defined the project sometimes exist as marked routes, some of which carry names; others have been colonised by roads, where folk's need to travel upgraded them; and sometimes the trends are anonymous, half-lost, or forgotten. Haldane's Old Roads of Scotland remains the classic history.
Today Scotland brims with new Ways
named after celebrities – Muir, Cuthbert, Buchan – but out there on the moors, looking for Ca' place-names, following -------- paths, we would be looking to tread in the footsteps of the anonymous drover.
There were also my practical limits as a
walker. Claudia Zieske, a hiker of marathon proportions, was curious
about how I might access these remote places, without stepping over them? And I had to ask myself: why
this insistence to track with the mind and imagination where the legs cant step? Skye has a culture of skylines. The John Muir Way is a single trail to plant seeds along. But what of the all-over-up-down-and-boggy
Cabrach? What landscape is more removed from the careerist highways of the contemporary, from the Sublime or Romantic? My research began with John Milne's Celtic Names of Aberdeenshire – this was before I learnt that he is notoriously unreliable. I read that the drovers, always travelling at the pace of their beasts, a steady 10-miles a day, would distinguish between the black roads, Ca' Dubh, whose peat moss became impassable in rain, and the more secure footing of the yellow trends, Ca' Buidhe. From that black/yellow differentiation I then devised a systematic analysis, based upon place-names and colours.
Names, to reveal the patterns of habitation
and hybridity, from Gaelic, to Gaelscots, Scots, and English, with traces of
Pictish and hints of Indo-European.
an Daimh Bhuidhe
The Wormy Hollow
Colours, to reveal how the inhabitants
perceived the stuff of the earth’s surface, how they spoke to its appearance,
and what that said of use.
Hill of Snowy
Hill of Greenfold
Colours to isolate cultural perceptions –
names – and topographical realities – peat, heather, moorgrass, sward, heathen
stone – and expose them to an aesthetic regime of typographical modeling,
rendering the colour walks that illustrate this blog – the colours chosen in collaboration with John Murray, the designed composed with Studio LR. The Cabrach was revealed to be more colourful than its appeared.
are composed of words
what a place once was
the names of rivers, burns & mountains
are the mother lode of onomastics
reveals the gap
speaking and writing
than the maps
was to explore lost languages and eroded ecologies.
there are no rowan
on Rowan Mountain
from shieling to shooting butt
a rise in class
a fall from grace
finally understand why so many Gaelic names refer, in translation, to combined
colours, bluey-grey, greeny-grey; to grasp why a mountain range was blue-gorm
to some folk and red-ruadh to others; and see how broken-breacain,
pockledhillsides defined the
complexity of Scotland’s rocks
birth to a science: geology
its terrain gave birth to tartan
(after Paul Shepheard)
na Duibhre, Gloomy Burn
my head rose in moor-grass
then spilt into darkness
Tairich Laichcavine, Ruddy Burn of the Butterwards
a faint flavour
Allt na Greine,
Wee Sun-warmed Burn
vestiges of cud
Another task that I took on was the
composition of English translations of the names. I have attempted to create
respectful equivalents to the Scots and Gaelic originals, as an alternative to
the existing translations, which are functional transcriptions of elements,
with little attempt to suggest the names’ music or deeper associations. Perhaps
this is one way in which the poet can renovate the wilderness?
Haunt of the Lucky Stag
of the Eerie-lanestanes
the walk leaves
a lag that lurks
in pools of darkness
of that fundamental question of belonging – in a place that I can barely
access, whose moors are bare, strange, beautiful in moments of sunny prospect?
I think back to the accusation “You can never belong in
nature”, and recognize again how that forced my awareness: with or without
walking, we may find and share ways of belonging in the wilderness.
Colour Trends was made in collaboration with:
Ron Brander, who advised on local history.
Maoilios Caimbeul, who made Gaelic translations.
Alexander Twig Champion, who made field trips
Peter Drummond, who advised on the interpretation of place-names
John Stuart-Murray, who advised on place-names on colours
David Wheatley, who composed a companionable essay Simone Kenyon, who walked the entire route And Luke Allan and Brodie Sim, who co-ordinate the studio.
It will appear as a book and digital prints
in November 2014, on the occasion of a symposium organized by The Walking
Institute, Deveron Arts, in Tomintoul.
for Hielan’ Way, commissioned by DeveronArts. The WalkingInstitute initiative was developed by Deveron Arts in collaboration with guest curator Simone Kenyon. The Hielan' Ways network includes historical routes, colour walks, hydrological walks, and a 5-day route with accommodation.
Global Oracle is a book-length poem, exhibition installation, and audio poem.
The book is available now (morning star: 96pp, paperback, £7.50), and can be ordered by emailing email@example.com.
The installation is included in Counterpoint, as part of Generation, at Talbot Rice Gallery (01 August–18 October, 2014).
The audio poem, with sound design by Chris Watson, is available from iTunes as a free download from 13 August.
Global Oracle: a work of prophetic scienceis an apicultural model of global satellite communication and navigation systems. Here the complex navigation and communication systems of bees and humans are read together.
This is the most ambitious multimedia artwork I have worked on since Swarm (ASX), an apicultural model of worldwide speculative finance, which I made for the 2012 Sydney Biennale. Global Oracle was commissioned by University of Warwick Art Collection, as a permanent artwork which I will install on the campus in 2015. Once complete it will provide comradely outdoor companionship to Simon Paterson's wonderful Cosmic Wallpaper wall-piece.
The project is a technological pastoral, similar to some of the artworks I produced forSkying, which considered renewable energy, landscape, and aesthetics. In this new project five NAVSTAR-style satellites have been constructed, in collaboration with Spencer Jenkins and Old School Fabrications. Imagine the straw satellites, which offer themselves as nests for solitary bees, in flight among sycamore and sweet chestnut trees. The gallery installation also includes five traditional bee skeps, with their Omphalos-like forms, punctuating a wall text.
Global Oracle explores the relationship between bees, prophecy in Ancient Greece, and GPS satellite navigation systems, such as our contemporary oracle, Garmin. It offers a touching paean to dwelling, and an elegy for the fate of the bees, which is our fate.
The oracle at Delphi was sacred to bees, presided over by The Melissae – seers high on ‘green’ honey. Today our 'buzz' is the honey of star-fallen communication. The prophetic powers of our smartphones depends on an oracular swarm of satellites, with their wings tilted to the sun. These vessels are controlled by the US airforce – Delphi is now twinned with Schreiver airforce – who employ the same system for their spy 'drones'. These themes are explored in the poem, illustrated with my sketches, and four 'bee-masts', digital prints made in collaboration with Hanna Tuulikki, which she has posted abouthere. An abridged version of the poem, with sound-design by Chris Watson, is included in the installation, available as a free download from iTunes from 13 August.
from Global Oracle
Bees are messengers
bees are oracular
foretelling the weather
bees are atoms of delight
analogue to the stars
bees discourse the language
bees will wing us
guided by the daughters
of the sun
to the thinking man
To the Greeks honey was astron To the Romans Saliva siderumstar-fallen
in the air
at star rise
the honey falls
from the skies
Bees become flowers – flowers become bees – habits engender harmonies
Bees need flowers for nourishment
flowers need bees for reproduction
Flowers and bees agree timing is everything
The bee is a clock whose dial measures the day & records moments of plenty
the bee remembers any point within a day in its body exactly
the bee is unable to count beyond that day
the bee is ephemeros
Our oracles broadcast from arboreal masts hung with rich clusters of antenna
through that first darkness which is always with us – to the distant vessels that turn in strict circles – like the loyal geese that are said to wheel around-and-around the lost Atlantis
Satellites tune us to the honeydew of invisible signals delivering the influx of information, skyfallen words & the rush of ceaseless communication
foretelling indexed fortunes meteorological patterns computing shipping routes & the price of rice predicting our wants as downloads & tabs
penetrating everywhere & extending everything wherever a mast or dish interrupts the horizon
Over the past three years I have produced a series of art projects and poems relating to bees, culture and knowledge. These include artworks at Brogdale, Shandy Hall, Malham, Merzbarn, University of Stirling, Falkirk and, in 2015, at the University of Warwick. They can be viewed on The Bee Bole.
Bee-related artworks, including the 'bee-mast' digital prints, are available from Ingleby Gallery.
These projects were produced with the help of Luke Allan, Hanna Tuulikki, Amy Porteous, Hannah Devereux, Brodie Sim, Sarah Shalgosky, Chris Watson, Spencer Jenkins, Chris Ellis, Old School Fabrications, and Kathleen Jamie.