Annie Cattrell: RSA Residency Blog

  • Published on: 13th May 2022
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The second part of my Royal Scottish Academy Residency (RSA), hosted by An Lanntair, started at the end of March 2022.

It had originally begun in March 2020 but because of Covid 19, it needed to be postponed. Please see my previous blog about it here.

This time and two years later, I arrived on the mid-day ferry from Ullapool on March 29th. It was welcoming – after such a long journey driving from London, to be met by the staff at An Lanntair, including Jon MacLeod and Roddy Murray.

In the first weeks on Lewis, I was based at Barbara Ziehm’s wonderful and characterful home in Benside, on the outskirts of Stornoway.

During the first two days I travelled around Lewis with Mary Arnold Forster, Cally Yeatman and photographer Fran Mart.

Annie Cattrell and Fran Mart on the rocks at Swainbost

I had first met Mary in 2011, when we both participated in the Scottish Island Project organised by Cape Farewell.

At that time, we set sail, on the conservation research vessel The Song of the Whale, from Stornoway harbour and travelled to Harris, Shiants, North Rona, Eigg, ending on the mainland at Mallaig.

Recently, Mary has started a magazine called Alder, which celebrates the work of architects, artists and many others who share a love of rural Scotland. She invited me to participate in the next edition (due out later this year) , which will include a feature about my RSA residency, with text by Cally and photos by Fran.

From the outset of this RSA residency, I was hoping to use various methods to make direct sculptural casts and take drawn indexes using my profile gage of the Lewisian Gneiss and surrounding geologies.

I also planned to use other portable tools such as mirrors, laser, plumb line, film and carbon paper to gather information, data and experiences.  All types of indexes of place, materiality and time.

Mirroring the sea and sky to simultaneously give two views and perspectives at one time

In September 2021, I listened to Dr Frank Rennie’s online talk for the Scottish Geology Trusts Annual Conference, in the lead up to returning to complete the residency on Lewis.

I was intrigued by his comments that “place can shape people” and that the Lewisian Gneiss is 2.6 billion years old. He spoke about the Gneiss being originally formed 35 kilometres below the surface of the Earth’s crust, 4.2 billion years old, and then at the South Pole.

This reference to place shaping people, whose families had possibly lived in the same village for centuries, as well as the visible deep geological time seemed evident to me, both as an artist and an outsider whilst on Lewis this year.

During the first week Mairi Gilles, who then lived in High Borve, generously showed us some extraordinary examples of the coastal seams and rock formations of the Lewisian Gneiss on her local beach. She has subsequently moved, with her family, to Uig to begin a new an exciting project, running their own art centre called Reothart nan Ealain.

Another place I returned to frequently, after those first initial days, was Swainbost.  Mairi had circled this on my OR map, and gave detailed descriptions of how to find the best rock formations and Gneiss.

Cloud and weather formations from the Atlantic coastline (taken from Swainbost)

While still in London, I had also looked at fishing and geology maps. One map showed where regular soil samples had been taken for research purposes at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen. These maps all suggest, to me, different ways to understand the islands and sea. How to navigate time, place and space.

I visited The Ness Historical Centre, and found that the fascinating display of tools and information about the crofting life was very informative and inspirational. The image below shows a circular rotating diagram of what happens and when, on a croft throughout the year. From mending implements in the winter, to weeding in June. A never ending calendar of resourcefulness and self sufficiency.

As part of this residency, I was able to use the Art Room, between the scheduled art classes at An Lanntair.

This gave me the space to try out some casting tests, draw and organize my thoughts and material experiments gathered from my coastal journeys.


Casts from the Lewisian Gneiss

Colour tests in the Art Room using Jesmonite pigments

On one occasion The Stornoway Trust helped me cut some wood in order to make a mould. I found the wood workshops and tree surgery methods ingenious and (yet again) resourceful.

I met many people, during the residency, including one of the founders of An Lanntair, Malkie Maclean who talked in detail about the importance of making Gaelic culture visible and some of the impetus behind such projects as his recent work for COP26 and the renowned visual anthology ‘The Great Book of Gaelic’ and the associated international touring exhibition.

Murdo Macdonald generously showed me some exquisitely hand bound books from his vast personal collection.

This included Popular Tales of The West Highlands, which had been orally collected.

While I was living at the brilliant cultural centre, Grinneabhat in Bragar, I visited Anne Campbell and her collie Ben, at their croft. Loving tools, I noticed a large wood plane which was a family heirloom. Anne spoke about the memory of the constant clattering sounds, that were once a feature in many villages because most families owned looms in order to weave tweed.

I didn’t pick up much Gaelic vocabulary while on Lewis, but it was good to hear the sounds of it spoken often, everywhere and daily.

The final week was spent installing my exhibition ‘Everything is Connected’ at An Lanntair with special thanks to Donald, Paul and Roddy in this endeavour.


Annie’s exhibition ‘Everything is Connected’ is being shown in An Lanntair’s Main Gallery until Sat 4 Jun, all are welcome to visit for FREE!