Natalie Marr is a Glasgow-based visual artist who is currently carrying out PHD research into International Dark Sky Places, designated areas that have pledged to conserve the natural dark of the night sky by eliminating or reducing artificial light – her focus is on Galloway Forest Park in particular. Natalie is doing two events at the Hebridean Dark Skies Festival. At An Lanntair on Saturday 16 February she will appear alongside songwriter Emma Pollock, who grew up near Galloway Forest Park. And on Monday 18 February she will do her own event at Gallan Head.
Hi Natalie. Can you tell us a bit about your research into Dark Sky Places? What made you want to explore that subject and what have you learned?
I came to dark skies through a very long fascination with outer space. I was writing ideas for a short film as a response to the passing of a friend, and I was thinking a lot about distance and time in relation to this, and what started ‘out there’ came to focus more on earth-bound experiences of Space, like stargazing. While I was shooting the film in Galloway, I heard about the research project with University of Glasgow in collaboration with the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park and just had to go for it. In a nutshell, the project explores the ‘life’ of a Dark Sky Place, how it is valued, managed and experienced, but also how the particular landscape and lives of a Dark Sky Place get to work on us; the little and big shifts that happen. The learning has been rich and surprising.
What can audiences expect from your two events at the Hebridean Dark Skies Festival?
Definitely something playful and exploratory. Emma Pollock and I will tap into the creative potential of darkness and the night sky though some sensory attunements and sharing of stories.
The event at Gallan Head – all being well with weather – will see us step outside and meet the night sky through the unique landscape and histories of the Isle. If we’re to be indoors, no problem, we’ll bring the night in!
What made you decide to become an artist and how would you describe your work?
I slip in and out of ‘artist’ and have always been a bit unsure of where I’m going with it, but more and more I see it as a mode of being. It’s a way of staying enchanted and it takes you out of habitual modes of thinking and doing. My work usually starts with a set of images or sounds and grows from there. I’m interested in the things we can’t quite touch or struggle to put into words, but somehow have a hold on us. I take a lot of inspiration from cinematic storytelling and music. My intention with anything I make, is to take someone travelling.
What’s been your favourite dark sky experience?
I struggle to pick one…but my first trip to Galloway was special because it was the first time in a very long time that I felt truly spellbound. I also love being under a dark sky with friends and family and sharing that experience with them. I want more of that!
What are you most looking forward to about coming to Lewis?
Arriving at an island is always exciting for me, and being by the sea, so I have that to look forward to. But also the festival itself…I love the energy of so many different events and experiences happening side by side and the feeling of being part of that.