Dark Skies: Campfire Conversations

16 January - 13 February 2021

A series of winter-warming online conversations with fascinating people from the worlds of astronomy, psychology, and the arts, in association with The Scotsman.

The Hebridean Dark Skies Festival‘s Campfire Conversations is hosted by festival programmer Andrew Eaton-Lewis. You can listen via An Lanntair’s website or as podcasts via Apple, Spotify etc, so join us around your own campfire, or just from home, as we reflect on our festival themes of winter, darkness, and the night sky.

Episode one – Karine Polwart

The acclaimed Scottish singer-songwriter, pictured above, has long been fascinated by astronomy. At our last Dark Skies Festival she performed The Only Light Was Stars, a ‘work in progress’ version of a new show inspired by supernovas. One year on, we catch up with Karine and talk astronomy, art, UFOs, drunken elks, nuclear power, jam cupboards, and staying creative in lockdown – among other things.

Episode two – Kari Leibowitz

Can ‘wintertime mindset’ strategies help make us happier during the coldest, darkest months of the year? We talk to American health psychologist Kari Leibowitz, above, who has seen a new wave of interest in her work since the COVID-19 lockdown. Kari spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar in Tromsø, Norway, which is so far north that it experiences a “Polar Night,” the time from November-January when the sun never rises, and has used what she learned there to develop ‘wintertime mindset’ strategies to help people get through the long dark months of winter. As well as looking for a few wintertime mindset tips, we ask Kari what darkness means to her.

Episode three – Renzo Spiteri

Should lockdown encourage us to listen to our immediate surroundings in a new way? We talk to composer and sound artist Renzo Spiteri, above, who creates music from field recordings of the landscape near his home on Shetland. Renzo was to perform his latest project, Stillness, as part of this year’s festival. The show has now been postponed until later in the year; in the meantime we’ve commissioned him to create a new piece, Under Dark Blue Skies, designed to be listened to in darkness. We talk to Renzo about how island life has inspired his work, and how it has found a new resonance since the lockdown.

Episode four – Sheona Urquhart

How do you tell stories about cosmic events on an unimaginable scale? We talk to  astronomer Sheona Urquhart, above, whose work in Extragalactic Astrophysics involves studying the evolution of galaxies as well as finding compelling ways to explain her findings to the public. Sheona spent much of her childhood in the north of Scotland gazing at the stars, and describes her first sight of the northern lights as a formative experience. In our podcast she discusses studying distant galaxies from Hawaii, making TV with Brian Cox, and why astronomers often make good musicians. Sheona has family connections on Lewis and is delighted to be ‘coming home’ as part of our festival programme.

Episode five – Bethany Rigby

The Outer Hebrides’ relationship with astronomy, Bethany Rigby says, “embodies humanity’s changing view of our place within the universe”. The designer, researcher and writer, above, is now the creator of Outer Hebrides // Outer Space, a new research project that explores our islands’ astronomical significance, from the Neolithic Age of celestial observation to present day plans for Spaceport 1, the UK’s first vertical satellite launch site. The project began during an Island Going residency in June 2019 and Bethany is set to exhibit her work at An Lanntair later in 2021. She also knows some fascinating facts about shooting stars and Scottish place names on Mars.

The Hebridean Dark Skies Festival will run from Friday 5 February to Thursday 18 February, and is led by An Lanntair in partnership with Calanais Visitor Centre, Stornoway Astronomical Society, Gallan Head Community Trust, and Lews Castle College UHI.

The Hebridean Dark Skies Festival is part-financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Outer Hebrides LEADER 2014-2020 programme. We also want to say a huge thank you to Caledonian MacBrayne for supporting this year’s festival.