Opening in An Lanntair’s Main Gallery on Saturday May 22, new exhibition South West by South, An t-Eilean Fada, The Long Island: A Poetic Cartography by artist Gill Russell, explores the dynamic relationship between the sea and land, and reveals the nautical heritage of the Outer Hebrides.
Gill said: “The dense interplay of sea, land, and light in the northwest of Scotland, and in particular the Western Isles has captivated me since childhood. I often imagined living there.
“Along the extent of the liminal shore the interplay of tidal currents and weather is complex and, from a human perspective, fickle, authoring, dramatic, and sometimes destructive, events.
“Although I felt a deep attachment to the place and however much it inspired my practice, I came to realise that I would always be a tourist, a spectator, on the outside of an entrenched culture looking in. It was important to make connections.”
In making connections, Gill visited the islands several times over a two-year period, as well as researching oral history interviews from Tobar an Dualais/School of Scottish Studies, which form a central part of the upcoming An Lanntair exhibition.
A recorded account of the Van Stabel, a ship-wrecked off the coast of Heisker (Monach Isles), brought her to meet the Laing family of North Uist; her explorations of the Sound of Harris lead her to interview Berneray native Donald MacLean; and playing low whistle at a local pub session introduced her to box player Dougie MacDonald from North Uist who helped her understanding of Gaelic stories.
South West by South expresses Gill’s work through a ‘poetic cartography’, presenting an installation of large-scale prints, vinyl wall drawings, audio recordings, and maps.
Her poetic cartography maps the Sound of Harris, its notoriously treacherous skerries and shoals, and the stories and folklore inspired by them. Tidal Streams communicates the potent force of the turbulent Pentland Firth; while the vinyl drawings of Tributrees explore the burns and rivers, the arterial life forces, which run through the spartan Lewis landscape.
The maps and poems of Lost Ships dwell on the many vessels wreaked around the Long Island, particularly near Heisker, and the loss of cargo and human life. And using oral recordings and dense prints, Sea Lore suggest the enthralling and unpredictable surge of the sea which haunts such tales.
Roddy Murray, An Lanntair Head of Visual Arts, said: “The sea defines these islands and the lore of the sea speaks eloquently of our relationship with it. This exhibition is as much about that history as it is about geography, topography, tidal patterns and place names. Gill expertly navigates us through the past, through reefs, skerries, channels, currents and streams to reveal our nautical heritage.”
South West by South, An t-Eilean Fada, The Long Island: A Poetic Cartography is exhibited at An Lanntair May 22 to July 4. The exhibition will also show in Taigh Chearsabhagh, North Uist, in September and October 2021.