I have just returned home to Shetland from an inspiring and busy week away in Mull, Glasgow and Edinburgh. I was very happy to be involved in the Mull Arts and Sustainability Residency 2015 a multi-disciplinary weekend-long residency which explores the question, ‘What would it mean to be an artist working in a sustainable Scotland in 50 years’ time?’ through artistic practice and conversation. The residency was facilitated by Creative Carbon Scotland‘s Gemma Lawrence and Ben Twist. Also leading the weekend was Mike Bonaventura, CEO of The Crichton Carbon Centre, Stephanie de Roemer, Conservator of Sculpture and Installation Art for Glasgow Museums and Creative Scotland‘s Scott Donaldson. Additionally, Caroline Winn and Siôn Parkinson from Comar were very hospitable and welcomed us to Mull to use the facilities of Comar. Taking part in the weekend was a gathering of 12 creative individuals including myself, considering all specialisms within the arts, including the visual arts, music, dance and theatre.
As a starting point for the weekend we were asked to consider the 17 Sustainable Development Goals which at first glance are fantastically huge and rather overwhelming! With some in-depth discussion and consideration in relation to our individual artistic practices the goals started to become relevant to our unique worlds. It was inspiring to be around creative and environmentally aware people which generated some fantastically long and in-depth conversations for the entirety of the weekend. I was so pleased that this residency was being facilitated on Mull, an island where many of my family live and I visit often. Beautiful Mull is very much a second home for me.
Both in my personal life and art practice I am very in tune with my natural surroundings and have used my view of our natural world to form my art practice. It was a great opportunity to discuss and challenge my understanding of the fragility of our planet and how the human race can scar and alter our landscapes away from its original form. The experience of being within a like-minded group really raised my awareness of issues of sustainability and made me consider how others work with these considerations in their own practices.
My journey from island to island started in remote Shetland, I flew over the rough North Sea, to find myself in densely populated cities of commotion, consumerism and people. Driving towards Oban we weaved through trees, around lochs and stunning scenery before journeying over more waters to get to the wonderful island of Mull. This long adventure between islands and through cities makes makes me consider our landscapes and appreciate how varied our wee country really is. Over the weekend I gained an understanding of how others see our country and how as a whole we can merge these interpretations to consider a cohesive and sustainable future for Scotland. These considerations are only just starting within my practice but hope that this will inspire others to consider how it effects their life and work. We live in a culture where up-cycling and re-cycling are very popular and vintage can be seen everywhere. But we still waste, we still have a throw away attitude. And sadly it’s so much easier to throw away and buy again than spend time fixing and learning to maintain. Within my studio practice I always favour the hand made, I want to use my hands and skills to create.
On the Saturday we enjoyed a pause to the creative conversation to take a walk into Lettermore Forest to visit a sheep fank (pen in English or cru as we would say in Shetland). The beautiful site nestled away in the trees is being restored as a public art project and rightly so, the site is in a wonderful spot. The Fank is a large drystone enclosure which members of the community have been coming together to learn the skills in order to restore the walls. The visit and walk was greatly enjoyed by the group and we all look forward to seeing the results of the restoration which will hopefully become a cherished site on Mull.
Before returning to Shetland I took a couple of days to catch up with my Visual Artist Unit family as well as catch a few exhibitions in Glasgow and Edinburgh. All in all, a much needed and loved trip away.
Now that I am home and in the studio again, I am starting to deconstruct the group findings and conversations into my own understanding, translating this into a visual language through the work I am currently making. With a head full of inspiration I am looking forward to seeing how this experience will influence my work.
Flying into a snow dusted Sumburgh
“There will be no immediate outputs from the residency, with most of our time spent discussing the issues and themes outlined above, but what we hope in the longer term is to foster an artistic community of practice which holds common groundings, ideas and values concerning environmental sustainability.”