Location: An Lanntair, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis 5th July to 30th August 2014 Artists: Matthew Dalziel and Louise Scullion
I don’t have much opportunity here in the Outer Hebrides for visiting art exhibitons, I have a trip up to the Isle of Lewis every couple of months to visit friends and always call in to An Lanntair in Stornoway – they generally have two exhibitions running, one in the main gallery space and one upstairs in the cafe/bar. As I’m unable to pick and choose what to visit I just take pot luck and visit anyway, I had vaguely heard that the latest exhibition was about birds but I didn’t have any details. Tumadh: Immersion was set up in the main gallery, one of the entrances was closed off just leaving a single entrance and the lights had been dimmed. Three walls at the far end of the space had screens in a variety of sizes set up on the walls in a seemingly random order. On each screen a different video was showing, the common theme being a seabird colony. Footage was a whole variety of shots from general views of the cliffs to much more intimate scenes of a single egg hatching, Fulmars pair bonding and single birds sitting on their nests. There were no natural sounds to go with the footage but there was a soundtrack which complemented the exhibition very well. I thought that the way the display had been set out was well thought out and the screens were on on and had ledges. I made a sketch of some of the screens.
Just as watching a seabird colony for real there was a great sense of enjoyment in sitting and watching and just being there to witness the spectacle, not really knowing where to look next as the screens were constantly changing – one minute it would be a view from the top of a cliff of a White-tailed Sea Eagle drifting over the rocks looking for prey and the next it would be wildflowers swaying in the breeze, followed by row upon row of squabbling auks. I found it like a real colony, endlessly active and fascinating. Of the quieter moments the footage of a Fulmar turning it’s single egg, placed in a nest scaped out on three or four inches of a sheer cliff gave a sense of the fragility of the whole colony. I also felt a sense of sadness because these colonies, so fragile on the edge of the ocean, are under threat, something that we could lose for a variety of reasons – global warming and over-fishing.
Between 1985 and 1990, the sandeel stock around Shetland collapsed, leading to successive years of breeding failures of Arctic Terns, Arctic Skuas, Great Skuas, Black-legged Kittiwakes and Atlantic Puffins. Since then, sandeel availability and breeding success has fluctuated. (Mitchell et al, 2004)
On discussing the exhibition afterwards with a friend they asked “is that art then?” and my considered response was, well, yes if art is supposed to make you think about a subject, ask questions and invoke an emotional response then yes it was art. The artist’s statement from their website says
Our work explores mankind’s relationship with nature and how we interact with the ecology of the earth.
And I think that with Tumadh: Immersion they fulfilled that remit very well.
References:- P. Ian Mitchell, Stephen F. Newton, Norman Ratcliffe and Timothy E. Dunn (Eds.). 2004. Seabird Populations of Britain and Ireland: results of the Seabird 2000 census (1998-2002). Published by T and A.D. Poyser, London. Available online at: http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/pdf/Complete_seabird_pops_exec_summary.pdf