Monday, 21 February 2011

(43) H-I-C-A, Loch Ruthven

'At HICA - past, present and future coalesce into a kind of concentrated 'presentness' in the viewer's mind. Being brought into the 'inviolate circle' at the Dalcromnie space, rather than feeling distant from centres of production, display and consumption of art, instead we feel present in mind.'

- Colin Glen, essay for the exhibition catalogue of You'll have had your tea?

Our Mt Unohana and vale of Kurikara is the Great Glen

Our Kasho, a merchant from Osaka, is all the visiting artists and curators here for the Great Glen Air show

Our thatched hermitage is H-I-C-A, Loch Ruthven

Our eggplants cucumbers is aubergines and potatoes in the Lodge, and kedgeree in the marquee

Our unrelentingly / autumn’s wind is unrelentingly / autumn’s rain

43 Loch Ruthven
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Bashoing Loch Ruthven

Crossed by the old lattice windmill on Beinn Dubhcharaidh and vale of Torness, in Ruthven on 18th of September. Adam Dant, an artist from London, in town, along with the folks from the Arts Catalyst. Stayed at HICA again. One Louise K. Wilson, known for her devotion to the art, of some repute too in the world outside, unexpectedly has a wee baby, Poppy, quite young, and the family fresh in from a show in Dortmund.

cheap airflights we lament the cost

On being invited to Dalcrombie:

the deftness of Eilidh fingers and thumbs busy with the year’s jams

And on the road this poem

grey on grey the pelting rain unrelenting in the autumn wind



Eilidh Crumlish, 2009

43 HICA: Jeremy Millar Exhibition
Eilidh Crumlish, 2010

43 tea-moons
Alec Finlay, HICA, 2009

43 tea-moon
'This / Is / timE / Given / flavoUr / tAste / aNd / liquiditY / In / proportioN', (tieguanyin), AF
Alec Finlay, HICA, 2009

One of the things that makes HICA special is that there art is woven into Geoff & Eilidh’s daily life – for all that its rubric is the exploration of Concrete Art, experientially all of us have made the long journey to take in that view over the loch, of mountains beyond mountains. Much of the content of HICA is the opportunity to share their wonderful hospitality, see how the chickens are doing and sample that year’s fruit wine. It adds up.

43 Barno by the fire, HICA
Caroline Smith, 2009

Coming back there is also another chance to see the rowan, in which nestles a ‘Home to a king’ nest-box, bearing the text: ‘Narrow and crimson (5)’ – a poem in which the rowan hides its name, and to which I add a new verse.

43 Nest-box
Ken Cockburn, 2010

43 nest-box
Eilidh Crumlish, 2009

43 hokku-label
(‘fingers and berries / beckon the birds’, AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Looking back to the house, through the rain, I spot a domestic moon, like those I found at Meg’s house.

43 HICA moon
Ken Cockburn, 2010


The Great Glen Airshow

43 The Lodge
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Lots of the airshowers are staying in the lodge, just up the road from H-I-C-A ‘proper’. We’re a couple of miles down the road, and as we arrive on Friday just before dusk yellow flares are being ignited, trial runs for tomorrow, but the wind direction shifts and smoke blows towards us. Sulphur, says Jo. Over the meal, Adam Dant describes the ‘blank’ library he’s made for Outlandia, names to be added to the spines on Sunday.

43 The Great Glen Artists Airshow 2010
Ken Cockburn, 2010

43 Rowanberries & Eck
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Saturday’s rain that's forecast to clear later does no such thing. At lunchtime, listening in the car to Stuart and Tam on the radio we think of Morven. Emerge to H-I-C-A’s rain, vegetable garden, marquee, gallery. Susanne gives me a Malevich kite to fly, the one with the black circle, but in the windless rain it doesn’t get off the ground. Further uphill the wind turbine’s turning so there must be wind there, and once there the kite pulls away and flies a treat.

43 flies a treat
Ken Cockburn, 2010

43 ('wind unspools malevich black into cloud grey', KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

43 Susanne Nørregård Nielsen, Malevich Kite
Alec Finlay, 2010

A group has gathered round the turbine for Eck's reading scheduled for 4pm. But problems with the flares mean Rob’s said 4.45. With damp solidarity we disagree, and Eck reads twice, now and with the flares, though most folk stay for both readings. An umbrellaed Murdo Macdonald is among the crowd, and with typical unfussy erudition expands our partial knowledge of Clach Ossian.

43 audio, Basho reading at the Airshow
Stanley Productions, 2010

43 Eck's Skying performance
Ken Cockburn, 2010

43 Basho reading
Ken Cockburn, 2010

43 Basho reading
Sue Pirnie, 2010

We libate and pass round Laphroig one way, Red Oolong the other; people are either abstemious or sip very daintily as the whisky lasts the circle.

These are some of the sentences Basho read at the Airshow, under the windmill, in the pelting rain.

an age of carbon offsets shouldn’t consider itself superior to the age of papal indulgences

someday each island will be undersail with a turbine of its own

the blade has to fall before it can rise

windmill turbines are frowned upon because they can be seen and heard

being seen a windmill can neither hide nor lie

there is no energy more witheld from sight than the atom of nuclear power

with wind energy fuel returns from its stint in the fiery underworld

community-owned turbines nationalise land and power at one and the same time

neocapitalist wind-farm V wind eco-village

being stuck in the mud we’ll fry in the sun

Alec Finlay, for The Great Glen Airshow
September, 2010

43 yellow flares
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Yellow flares burst and drift on the hillside. The kids are initially curious, then rather lose interest.

why's it yellow smoke?
because they're making a picture
in the sky

the kids' game
is really
who-can-climb-on- the-biggest-rock

The woodland installations offer Brazilian birdsong, and partial glimpses of the listeners. Between Premonition and Knowledge is a work by Bruce and Jo at London Fieldworks, who also concieved Outlandia.

43 woodland screen
Alec Finlay, 2010

43 film-spotters
Alec Finlay, 2010

I find a lost padlock on the wall by the rowan tree, pick fourteen rowanberries for Isobel and after a three-verse arrangement develop a freeform sonnet in a roadside puddle.

43 lost padlock
Ken Cockburn, 2010

43 fourteen rowanberries
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Coda: HICA

On Sunday morning the bus arrives at the lodge for the journey to Outlandia. We’re heading north, but offer our Outlandia poems and Basho adaptation. Once Rob’s rounded up his unruly troupe, Eck presents his Outlandia letterbox to Bruce and there’s an audible ‘ahhh’. I’ve never read on a coach before but, seated, unruly becomes attentive.

43 coach insignia
Ken Cockburn, 2010

43 reading on the coach
ATLASSkyeandLochalsh, Youtube

Back at H-I-C-A, Eilidh’s saving yesterday’s unread Guardian for a still-deferred quiet moment. Just before we leave Basho corners Geoff, cornflakes in hand, for a chat about how he feels the weekend has gone

43 audio: Geoff's chat
Alec Finlay, 2010

Coda: Hawthorns

Human error, replies Alex McLeish, when asked on MOTD what went wrong that afternoon at the Hawthorns. Shouldn’t more football grounds should be named after flora or fauna? I call to mind Vetch Field, Fir Park, Firhill, Almondvale, White Hart Lane; outlooks too, Bayview and Ochilview. Inverness could do better than Tulloch Caledonian Stadium… Firthview, Gorsebank, The Beeches, though there’s a fine line between poeticisms and suburban tweeness. Too few nadikoro to warrant a poetic journey…

Coda : HICA Renga

Click image to enlarge:

renga word-map, HICA, dalcrombie, Loch Ruthven
Alec Finlay
From Four Exhibitions October 2008 - August 2009, Small Potatoes Publishing, 2009

Coda : creag dhearg


cas dhearg



an galar buidhe



ceithreamh gorm



grùthan dubh



cas dhearg



an galar buidhe



ceithreamh gorm



grùthan dubh

(creag dhearg, Gerry Loose)

note on the poem

top lines = names of hills close by HICA; the bottom lines = sheep diseases.

all are also names of colours.

Gaelic was supplanted by lowland shepherds & their sheep & their language.

sheep fell foul of local conditions. Many years since Gaelic was spoken round HICA; sheep are also becoming fewer & fewer.


The Arts Catalyst commissions contemporary art that is experimentally and critically engaged with science and society. It helps to produce provocative, playful and risk-taking art by promoting understanding and cooperation between people from different disciplines and cultures. Through exhibitions, events, workshops, residencies, conferences, publishing, research, and participatory projects, new and interesting artists are encouraged to explore, generate and share ideas on a broader platform.

The Great Glen Artists Airshow runs every three years. 2010 was its third outing. The show explores and presents works on the them of sky, air, movement.

H-I-C-A (the Highland Institute for Contemporary Art) is an artist-run space, located near Inverness in the North of Scotland. HICA, as an experimental art-space, aims - among other thigns - to re-examine and re-appraise the term Concrete Art.

London Fieldworks was formed in 2000 by artists Bruce Gilchrist and Jo Joelson as an umbrella organisation for creative research and collaboration at the art, science and technology intersection. Typically, their projects engage with the notion of ecology as a complex inter-working of social, natural, and technological worlds. Between Premonition and Knowledge is a film by Bruce Gilchrist and Jo Joelson.

Louise K. Wilson graduated with an MFA (Studio Arts) from Concordia University, Montreal in 1996 and am currently a Doctoral student in Visual Art at the University of DerbyMy artwork takes the form of installations, sound pieces, live events and videos

Adam Dant creates dense and elaborate drawings, thoroughly researched and often possessed of a dysfunctional, semicircular logic. Mishap and folly proliferate his work. Museums are common subjects, as are maps and complicated joke

Gair Dunlop
is an artist increasingly involved in site-specific collaborative projects, currently working in Dounreay Experimental Nuclear Reactor site on a multiscreen installation linking archive and present condition.

Susanne Nørregård Nielsen originally trained as a painter, and over recent years has used photography increasingly to explore and explicate her ideas. Her mediums are wide-ranging - gardens, dresses, kites - often to reconstitute seminal modernist artists in new lights.

Gerry Loose works in horticulture, agriculture, and poetry. His most recent publication is that person himself, a book-length poem (Shearsman, 2009). You can follow Gerry's blog, Saari seasons.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

(41) Rhenigidale

Our Hokkoku is Harris

Our Komagaeshi is Rhenigadale

Our bedded down for the night is the Gatliff Hostel at Rhenigadale

Our sounds of voices in front room are John and Fée

Our on the strand where white waves crash is Tráigh Uige

Our hagi is the deep-pink fuschia outside the hostel


41 Seilebost school
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Early Friday morning Jon arrives at Bayhead and drives me south, across the vaguely defined Lewis – Harris border to Tarbert, and west to Seilebost where the primary school sits on the machair – a few yards away dunes hide the great expanses of Tràigh Sheileboist and Tràigh Losgaintir. We plan to work on the beach after break but the rain’s so heavy we stay indoors, make beach-poems on labels and attach them to a creel Jon’s got from Ian Stephen.

41 hokku-label
(‘crashing waves / squeaking dolphins / bottled messages’)

Jon Macleod, 2010

We brave the weather anyway to make our beachcombers’ circle, or BIG BEACH MESS as the kids name it. And by the time we leave, it’s charmed away the rain.

41 Beach circle, Tràigh Sheileboist
Jon Macleod, 2010


41 The Mission House
Ken Cockburn, 2010

We lunch at the Anchorage in Leverburgh, looking south across the Sound of Harris to Berneray and North Uist. Then we take some winding hosomichi to The Mission House at Finsbay, run by potter Nickolai Globe and photographer Beka Globe, which they describe as A Creative Space on the Edge of the Atlantic. Today being the first of October they’re now officially Closed for the winter, but that doesn’t stop the doorbell and the phone going. We squeeze past piles of timber and insulated plasterboard Nickolai will line the walls with, make our way upstairs where a stove keeps the big kitchen / sitting room cosy.

41 Tea & Scotch at the Mission House
Ken Cockburn, 2010

We brew Jasmine Chung Hao in a fine metal teapot, drinking it, and the Tobermory, from Nickolai’s ceramics – I enjoy the contrast between the heavy, dark-glazed, irregular tea-bowl I picked from the display downstairs, and the slender elegance of the dram-bowl, or shot-pot.

41 The Bog People: Iron-Age Man Preserved by P.V. Glob

From an infantile pre-occupation with the iron age remains of the peat bogmen due to an almost premature introduction by my grandfather and archaeologist Professor P.V Glob, iron, peat and clay are formed into archaic ritual vessels. Shaped by time and the elements, like dunes, weathered in my hands, as if feeling out something beyond me. (Nickolai Globe)

Four-year old Finn is having his own almost premature introduction to the natural world by way of David Attenborough’s eye-popping Life – close-up images of stag beetles wrestling on a high tree-branch.

Nickolai talks a lot about the Japanese notion of wabi sabi, which I loosely interpret as a Zen-like preoccupation with the moment – knowing by way of act rather than thought – and a taste for the beauties imperfection can give rise to. He recently had a visitor from the Isle of Luing, a geo-poet, who I take to be Norrie Bissell but Nickolai’s enthusiasm soon has us all convinced it was the geo-poet himself, Kenneth White. I later check with Norrie, who enjoys the case of mistaken identity – and a day or two on, at An Lanntair, Jon introduces me to Sophie, who studied under White at the Sorbonne. Like radio waves, the connections are there, you just need the right frequency.

Next summer’s Mission House programme includes performances of all Beethoven’s string quartets – the first time this has been done in a single season, Nickolai assures us – and how extraordinary – how apt – that it should take place here in this extraordinary landscape.

As a parting gift Nickolai gives me puer tea, packed in the shape of a bowl, which I have been enjoying ever since.

41 The Globes at home
Ken Cockburn, 2010


41 Loch Seaforth, evening
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Jon drops me at the first house on the Rhenigadale road and I walk the rest of the way to the hostel. The weather’s on-off rain but after an initial cloudburst it switches itself off and I dry in the wind. I reach the hostel about 7 just as it’s getting dark.

41 Rhenigadale hostel
Ken Cockburn, 2010

No-one else there, and just as I’m getting to used to the idea of solitude, John and Fée arrive. Fée has on a Robin-Hood hat, and under her barbour coat a buckled tartan waistcoat on top of a ruched green dress, webbing over her tights and good walking boots. She’s an identical twin, has spent time running a gallery in the States, wants to set up a textile design company so has come out here to learn about Harris tweed. She met John the day before at the hostel at Garenin, near Carloway. He’s ex-Merchant Navy, works on the rigs now, travels when he’s onshore, often to Thailand, a good cook by the sound of it, recommends I roast the puer to bring out its flavour. He gets a good fire going in the stove and we settle in for the evening.

41 Hostel entertainment
Ken Cockburn, 2010

After a wild night, howling wind and rain beating against the dormer window, the morning’s grey and blowy but fair. More puer for breakfast, and for the flask, then I bid my farewells and head out.

To Tarbert (via Urgha)

41 Signpost
Ken Cockburn, 2010

41 hokku-label
Ken Cockburn, 2010

I follow the road’s curve back uphill out of the village, past a designated CONFINED SPACE, then peel off to the left for the path that’ll take me to the Tarbert – Scalpay road.

41 Gearraidh Lotaigear
Ken Cockburn, 2010

41 Seaside alder
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The path runs through the ruined houses of Gearraidh Lotaigear, mostly roofless walls though all that's left of one house is its two chimneys. A few trees cling on against the wind – alder rowan holly – all beginning their respective conversations with autumn.

41 Trolamaraig seen from N
Ken Cockburn, 2010

At Trolamaraig the beach is where glen and river meet bay and sea. It’s grey and rocky (though I remember it summergreen) and sheltered, but what wind there is catches the map like a sail. It’s a beautiful spot, the straight sheer coast leading SE to Molingeanais more open and varied on the other side; I sit a while and try to read it.

41 hokku-label
(‘parse the waves’ syllables / the seaweed’s long line / and the river’s coda’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The uphill zigzag that looked fierce as I approached is fine in the walking, not too steep, a steady climb, underfoot after Slioch it’s straightforward.

41 Cairn above Trolamaraig
Ken Cockburn, 2010

41 (‘Molinginus
Reinigeadal / Urgha’)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

There are cairns and signposts further up, markers of presence. The path eases its way downhill and I get a sight of the road I’ll walk along to Tarbert, backed by Uamascleit and Ceann Reamhar.

41 hokku-label
(‘the path becomes the road becomes the town becomes the ben’, circle poem, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Roadwalking’s more functional than pathwalking, one allows oneself fewer distractions, the aim is to arrive there rather than explore here.

41 Akram General Stores
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Tarbert has its charms too – as I’m snapping an out-of-use van that serves as a billboard an Asian lady in a long yellowgreen scarf the wind is harrying tells me it’s her brother’s, and the other two that are still on the road get a lot of attention when they’re down in Glasgow.

First Fruits café’s closed but I picnic at its outdoor table till it’s time for the Stornoway bus.

I think I’ll doze but the landscape and the puer and the radio keep me awake, the commentary at a volume where I barely make out individual words but follow what’s going on (Rangers snatch two late goals to sink Hearts), and we’re outside the guest house in no time.

Tráigh Uige

41 Tràigh Uige
Jon Macleod, 2010

Jon comes round and we head west to Uig. Blue-overalled Biffo’s hitching and we give him a lift to the fish-farm, the smell of fish lingering after he’s gone. We call on Donald Macauley, descendant of the broch climber, [link to 18, Carloway] and help him flip over a rusting dying vat he has in his garden.

41 Tràigh Uige sign
Jon Macleod, 2010

We’ll call back later but for now head to the Mangurstadh shop for supplies, and then past an enigmatic sign to the beach at Uig.

41 hokku-label
(‘on the strand / where white waves crash / we wander / children of the sea’, KC, after Basho)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

I’d thought our white-waves-crashing strand would be Trolamaraig but it’s east-coast gentle, this is west-coast wild. Jon tells me the proposed but still unfunded St Kilda Centre’s to be sited here, but there’s still no sign of the islands on the horizon.

41 hokku-label
(‘surf-roar and sun-glare / horizon hoisted / higher than Sado’, KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Later at Donald’s there’s a great story about Malcolm Maclean (The Great Book of Gaelic), meeting Batman in Atlanta.

41 Tràigh Uige waves
Jon Macleod, 2010

coda: Ken Cockburn, Souvenirs

A Selection of Street-Names**********************..Cone Incense
Adamsdown*************************************.12 Kinds Assorted
Cardiff*****************************************.*Shoyeido & Co.

























from Souvenirs and Homelands, Scottish Cultural Press: Edinburgh, 1998


The Mission House Studio: a creative space on the edge of the Atlantic

The Gatliff Hebridean Hostels Trust is a 'not for profit' voluntary organisation with charitable status working with islanders to establish and maintain a chain of Crofters' Hostels to sound basic standards throughout the Hebrides, including that at Rhenigidale

St Kilda, known to the Gaels as Hiort and to navigators in ancient times as 'the islands at the edge of the world'

Ian Stephen is a writer and artist from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. In 1995, after 15 years in the coastguard, he became a full-time writer of poetry, prose and drama. Since the late 70s his wide-ranging work has been published in numerous UK journals, as well as internationally, in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Switzerland and the USA.