Last year I applied for a residency with Tony Humbleyard. I was not successful in that application, however I couldn’t shake the feeling that I thought I would work with Tony anyway.
Turns out I didn’t get that job because he knew we could work together again, and this time on a project hoping to open up the process of creative working to the local island community.
This is something I feel so passionately about. I want to create work in Shetland because of my love of the place and it’s people, and it’s sense of community that I have never been able to find anywhere else in the world. Yes, I may be completely bias but either way I am delighted to be doing a project here.
We started by walking. To me, walking is a way of connecting to place. Tony lives on the most northernly inhabited island of Shetland (and the UK); Unst. He does not live in the main town there, where there is a lot happening. Instead he lives by the cliffs at Hermaness, where staggering cliffs are home to many sea birds, including the Gannets which I was delighted to see. Tony does not drive. Therefore he does all of his journeys by food or push bike. His life is completely reliant on him being fit and able. Not just because of transport (its a 3 miles walk to the closest bus stop) but also because he needs to cut peat every Summer for fire fuel.
Therefore, walking the land seemed very appropriate.
Tony makes sculptures from what he finds. He does as little as possible to them to transform them into sculptures, trying to keep their quality and feel but changing and adapting them into a presentable piece of art. I was truly amazed by the bowls that he has made from buoys, and his casting of whale vertebrae. Therefore it was pretty easy for me to get inspired by his work.
His connection to place is very different from mine. He knows his area better than I ever possibly could, spending his time in the outdoors and truly letting it become his art. I grew up in Shetland therefore my connection lies in my roots; my family and friends and time exploring the islands. Shetland will always be my home, and to be able to explore this as part of this project is something I am so honoured to be doing.
I am native, he is not. He lives there, I currently do not. We have the comparison of community and family connections against connection to the land. Although I think all Shetlanders would argue that we have connection to the land. It is what fuels the place, with it’s lifeline service to the mainland, it’s employment and it’s connection between islands. From there the sea is what connects us. From here, the sea is what sets us apart.
Shetland is full of ruins. Tony is amazed by these and how recent they are. For me, I grew up with them therefore barely notice them in the hills. However there are loads, scattered all over the place. Whole communities that left.
Speaking to my dad about it, he says people left because the houses were too cold and living off the land was hard. The oil brought money. People then saw a better quality of life and it was no longer about the strifes of this kind of island living. I am intrigued as to if we could ever go back to this. However lack of jobs prove difficult in people moving to these remote islands. This varies from mainland Shetland.
For us, the concept is to explore relation to place; what it means to different people? How does this effect or lives or what we do? Can we record and explore this to create the product. However we wish to focus on process, and on opening this up to others. We therefore aim to connect with locals for them to share with us their connection to the land, and are opening up an exhibition at Sumburgh light house next January. We aim to be in residence here, but to explore exhibiting pieces and film and open up the process to members of the public. We aim to have discussions with them and to explore their relation to place and what this means to them, whether that be Shetland or beyond. Our explorations are not limited to the isles, they are merely where we are choosing to explore this for now.
‘Walking the spaces’
Land, Sea, Lost, Found, Surround, At one, Nature, learning from one another…
We aim to create work inspired by our meanderings of the coast line. We had originally decided that our work would stimulate around Shetland, where I am from and where Tony resides. However we wish to explore connection to place, wherever that would be.
Fishing and farming are two very prevalent trades in the Shetland Isles. We are hoping to communicate with native workers about them living off both the sea and the land and how this connects them to place. We wish to be shown around nooks and crannies of the place; places one may know well that others may not.
We envisage the activities being used as a dynamic research process helping us to evaluate our own work and allowing participants to engage with a process that connects them to place and possibilities of creating there own relationships with their creativity. We want to research and explore with experiential approaches to understanding and engaging with bio-region rather than it just being an intellectual concept , an interest, but to allow it to become a visceral experience.
What has and will sustain life in this place?/ How can we truly be present here?/ What is Bio-region?/ desire paths/marks on a landscape/ mutualities/ cause and effect/ networks/ fear and possibility.
‘ Rock, fences, cloud and houses/ marks in a landscape / looking for the continuities/ an alchemical gathering of found object and direct experience / liminal spaces/ living off the land/ dissident voices carried in the wind/ new ecologies ebb and flow/ a quiet wisdom carried in the cadence of a stream…’
Mind/body connection: the brain working at processing information at the same rate that we walk: the physical aspects of walking: the mental aspects of mapping our thoughts: ordnance survey maps: personal maps: what we know: what we superficially know.
I loved my time in Unst, and working with Tony. It was so fascinating to learn about his process, and to discuss the isles in such a creative and explorative manner. I can’t wait to get going again.
This project was supported by Northlink, which was absolutely amazing. It helped massively in allowing us to work together. We are so very grateful for the support from them, and for support from Shetland Arts who Tony received the Arts and Crafts award from.
Here are some images from the gorgeous sailing I got on the boat. I had a great time!