A pilgrimage, by its nature, is a personal journey ofdiscovery as well as a geographical and historical trek. InTo the Island of Tides,Alistair Moffatfollows in the footsteps ofSaint Cuthbert(634 – 687); monk, bishop and hermit. From the Scottish Borders to theHoly Island of Lindisfarne, Moffat endures a broken rib and faces some deep familial sadness as he immerses himself in the life and times of this medieval holy man.
Written in a smooth and jaunty style, the book’s basic timeline mirrors Moffat’s route from his inland home to the sea, and Cuthbert’s intriguing life of politics and worship from birth to death. In the same way that this is not a continuous walk, rather an interrupted series of day trips with a week’s retreat towards the end, so there are many textual asides: lush scenic descriptions, divers detailed accounts of battles (Flodden et al), and involved analyses of Latin place names interspersed throughout. The writing shines when bringing the Lindisfarne Gospels and The Great Tapestry of Scotlandto life.
This book is brimful of liturgical references, despite his oft mentioned atheism, and his own search for succour from painful public and private events is woven into the story in sometimes uncomfortable and exposing detail. Going to some lengths to get inside Cuthbert’s head and heart, he scrambles up shifting sand dunes and under barbed wire fences before seeming to find some peace through his first experience of solitary contemplation on Lindisfarne.
Author of some twenty books, Moffat’sThe Hidden Ways(Canongate 2018) was a vehicle for sharing his excitement in uncovering lost paths, and he utilises the same dogged skills inTo the Island of Tides. Quoting from eighth century primary sources, he steers a fine line between facts, storytelling, anecdote and conjecture – after all St Cuthbert lived a long time ago. This tome is well researched; part autobiography (his family and ancestors play a strong role), and part paean to the spirit of the unnoticed: “until the coming of the census in the middle of the nineteenth century, the voices of others are largely silent. The fields … seem .. to remember their people, those who tended them.” This pilgrimage incorporates local lore and biblical references, touching self discovery and a Saint’s life. Above all it is a homage to the importance of family and of belonging.
‘Qi’ by the UAL Performance Laboratory at the Edinburgh Festival fringe 2019
**** (4 stars)
Five, white-clad, young performers stand meditatively around the stage, still and grounded. A simple inverted V shape stands at an angle in the centre, a hill peak perhaps, throwing a shadow on the floor. Birds sing. With eyes sometimes closed as they sit cross legged, or inhabiting monk-like patience as they carry out tasks – bending and lifting, sifting and gathering – the cast arrange and rearrange images before us, conjuring at once a paddy field or the patterned sand of a Zen garden.
In Qi (say chee, or ki) from the UAL Performance Laboratory, conceived by Anqi Zhao, sound and light are as important as the mostly pedestrian movement. The show was devised collaboratively and recalls the everyday actions of early Trisha Brown pieces (as part of the early Judson Memorial Church in New York, she is currently performing at Jupiter Artland). The company have drawn on Chinese philosophical concepts: Yin and Yang, life mirroring nature, and this peculiarly indefinable idea of qi. Qi is believed to be the building block of all of creation, and bestows the moving, transforming, holding, protecting and warming functions to the body and the wider Universe, ideas which were clearly used in the choreography.
The show is innovatively designed. Rectangles of foam are manipulated to form variations of thei ching or the various strokes of Chinese calligraphy. As the actors carried and rearranged them, they made both pleasing sculptures and the various aspects of the pictograph for qi which can be translated as ‘vapour ascending from boiling rice’. There are layers of subtle references: Yin and Yang were originally described as the sunny and shady sides of a hill. When you add ‘hill’ to the sign for qi it starts to resemble the one for yin (of yinand yang fame). After adding a horizontal to the up ended V, it looked more like an A and was moved and put above the electrical steamer which was cooking away and produced the bowls of rice which were eaten with obligatory chopsticks.
Grains of white rice are the key element in this show. They are drizzled and thrown, used to mimic water for washing your hair, and highly effective as sound effects. There is an initially interesting, but latterly, laborious part where small handfuls of rice are placed, one by one, on a long, cardboard tube, and one of my fellow audience members resorted to her mobile phone, but all of the rest of the show was mesmerising and mindful. The scenes slowly fade from one to another, then the pace varies and there is a fun section where a woman walks while others rush along beside her pouring rice around her feet. As she picks each one up to move forwards (from where I was sitting, the light shone magically between her toes), she leaves an inverse footstep, redolent of the ancient hand shapes found in the Lascaux Caves in France. It is a pleasing and enjoyable hour and the light, peaceful atmosphere stayed with me for a long while afterwards.
Qi is part of China Focus at The Old Dr Bells Baths in Leith. Last performance 16 August 12 noon. Free by donation.
Moder Dy is from the Shetland dialect referring to the mother wave, an underswell which local fishermen steer by, supposedly always leading them home. And home is a major theme of this slim volume of poetry by Roseanne Watt, poet, musician and filmmaker. Born on the furthest shores of Scotland, this is Watt’s debut collection and the deserved winner of the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award 2018. After studying far away at the University of Stirling for her PhD where she was supervised by Kathleen Jamie, whose own evocative essays in Findings have a similar air of quiet watching, Watt’s poems are like droplets of her homeland.
This collection is a moder dy itself, an undercurrent drifting the reader northwards to unknown lands. Divided into three sections, these poems have a weightlessness about them, like an Iceland Gull landing on spindly legs in a high wind. The first section, Stoal an old story, elucidates details: patterns of lichen on rock in Lichen Leid; the “unfolding into air” of the heron and “slud-light, the space between rain showers” in Haegri.
In the second, Sjusamillabakka between the sea and the shore, the choice mix of English and Shetlandic pearls continues. Listen to the lovely lilt of Christine De Luca, an established Shetland poet, before reading, so as to have the accent in mind. At first it’s a mild nuisance having to look up words in the glossary at the back. That is, until you are rewarded with the richness of translation. Take Akker for example, about objects which no longer have life in them: “I thieve such pieces on slockit days when words leave me at a loss”. Slockit means ‘extinguished, as of a light’, and on returning from the back of the book to reread the verse at hand, an immediate visual image appeared of Watt sitting at her desk searching for verbal illumination on a dull day.
Throughout, pools of white page-space balance the sparse lines, reminiscent of Watt’s native scenery of rolling turf and mirror-surfaced lagoons. In Paddock Stöls, the rightset third line has a gap at the beginning where the reader’s ears strain before “listening-in”, the fourth and fifth lines have blanks for searching before “Look” and again “there!” Blinnd-moorie (an extreme snowstorm) starts in black ink-type, but fades to the faintest grey of winter breath dissolving into a paper whiteout.
Not only are wildlife and landscape, weather and sea treated with a buoyant sensibility, but there is an emotional consciousness too. In Fledgling Watt hangs back and watches as another stoops and cups a sparrow in hand: “a windswept heart made manifest; feather light and hollow…”. There is a palpable grief in Migration Day: “opening again, like skin remembering wounds”, and real heartbreak in The Diagnosis, but there is also the third and final chapter, Kokkel the compass, which guides one along the coast of this lingering melancholy and steers a safe passage home to the heart of things.
Watt is also the poetry editor for the online literary magazine, The Island Review, and her films (seen on Tumblr) are beautiful visual poems.
Other beautiful words: lomm – the change in colour of the sea when fish swim underneath; skerries rocks
Marjolein is a Shetlandic comedian and she shares some of her favourite words from the dialect on youtube – both enjoyable and informative.
Featured landscape photos by Isobel Cockburn. Title image Uyeasound, Shetland
MONA Museum of New Art, 10 Esplanaadi St. 80010, Pärnu.
Give A New Life, the 7th Recycling Art Exhibition
I saw this beautiful Giant’s Lantern by Kristiina Tuura, a Helsinki based artist who made this work from rubbish, recycled and found objects. It pays respect to the hundreds of years old tradition of skilful Syrian lantern making. Made with the help of school children and immigrant students.
Rule and Ritual, Exhibition of Estonian Textile Artists Union
In Tuli Reinsoo’s work, a giant soft jigsaw of colour, fabric and script, I was invited to Play! Mangi! to move the pieces around as I fancied and make a new art work as I did so. Nothing is ever missing, the blobs which fit into the corresponding holes are part of the outline and the spaces between the pieces are as much part of the transitory, ‘final’ work.
The juxtaposition of fish swimming across the chest, pithy phrase emblazoned on T shirt harks back to Freud’s ‘Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar’, a sideways reference to his constant search for meaning in dreams (although some say he never said that!) At one and the same time we accept what is, and are prompted to look into what exactly a herring is in this context.
This installation, using fabric and embroidery, comments on the indolence and habits of the TV watching public. Lounging and dozing while the images flower and grow on the sunseen screen.
Martikainen (weaver) writes that what lies behind her work is her worry that too many children are having to face fear, violence and hunger and that they should all have the same rights to a safe and unique childhood. I found these tapestries poignant and, taken from photographs, life-like.
In 2012, the church of St Virgin Mary, Kulautuva, Lithuania was all but destroyed by fire. Afterwards, however, statues of the Virgin and Christ were found ‘miraculously preserved’. Grasiene was touched by the smiling face of St Mary despite the tragedy and that set her to think about how we are left after terrible things have happened in our lives.
Mutually beneficial interacton between form (the furniture maker’s chair) and pattern. Comfy and utilitarian, also images of growth and shadow to sit on.
The Exhibition of work from the student’s of Olustvere TMK textile industries at Pärnu Muuseum were not far removed from natural Scottish woven cloth from the Scottish Islands. The hues and textures were juxtaposed with lace and ornamental buttons to make the cushion covers practical and adding artists touches.
This one woman show features wall-sized artwork which speaks of Raadik’s internal reproductive organs and their metamorphosis. Addressing fertility, menstruation, and the private monthly morphing of the ovaries, together with their abnormalities, these starkly beautiful, computer produced images defy the impersonality of technology. Yet they speak clearly of 21st century medical procedures at the same time as mythical, precious ‘golden’ eggs. Laid down before birth, here the presumptious belief that they will be ready when we need them is challenged. Red of blood and suffering, emotion and the flashing light of danger, precision of ovoid and sphere, this exhibition was moving and fascinating.
Many thanks to the lovely woman who was watching the exhibition when I visited it. She was informed, friendly and most kindly drew up a list for me of art places to visit in Tallin, where I was headed later that day.
This was a very large exhibition in a utilitarian building on Freedom Square, full to the brim with 20th century artwork in varying media.
Gea Sibola Hansen, Bundle of Joy; Leonhard Lapin
The Temnikova & Kasela contemporary art gallery, Tallin Gallery Lastekodu 1, 10115 Tallinn, Estonia.
Starting at the beginning with the larger than life size cave person about to hurl a rock, and with hints of the big bang, this exhibition simultaneously conjures our possible, some would say, likely, dénouement. Seemingly using concrete, a semblance of lasting weight, it turns out to be empty inside and easy to push over. These materials concretise the sometimes solid sounding, hollow actions of our apparently sophisticated world. Both stark and comic-al, here is the destruction of our planet and interconnected neanderthal behaviour. It’s a warning!
The internal heating pipes asked to be photographed! Once again the young man who opened the door to me (you have to ring), who could have been rather fed up as I arrived a mere 5 minutes before closing, was solicitous and shyly infromative, taking me into the back afterwards so I could see examples of the upcoming exhibition.
Also to see in Estonia
KUMU contemporary art museum in Kadriorg Park, Tallin.
And don’t miss the ambitious art park planned for the bay of Pärnu, where each of the countries of the nine states of the Baltic Sea including Finland, Sweden, Estonia plus the autonomous Åland in the downtown of Pärnu. The Victoria and Albert Museum, in Dundee has recently opened in the harbour if you are visiting Scotland any time soon.
The Spellbinders is an historical novel set between 1299 and the early 1330s which spans the life (and some) of Edward II, King of England and his loves. Penned by Eleardo Zanghellini in 2018, an Italian born professor of Law and Social Theory at Reading Law School, this is his first novel although he has previously written The Sexual Constitution of Political Authority.
It is a quick read, broken into short sections which move back and forth in time, and there is a large cast with a broad setting which includes the vales of Scotland. Curly flourishes head all 334 pages with the name of the author on every left one – The Spellbinders is perhaps hinting at the design of the Renaissance manuscript.
The monarch Edward, who came to the throne at the tender age of 22, is renowned as ‘England’s most infamous homosexual prince’ (Lethe Press). Despite his marriage to Isabella of France aged 12 years, the book’s joint hero is actually Piers Gaveston, common soldier from across the Channel, whom Edward made second most important gent in the land.
As we have come to expect from the bulk of the factual information surviving from those Medieval times, there is a great deal of political debate between Earls and other men jostling for power. However, taking equal place in the narrative are the erotic exploits of Edward, Piers and, after the latter’s violent murder, those of Lord Audley and Hugh Damory the Young Dispenser. We do learn about the naive and accepting Isabella; Margaret the very practical King’s cousin who was married to Gaveston; of Pembroke and Lancaster, but it’s the graphic sex which takes centre stage.
Apparently as true to real life as possible, Zanghellini, in the tradition of historical writers, imagines the unknown details and pens them with relish, introducing a useful hidden corridor and other devices to link the famous events and add atmosphere. He relishes physical description (“the Younger Dispenser: fiery-haired and good-looking in a base, brutish sort of way – which meant not good-looking at all, really.” ) and there is a seer with a curse as well as the ghost of a monk with self-professed “woman’s hands” who stitches Gaveston’s head back on and embalms him. He has clearly researched the flora, costume and typical pets of the day, with many a gilly flower, and phrases such as “a mohair cape about her shoulders” and, “‘a camel’, gasped Isabella. ‘What’s to love about a camel, dear husband?'”
This is oerhaps a book for reading on the train or by the poolside.
There is a playful air in the central gallery where Contemporary Art meets Hall of Mirrors. Like little children at the funfair we want to touch the shiny surfaces and test what is real and what is not.
Disorientated, I wonder where I am, what my relationship is to the space and the other people around me. Sparsely placed in a white box of a room, these apparently simple, shiny cubes and discs shimmer and float. They distort and shift reality so much that I question gravity itself
Transported through portals, doors beyond doors, the floor extends out of the window. The central tardis-shaped work beguiles and bemuses. Although my feet are firmly planted on the floor, I get the feeling that I am teetering on the edge of a cliff.
Looking somewhat like a front loading washing machine, we peer in. All unsuspecting we find we are spun around, divided into segmented slices, ending up all topsy turvy and stained in primary colours.
Leaving this rabbit hole world I explore the rest of the house. The sun shines through the amber and Derek Jarman blue stained glass, making patterns and further playing with what is real and what not.
Unexpected doorways; spines of puce.
Trellises on the ceiling; walls of scarlet glimpsed through mirrors
Monasterial archways; a vestibule of make-believe marble; Classical columns, charyatids and statuary.
Unexpected urns and hand-painted aviaries delight me and I spend a happy afternoon in this fascinating place.
Sir John Soane’s Museum, London This was his main residence and is now a museum containing some of the furniture and artefacts from Pitzhanger – well worth visiting.
To get what the Pitzhanger Manor curators have done in collaboration with Kapoor, you should imaginatively travel to Soane’s self-built London home in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, with his collection of antiquities and artworks.
Emily Atef/ Germany Austria France/ 2018/ 115 mins
@Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Mon 18 Feb 2019. German/French with subtitles.
Actress Romy Schneider is at the core of the emotionally disturbing 3 Days In Quiberon, the 2018 film from writer-director Emily Atef which won seven Lola’s at the German Film Awards last year. The versatile Marie Bäumer plays Schneider who was born in Vienna, Austria in 1940 into a stage family, and who made her name before she was 20 years old in the Sissi Trilogy in which she played the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. In this, her most famous role, Schneider epitomises the innocent and regal bearing of the subject.
This containment and control are evident in the tense modern film, as are the opposing emotions and behaviour of desperation, hysteria, and recklessness. The harrowing interview which the profoundly disturbed Schneider gave to the magazine Stern, on which the film is based (shortly before her son tragically died and during what we know was the final year of her own life) is the main section. Taking place at a spa where she repaired to reputedly recover from the excesses of alcohol and drugs, Schneider’s family have announced that they do not support the addict version of her which Atef depicts. The French-Iranian director is said to have admitted to fictionalizing parts of the interview in making the film, and the connections she draws are very clear: a drunken Schneider cries that her life has fallen apart, that the balance between her work and her children is wrong, and that she does not know how to solve it. Plied with champagne by the journalist, she ‘reveals’ a side to herself which she apparently hadn’t previously, although he then purports to be affected by her plight and it is unclear how blunt the final piece actually is. We are not sure if we can trust her judgment by this time – we have seen how changeable and malleable she is, and how she often makes decisions which are not in her own interest or that of her children. Are we to believe that she is now in control?
The film is in black and white with brooding skies and sharply contrasting angles and lines. To match the constantly switching moods, Atef utilises very short scenes – snippets of interchange or single shot outcomes. Just as the focus is on the characters and their reactions to Schneider, so 50% of the frames are realistic close-ups showing their humanity; wrinkles, under-eye shadows and all. When the camera retreats showing wild Breton seascapes and wide sweeps of the angular hotel we are shocked by the bleak outlook and impersonality of the surroundings.
Here is the helplessness, the hopelessness of the human condition. I didn’t feel charmed by Schneider, I didn’t feel her charisma. Personally I felt a sadness and confusion. I saw her addiction, a woman with mental health problems who needs help – struggling to help herself, the people around her are awe struck by her and using her to their own ends.
It isn’t all depressing; there are a few humorous episodes around the plain food to which she is restricted, and a lively early scene in a local cafe where she is full of wine-induced conviviality and fun, albeit OTT with strangers. However, the viewer is left with a heavy heart and much sadness after witnessing such a lot of media, and self-abuse. A sense of foreboding lingers.