This immersive mixed-media installation is a meditative residue of my embodied research into locations in Scotland known as thin places – a term used to describe a marginal, liminal realm, beyond everyday perception.
This installation was my final MFA exhibition, the culmination of 10-months of research and practice. It contains three components which inform each other and create an immersive experience for the viewer.
Suspended in a sculptural manner to allow the scale to envelop the viewer, it is drawn in toner, and is 2.4 metres tall by 20 metres in length.
This drawing continues the exploration of a recurring motif which has been prevalent in my 2-dimensional work since arriving in Scotland. Every iteration sees an abstracted image reminiscent of the solidity of the landscape juxtaposed with impermanence as the visual weight dissipates into the atmosphere.
This duality of solid and fluid speaks to my interpretation of the feeling of being enveloped by the landscape. I believe this feeling is the best expression of the concept of sublime. However, to be enveloped is not to be overwhelmed by what surrounds you, instead it is deeply tied to the concept of interconnectedness. It is not about feeling small and insignificant, but to feel a deep and boundless connection to the universe and everything in it.
Photo credit Agata Urbanska.
During my journeys to thin places in Scotland, I came across numerous monolithic forms. The forms were made or placed by human hands and were usually of stone. On the Isle of Iona it was a cairn (mound of stones) on the top of Dun I, at Calanais the enigmatic standing stones and at Tobar na coille, the stone wall surrounding the well. Many of these forms have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. They evoke a sense of stability, strength, and permanency. Although deeply moved by the forms I saw on my journeys, I in no way want to recreate them. Instead, I wanted to consider materials that had elements of fragility and impermanence. To reimagine a form that was non-gendered, non-specific, and explore how the space between the form and that which it inhabits may become more important than the form itself.
I am interested in layers, both figuratively and literally. I initially began experimenting with layering and fusing materials together. By incorporating semi-transparent papers, with torn prints and drawings, I was able to sandwich pieces together to create depth and history, something captured in-between surfaces that was still visible to the eye.
The original maquette for the skeleton of the form was created intuitively and while the larger version does have a few adjustments and additions, it has remained true to the initial intention of the form.
The transparent paper which covers the form is covered with a screenprint of a redrawn vintage map of the Isle of Lewis, sourced during a stay in Stornoway. The white ink and the skeletal structure is illuminated from the inside by randomised light patterns. These light patterns are triggered when one unknowingly interacts with the form and the space it inhabits.
Working in collaboration, with musician and sound artist Sean Cairns, to create a soundscape that would support the immersive quality of this installation was an iterative experience which began with the field recordings completed on-site and developed alongside original sounds, created specifically for this work, in the studio.
The use of sound in my research stems from interests into the concept of how we “hear” sound. The idea that we only hear a reflection of a sound fascinates me. Our perception of space is dictated by the resonances picked up by our ears and body.
Canadian composer and sound theorist Murray Schafer coined the term “acoustic ecology”, to describe the sound of a place. I was curious to record the soundscape found in a thin place and also discover what sounds humans make when in a thin place.
Schafer also discusses at length the concept of silence, stating “at one time stillness was a precious article in an unwritten code of human rights. Man held reservoirs of stillness in his life to restore the spiritual metabolism”*. But Schafer points out the unfortunate negative connotations silence now carries in the West, “Man likes to make sounds to remind himself that he is not alone...man fears the absence of sound as he fears the absence of life”.
I am curious how we can build what Schafer refers to as “positive silence” back into our daily lives. Shafer believes that to recover silence we must first “still the noise in the mind”. Can the soundscape of a thin place begin to fulfill the need for “positive silence”? While there isn’t really any such thing as silence, can I find sound or create a soundscape that calms the mind?
The soundscape is a 16-minute loop that is not accumulative or narrative, it does not have a beginning or an end, it is up to the viewer to decide when it is the right time to leave.
Take a quick wander through the installation from the viewer's point of view and hear the soundscape :
Video credit Malcolm Finnie.
Video credit Malcolm Finnie.