Stories of radical landownership in North Lewis
Produced in collaboration with artist Virginia Hutchison this project brings together narratives surrounding the community land buyout of the Galson Estate in 2007. Created during the COVID pandemic in 2020/2021, the project weaves together local audio archives and interviews and brings them into contemporary conversations surrounding community land ownership. With access and social distancing measures in mind, the project has taken the form of a series of cast bronze artefacts temporarily sited in the landscape of north Lewis. Embedded with digital QR codes, the artefacts link visitors directly to the audio works via mobile phone.
“If you didn’t know the names of these places you couldn’t talk about them...”
Underpinning the interviews are recitals of the Gaelic place-names that define north Lewis - a gentle call and response between Gaelic and English (though not a direct translation) through the landscape, geography and history of the area. Looking out onto the Barvas moor, visitors can be mistaken for thinking that it is an empty landscape. But listening closely to the Gaelic expressions used to describe the environment of north Lewis gives a sense of the intimate and complex relationship between people and place. A language embedded within local culture and knowledge, and not always translatable.
“Space doesn’t become a place until you interact with it. It doesn’t become a place until you name it…and it becomes a place in relation to somewhere or something else... i.e., it’s always changing.”
Permeating the voices within the audio works are recordings made from the constant movements and tectonic shifts beneath the Earth’s surface. Produced by artist Stephen Hurrel, the seismic sounds provide layers to the stories and issues that surround engagement with the landscape. Hurrel’s work with Seismic Sounds and with Gaelic speaking communities in Barra weaves closely into the stories of radical landownership in north Lewis. Where these conversations meet and overlap presents opportunities for wider discussions around land reform in Scotland.
How to get involved?
Each of the six artworks – a series of cast bronze objects moulded from cut peat – contains a conversation recorded with members of the community. Two out of six of the artworks remain open as audio ‘project spaces’ and we would love to hear from anyone who would like to become involved in the conversation.
The project will be touring around the island and to the mainland later in the year before finding a permanent home in the Galson Estate. The artworks will become part of a permanent living audio archive for the community, weaving in ongoing conversations, stories, and recollections.
Released April 1, 2021
Many thanks to the Galson Estate staff and community.
Special thanks to Agnes and Frank Rennie, Lisa Maclean, Annie MacSween, Iain Gordon Macdonald, Edinburgh College of Art, Richard Collins (Edinburgh University) and Blackbay Recording Studios.
Annie Macsween, Faclan 2020, A History with Heart and Soul – The Place-names of North Lewis, Ness Historical Society
Frank Rennie, Dùthchas 2020, The Changing Outer Hebrides – Galson and the meaning of Place
Virginia Hutchison is an artist based in Glasgow and the Isle of Lewis. Working within a predominantly social context her practice draws on the processes involved in collaborative creative production to explore how different forms of artistic engagement influence the interaction we have with our environments. Virginia currently runs the bronze casting facilities at Edinburgh College of Art and is one part of the duo ’In the Shadow of the Hand’ with artist and film-maker Sarah Forrest. A graduate of the Royal College of Art, Virginia currently sits of the board of directors at An Lanntair Arts Centre in Stornoway.
The project was produced in conversation with artists Stephen Hurrel and Fiona Rennie.
With support from Community Land Scotland and the Stove Network.