Lerwick, bleary eyed



Sailed into Lerwick while the dark was still hanging.

Have come to Shetland to tak’ peace and read and think and write, all while the wind blows around me.


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arctic futures 2016, bruxelles

Stirling University and the SGSAH supported me to attend Arctic Futures 2016.

This annual conference bring together the European Institutions with interested organisations and persons from the wider international community to hear and talk about scientific, political and social developments in the Arctic.

Whilst the focus was on sustainable communities, this was seen through the changes happening in Arctic – environmentally, geopolitically and socially. As the ice melts, new waterways are opening up allowing greater access to natural resources. The regions unresolved territorial disputes and increased military activity means interests in the Arctic have becomes even more strategic.

Prone to alarmist headlines, we the flicking and clicking tend to feel a sense of calamity. Yet amongst the speakers from the Arctic countries there was a poise. In talking about the mineral exploration in Greenland and the desire to see the sealskin ban lifted in the EU, Vittus Qujaukitsoq,the Minister of Foreign affairs was very clear about seeing a way through the challenges and realising the ambitions of the people of Greenland. “We don’t want to develop to get rich in material terms but so we can take care of ourselves and our people.” 

Mika Riipi, the Governor of Lapland, perhaps the most poetic local government politician I have even heard, expressed his hope for the future: “snow to stay in the Arctic and to stay white… Peace is a precious thing.”

20161130_113315I am an uncomfortable conference goer who ends up hanging around the coffee station drinking cup after cup. But I made a supreme effort to speak to people and met some fascinating folk. One of them was Rosa Thorisdottir who works for the Stefansson Polar Institute. A visual anthropologist, her PhD was on the work of the French cultural anthropologist Jean Malaurie and the return of the ethnographic documents – the moving images he filmed – to the communities in them. Thank you, Rosa, daughter of Thor, for sharpening my focus on another ethical dimension of Arctic filmmaking.

(The image is of Rosa’s beautiful Icelandic yoke, knitted by her mother.)

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relate north 2016, lerwick

screen-shot-2017-01-25-at-16-58-15A slide of the area of Shetland Jenny Gilbertson filmed in, in the 1930s. This was from the presentation that Joanne Jamieson from Shetland Moving Image Archive and myself gave to the Relate North Conference on reconnecting the community of Hillswick with its cultural heritage, namely the films of Jenny Gilbertson.

Drawn with Sharpie on a piece of greaseproof paper it did the job beautifully.

Also presenting was my PhD supervisor, Sarah Neely, who spoke about some of the ideas, memories, notes and poem of the Orcadian film poet Margaret Tait. (If you know nothing of Margaret Tait, you can watch some her films through that link or read a few of her poems, such as this one Now, on the Scottish Poetry Library website.)

screen-shot-2017-01-25-at-16-59-06On the Sunday, Joanne and I took Sarah to the places on the greaseproof paper map – Heylor, Hillswick and to Jenny and Johnny Gilbertson’s grave at Eshaness Cemetery.

This is what they look out over, West Heogaland. Interestingly, two rows down to the west lies Tommy Anderson, the Shetland fiddler whilst to the east lies Donald Robertson. I wrote about this a few years ago here.

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Good Storm Gertrude


I arrived at Sumburgh Head Lighthouse in Shetland with the warnings of Storm Gertrude.

She was wild. As fierce as I have ever experienced. With winds of 100mph and gusts of 110mph she sustained her thrashing wails for nearly 24 hours.

What grieved her? Whatever it was, the lighthouse whistled loudly all day and all night, ignoring her, not bothering, keeping her at bay.

I have never felt so solid, so contained as she raged around me.

A good storm to clear the way. What a grounding start to a months artist’s residency.

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Clavel screenings at Sumburgh Head Lighthouse

SumbugthHeadLighthouseAs May’s artist in residence at Sumburgh Lighthouse in Shetland, the film I made, Clavel, will be screened twice tomorrow, Wednesday 27th, in the education suite (which is probably the most beautiful education suite in the world). The first screening is at 2pm the other at 6pm (we’ll start a little bit after to let those coming from Lerwick get here).

After the screening I will be doing a short talk on the research I am doing for a biography of the Shetland Filmmaker Jenny Gilbertson.

During my month at the lighthouse I’ve been able to make great progress on the book and have been filming as I go along: first, Jenny’s daughters, Helen and Ann and then the Hillswick area of Northmavine in Shetland, where Jenny filmed her first films and where she met and lived with her husband, Johnny Gilbertson.

I am very grateful to Shetland Amenity Trust and their artist in residence programme at Sumburgh Head Lighthouse for supporting me with this work. The wild and wonderful winds that whirl round the lighthouse have truly stirred my spirit.

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Great patter

tentWhen the rain hammers down on your tent the fear of leak, lake or landslip denies you the delight of just 1mm between a dry you and the wet it.

But soft rain with its light touch and gentle insistence: you wish you could let it in.

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Save the bee

bee lamentSugary water on a plate;

chasing the sun;

words of encouragement;

willing life to stay within it.

None of these were enough.

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