And again, should we wash upon, Loch Awe shore …

Vicarious serendipities, perhaps, could have only ever occurred at this location?

It started with a couple of images from 1970. I would encounter them once every few years or so, but they haunted me over several decades. It may not seem like a significant rhythm, too irregular, unpredictable, to have any substance? But like a slow burning ember, which with the slightest breathe of air can briefly flash bright before returning to dormant slumber under ashy coat, the potential to fully ignite remained. Each time I saw the images, it was always like being reminded of something I had forgotten, but couldn’t remember what or why!

Many times before I had driven along the shore road, glimpses of tree covered islands, crannogs and unsettled water, no more than fleeting impressions. And then I found myself, on a hill side overlooking Loch Awe for several weeks. From here the stone husk of Kilchurn Castle provides a vivid reminder of the history of Scotland’s landscapes: a favourite picturesque centerpiece, providing seductive views for quintessential yearnings of Scottishness.

But looking down, with different perspective, hands covered in peat and mud, trying to make sense of the Medieval period from broken fragments, I wondered. Wondered why Beuys responded to the shore side and what motivated him to create such a humble sculptural piece.

It is said that a lump of peat, length of pine branch and copper pipe were discovered by Beuys on these shores. These were combined, crozier like, and placed in a lead vitrine, to become ‘The Loch Awe Piece’. Perhaps it deliberately presences the symbolism of early Christian missionary regalia, tangled with the shepherd’s crook, both of which changed this landscape physically and conceptually.

But what I struggled with was the discovery of the copper pipe. Peat and pine expected, the vedigris tube troubled me, and I didn’t know why. So I resolved, to revisit, to return to the 8th May 1970.

I carried further expectations of the shoreline. Remote(ish), relatively unvisited (a few roadside stopping places are hasty insta-locales), slight and fleeting this should be a place of little trace. And the dirty truth, where water washes, we expect our detritus is tidied away, like some debris removal ecosystem service. And so, I found myself on the shores of Loch Awe, naively surprised at the rubbish. Camping gear residues, fishing tackle tangles, barbecue libations, carbonised outdoor activities, all evidenced from fire pit scatter patterns of objects.

But then there was another range of materials which I doubted anybody would bring camping, broken window handles and tools, more akin to dumping of materials from a house refurbishment. It felt like a forensic archaeology of the anthropocene, almost unnoticed, an aggregation of tiny acts of aggression littered the shoreline.

Such patterns of behavior have perhaps accelerated since May 1970. With a fifty year period of marketing frenzied consumption, crashing willfully across our shores. So it was now no surprise that, among the broken bits of screw driver, handles and cans, a copper pipe had once been discovered here. No caring crook or inspiring crozier but a length of domestic waste sanitation.

So I gathered and crafted, to bear witness perhaps, to the unintended consequences of our material entanglements. A trophy of our times, hybridized bio-mechanics, as anthropocene assemblage. And when you look in its quartz eyes, do we see death or a feint flicker of hope?

I can’t help wondering, fancifully, is there now a moment on the 8th May 1970, where my faint spectre like figure can be briefly seen, perhaps out of the corner of Beuys eye, purposively scouring the shoreline.

Perhaps decades of glimpses of Beuys accreted, with other moments around the shores of Loch Awe, like some plastiglomerate, which could only have occurred in such anthropocene times. Perhaps in such times we need to find new aesthetics, beyond the picturesque ?

And are there other places you know, where we need to be sensitive to spectres of the future haunting us?

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I wonder, why should this matter in times of environmental and climate crises? Perhaps an archaeological sensibility to the anthropocene (its origins, manifestations, asymmetries and more-than-human entanglements) could be important at such times? Could an #AnthropoceneArchaeology #ContemporaryArchaeology which reveals and challenges our assumptions about how and why we consume be a vital component in adaptation and resistance?

On 8th May 1970, Joseph Beuys traveled ‘the Road to Meikle Seggie’ through Argyll, Scotland, with Richard Demarco and Sally Holman. Some good accounts of Beuys work in Scotland can be found in Richard Demarco & Joseph Beuys A Unique Partnership published in 2016 by Luath Press and Joseph Beuys and the Celtic Wor(l)d by Victoria Walters

The two images of Beuys have been created through rephotography at the closest location I could find and merging with the originals held in the Demarco Archive, which can be found in the Argyll Demarco Archive Folder.

All elements of the piece, apart from the pins, were found on the shore of Loch Awe. It was produced for the XR Summerhall 2019 Exhibition and was accompanied by a short performance and discussion about Anthropocene Archaeologies. My thanks to the XR Summerall team for accepting my work, particular thanks to Natalie Taylor, Johnathan Baxter and Felicity White for support. I have also been privileged to work with Clan Gregor and Dalmally Historical Association, and all the wonderful volunteers who participated, in the investigation of a Medieval settlement overlooking Loch Awe and through many years of archaeological excavations in the area have learned a great deal from all those who are so passionate about the heritage and landscapes of Glen Orchy, Glen Strae and Loch Awe side. Such archaeological encounters have also informed the work: And Again, Should We Wash Upon Loch Awe Shore …

Witches Whispers

St Kilda Beach

Despite it remoteness, St Kilda, is globally connected.

St Kilda Village

Through shared histories, oceans and skies

St Kilda Airport Lounge

with flight                                maritime transports                          we congregate

nearly 1 million birds

Northern Gannet, Atlantic Puffin, Northern Fulmar, Manx Shearwater, Storm Petrel, Leach’s Petrel, Kitiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill, Great Skua

summer

at the archipelago

Hirta, Dun, Soay, Boreray.

St Kilda Seabird

Remote Life

Collect Bird

Cleit Dry

Boreray Wave

Yet we wont linger on Hirta but head to the world of Boreray

Boreray Revealed

Through

wave

wind

Boreray Splash

and wonder

Boreray closer

we reach

Stac Lee

Stac Lee

look back

Hirta

with anticipation

St Kilda birds

before crossing

beneath

sea cliffs

thrumming

krok krok krok krok krok krok krok krok

krok krok krok krok krok krok krok krok

krok krok krok krok krok krok krok krok

soaring

Flight

sweeping

crucifix

Flags

filled

vision

Teaming Skies

wards

Residues

pulse of the world

Nesting

receeding

Brooding

further

Seascape

from

Depths

memories

Archipelago

navigate dangerous waters

Navigable

voices voiceless

witches whispers

Fortress

kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroK kroKk roK kroK kroK kroK

Stac An Armin

‘a great noise like that made by a gannet,

but much louder when shutting its mouth’

Stac an Àrmainn

‘A storm rose, and that, together with the size of the bird

and the noise it made led them to think it was a witch.’

Stac an Àrmainn

‘they were beating it for an hour with two large stones before it was dead’

Torment

‘he was the most frightened of all the men, and advised the killing of it.’

Rupture

‘they killed the bird on the third day after it was caught’

Regret

Can we ever leave

the world

 

 

of birds and witches,

St Kilda Stac Lee Boreray

now unclear

which is which,

St Kilda and Stac Lee

Bird as person,

bird sustains life

person as bird.

 


The collection of eggs and hunting of birds provided a significant amount of sustenance to those living on Hirta.  Stone shelters, Cleits, were built and used to air dry the birds for consumption later.  Climbing cliffs and seasonal stays in bothies on the archipelagos other islands and stacks to hunt was part of the strategy for sustaining life.

Stac an Àrmainn is the highest sea stack (196 m) in the UK and is the location of at least two powerful tales.

One tells of the group of three men and eight boys from Hirta who were stranded here in 1728 for 9 months.  Upon returning they were to find that during their absence most of the community had died, all bar 4 adults and 26 children, from small pox.

The second tale, from about 1840, is of the death of what was probably the last Garefowl (Great Auk) in Scotland, when three men allegedly thought it to be a witch, only a few years before the species became extinct.

The quotes above are details of the St Kilda witch account, taken from a letter by Henry Evans, and can be found in:

Harvie-Brown, J A 1888 Vertebrate Fauna of the Outer Hebrides p 158-59.

How faithful the details of the story are can be debated but there was certainly a strong folklore which may have provided a context.  An interesting overview of witches can be found here:

 

and a broader context can be found here:

Campbell, J G 1902 Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland : Tales and Traditions collected entirely from Oral Sources. Glasgow.

Seeing a Great Auk in Scotland in the first half of the 19th century would probably have been a rare occurrence, numbers already depleted, and with the last small colonies on Iceland some distance – so there may have been no familiarity with this species of bird among the men on Stac an Àrmainn.  Whether the killing of the last Great Auk in Scotland as a witch (presumably in a shape shifted form) is true or not, today we are faced with the certainty if we do not do things differently other species will become extinct and St Kilda and the wider world it represents will be poorer for such losses.

How will we explain to future generations, what will undoubtedly seem 170 years in the future as, unjustifiable behaviours which lead to such losses.  Seemingly enlightened, we may not fear witches, but through our behaviours we make our offerings to other gods of consumption and waste.  They may not be so overt but our brutalities can be small, long  and incremental.

Listen for the whispers….


I was privileged to journey to St Kilda earlier this year with the wonderful Kilda Cruises a great highly knowledgeable team.

For more details about St Kilda, please visit, the National Trust for Scotland website, the St Kilda website  and the UNESCO St Kilda World Heritage Site

If St Kilda is not possible for you, another option to consider is the journey to Ailsa Craig, some details can be found in another post

Imaginary Island – journey through the south west.

 

Sherds Shards Shorelines

East Coast

With Holocene sunsets

Shore

New materials wash

across

our shores

Beach Sediments

Continued sedimentation of humanity

Diverse Materials

Ancient intermingling

salt,

stone,

seaweed,

shell

Sherds

Cast wide –

a strange catch of sherds

Shards

Cast deep –

a strange haul of shards

Worn Faces

Fragmentary people

Fragments

With broken vessels

Sherd deposits

Cross the line,

tread with care

Tideline

Tide hides,

washes removes

different ways

Sherd and Shard

Tide Reveals,

recedes deposits

new realities

 

with

plastic in our hands

mould marine disrespects.

 


The Sherds and Shards were found in July 2017 on the shoreline of a small cove on the east side of Eilean Na Hearadh (Isle of Harris) in the Na h-Eileanan Siar (Western Isles).   Overlooking the cove is a house, that originates from the late 18th century, the waste from which was probably flung by its residents into the sea for over two hundred years.    The sherds and shards have remained upon the shoreline and have become transformed by tidal rhythms and storms, scoured and smoothed, sharp edges blunted and bright surfaces dulled, all now more rounded and pebble like.

What I found most striking was the high proportion of materials, which were clearly worked through the beach deposits.  Two hundred years of human refuse disposal from one dwelling had transformed the shoreline geo-morphological sediments of the cove.   The pieces of ceramic and glass forming the installation on the shoreline were only collected from the surface of the beach, below the surface are much greater numbers of sherds and shards.

Sherds of ceramic and shards of glass are relatively stable as materials, unlike the floating and volatile plastic containers, nurdles and microbeads, which are now permeating our water and littering our beaches, the chemicals from which are extending through the food chain with building levels of toxicity to all life forms.

We walk upon the sherds and shards of different shorelines now …