on wilderness was made with the generous help and support of a group of people who live and work in Shieldaig and the landscapes that border Loch Torridon and the Applecross peninsula. The project was funded with the support of a Creative Scotland Visual Arts Artist's Bursary Award. on wilderness Premiered in Shieldaig Village Hall in 2012 and was subsequently installed in the Small Gallery of Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, Inverness in 2013.
on wilderness is a video artefact, the record of a landscape as seen through the particular understanding of four inhabitants of a Highland Community. It is a large-scale projected moving image work structured according to the interplay of landscape ‘events’ in and around the Village of Shieldaig in the Parish of Applecross in North West Scotland. The video, together with the drawings and photographic works that accompanied its creation, all attest to a concern for the politics of representation, for a place and its image. In Highland Scotland the politics of land is paramount. With a prevailing visual iconography of emptiness, melancholia and a seemingly untouched nature - all attached to a vital tourist industry - it has become a complex thing to navigate a modern life in a symbolic landscape.
In the politics of land in Scotland the word ‘wilderness’ is highly contentious and the term ‘wild land’ has become its somewhat awkward representative. Wilderness in this context carries with it the loss or erasure of history, the implication that this land has never been touched, inhabited, worked or cared for and with that, the implication of wastefulness. There is no Gaelic word for wilderness, the closest term, fàsach, refers to an empty place, unoccupied or uncultivated. The uncritical application of ‘wilderness’ to the Highland landscape denies a history and constrains a present and a possible future.
The popular imagery of the Highland landscape as a scene of almost hypnotic beauty and frequent emptiness is a primary economic resource at a local and a national level and yet, it is also a fiction. The evolution of this visual fiction, its formal devices of composition and scale and the audience that it creates and serves are the focus of this work. The urban visitor to the Highlands, constrained by time and an overwhelming desire to distance himself/herself from utility – the world of home and work and the seemingly unconstrained activity of the city – is disciplined to see a scene of untouched, found nature. The practicalities of that view, the work of cultivation and stewardship over time, the very particular geographies of living and working in a landscape that is perceived to be remote, are blurred.
What would it be to see and to act differently, to acknowledge the remarkable beauty of a place and in doing so to recognise the contribution of people? The landscape that we see is neither a found wilderness nor a devastated artefact rather it is the site of a very particular form of modern life.
on wilderness takes as its object four men and the paths that they occupy and work: a prawn fisherman working in a sustainable fishery, a mountain path mender restoring the trammelled routes of hill walkers across the surface of high mountains, a forest planter, responsible for the planned and natural regeneration of an Oceanic Woodland and a freshwater fisheries biologist tracking the behaviour of trout in a Highland River. Each man knows a particular landscape intimately: the sites of carnivorous wildflowers, the bend in a river inhabited by juvenile trout, the minute growth patterns of individual pine trees and the prawn population density of a coastal mud bank. And each understands this distinct landscape as part of a seasonal and annual cycle. In this place change is seen at the micro and the macro scale and the impact of human intervention is calculated over many years.
on wilderness is both a video work and the document of a year spent trying to see differently.