Alastair Mcintosh

Fear and Loathing in the West Highlands

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Norman Shaw’s Nemeton lives up to Alastair McIntosh’s stated approach to writing, “In the absence of 300 milligrams of LSD, how can I trip them out?”

This is gonzo academic writing at its best: faeries, faerie hills (a nemeton is a sacred space in the ancient Celtic religion), second sight, Ossian, standing stones (Calanais in particular), Masons, shit socks, Psilocybin (magic) mushrooms, hazel nuts, the nuts of knowledge, salmon, poaching, patrols for poachers, Christianity, damnation, the second coming, the Jacobites, superquarries, peat, and of course Beuys.

Shaw documents visually and in text a series of journeys to explore specific nemetons, sites in the West Highlands where our world and the dream- or otherworld are connected. These journeys are deeper explorations of previous experiences: Shaw, a son of the Manse, grew up in Lewis and Dingwall amongst other Highland communities. Revisiting sites with the specific objective of researching their existence as meeting points brings him into contact with everyday Highland life as well as with the other world. Cycling, driving and walking through the Highlands in the heat and the rain, in fog and on clear days, sometimes in company and sometimes alone, the journeys are psychological as well as physical explorations.

Nemeton is a rumination on the nature of reality, West Highland reality, which is distinct from other realities, just as Hunter S Thompson’s West Coast reality is an alternate reality. Just imagine three cycles dumped outside a café in a community hall on Harris.

“My bike has a crucifix for handlebars, with a wooden Christ having from it. His legs form the two forks holding the front wheel. Thus Jesus forms a kind of figurehead for the trip. Roineval will be our Holy Mountain, our Calvary. The bike becomes our cross to bear, dragging it round the roads of Harris, whilst simultaneously being steered by Christ, whose humiliation haunts the moors and glens of the Hebrides – a voice crying in the wilderness. A fine twelve-pointed pair of red deer stag’s antlers form Eddie’s handlebars. The deer is a symbol of time and a symbol of love. Time the deer is in the wood… It also symbolises the surplus of deer that roam the sporting estates of the post-clearance highlands; or the horned god Cerrunos, hermes trismegistus – often depicted as Moses with horns (as in Roslin chapel, for instance). Lee’s bicycle is steered by the skull and jawbones of a basking shark. His bike is an appeal to the maritime history of this place, of fish-based economies and a hearkening back to old Atlantis or even Tir Nan Og.” (p.100).

Shaw makes a compelling argument that our post-modern imaginary, breaking down assumptions about cause and effect, disrupting the linear narrative, exploring the circular, is fundamentally more suited to developing an understanding of dimensions beyond those accessible to the sciences of physics and imperial(ist) histories.

There are contributions from others including Murdo Macdonald, the Professor of History of Scottish Art at the University of Dundee as well as the artists Eddie Summerton, Lee O’Connor and Tommy Crooks.

At the heart of this book is a rumination on nature and the spiritual. Shaw belongs in the long lineage of researchers into the otherworld or dreamworld of the Scottish Highlands. What is distinctive about this research, done in the context of contemporary visual arts (as broad as that method can be), is the acceptance of the participation of the researcher in the world. Other texts describe things learnt or things found. This text shares experiences of the research. Ironically in this text the spiritual is not other, studied objectively, but rather immanent, studied subjectively. The altered states of this text confront head on the haptic, the liminal, and the full complexity of the Highlands: damnation at the second coming, the schadenfreude of village life where failure takes eviscerates incomers. Fear is visceral.

Why this book is self-published I cannot for the life of me understand, but you can get a copy direct from the author email nshaw777@gmail.com or write to 2 Inzievar Couirtyard, Inzievar Woods, Dunfermline, Fife, KY12 8HB.

Dr Norman Shaw

Born in 1970, grew up in the Highlands.

MA (hons) in Fine Art, University of Edinburgh (1993)

MPhil in Art History, Edinburgh College of Art (1994)

MFA in painting, Edinburgh College of Art (1996).

PhD in Fine Art, University of Dundee (2004)

Taught Art History and Fine Art at Edinburgh College of Art and the University of Edinburgh, before lecturing at the University of Dundee.

Exhibits widely in group and solo exhibitions, nationally and internationally. Outputs include drawing and painting, printmaking, writing, sound, video.

Exhibitions include ‘Window to the West’ (City Art Centre, 2010), ‘Prints of Darkness’ (Edinburgh Printmakers, 2010 (touring)), ‘Highland’ (RSA, 2007), ‘The Great Book of Gaelic’ (An Lanntair, Stornoway, 2002 (touring)), ‘Calanais’ (An Lanntair,1996 (touring)).

Research and practice is multi-disciplinary and polymorphic. Major source is the Scottish Highland landscape; its natural and unnatural histories, mythologies, mysticisms and psychogeologies; tempered by a unique visionary iconography which draws on an expansive range of influences.

Visual research ranges from drawing and painting to printmaking and installation. Influences and obsessions range from prehistoric megalithic culture and Pictish art to early medieval British insular art; and from the early northern renaissance to the northern romantic tradition; William Blake, the Celtic revival, surrealism, neo-romanticism, psychedelia, and occult, subversive and ‘outsider’ art, marginal, alternative and hidden histories. Draws heavily on music-related artforms such as record covers and paraphernalia.

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.

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O Donald Trump, Woe Donald Trump

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

“It is not an art poem. It is a bardic declamation coming out of a tradition that speaks social truth direct to power – hot, rough, and on the hoof.”

O Donald Trump, Woe Donald Trump, from Alastair McIntosh to Donald Trump on a personal basis, published on Bella Caledonia, an online magazine exploring ideas of independence, self-determination and autonomy.

It starts,

O Donald Trump
It was my own old mother’s taxi driver
on the Isle of Lewis
who said he lives next
to your old mother’s house
on the Isle of Lewis
That made me think
how close we are
being separated by
just two mothers
and one Stornoway taxi

more…

For those of you who don’t know, Donald Trump, of Trump Towers, etc., wants to create a major new Trump branded golf and leisure resort at Menie in Aberdeenshire dispossessing locals and over-running a site of special scientific interest.

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.

Go to EcoArtScotland

Can literary fiction ever do climate? Part 2

… and, as if  to continue that very thought above in the post about Ian McEwan, Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine have just announced Dark Mountain Festival Uncivilisation 2010, from May 28 to 30. In an email, Paul says:

It is deliberately staged to clash with the opening weekend of the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival: as civilised literature’s establishment grandees gather in Hay, we will muster an opposing army at the other end of Offa’s Dyke, for a very different kind of cultural weekend.

Uncivilisation 2010 will be held in Llangollen “at the other end of Offa’s Dyke” among the  “dark mountains of Wales” and will include contributions from Alastair McIntoshGeorge MonbiotTom HodgkinsonMelanie ChallengerGlyn Hughes and Jay Griffiths. There will also be music and workshops from Vinay Gupta (Institute for Collapsonomics), Briony Greenhill (The Blended Lifestyle), Anthony McCann (Beyond the Commons).

On the surface the ideas proposed by the Dark Mountain Project is very much the opposite of the RSA’s own worldview. They are broadly pessimistic, inviting us to imagine collapse and to look it in the eye, scoffing at ideas of sustainability.

The festival’s webpage says:

UNCIVILISATION is a festival for anyone who’s sick of pretending that we can make our current way of living “sustainable”, that we can take control of the planet’s reeling systems, that “one more push” will do it. It’s time to acknowledge that “saving the planet” is a bad joke. We are entering an age of massive disruption and the task is to live through it as best we can and to look after each other as we make the transition to the unknown world ahead.

But what’s positive about the project is that it is bent on finding new ways to reimagine our present and future, believing that writers and artists can and should be taking on the riskier task of creating the narratives that are currently so absent in our culture. I suspect that behind the darkness of their mountains lurks a glimmer of light.

Tickets are available here:
http://www.eventelephant.com/uncivilisation

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