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Chris Drury – Land, Water and Language

Ever since I walked from the top of Lewis to the tip of Barra in my mid-twenties, the flow country of North Uist, dominated by the peak of Eaval has stayed with me. I have longed to come back and explore that bewildering maze of lochs, sea and land.

In 1997, I made the sea/sky chamber work Hut of the Shadows (Both nam Faileas) at Sponish, Lochmaddy, which in a strange way hinted at that relationship between land (islands) and water.’

The land and water project began in September 2009 when Drury and Andy Mackinnon (Taigh Chearsabhagh’s curator and filmmaker) made a two day trans-Uist journey by canadian canoe across the island, from the south-west coast to Lochmaddy on the
north-east coast. With the wind behind them and a sail rigged when circumstance allowed, they threaded their way through the maze of lochs and waterways, portaging across the moorland in between.

The result of this very physical experience is this extensive show which includes the installation of a suspended woven canoe, made from heather, willow and salmon skins, which acts as a kind of open vessel for ideas, sensations and the material landscape.

This is an inhabited and named landscape going back to the Neolithic and as such language and naming embeds it within the culture. Two of the works on the wall, therefore use digital technology to recreate an image of the landscape as a lacework of words in Gaelic, Norse and English, which name all the lochs, islands and hills seen from Eaval.

Other works look at the macrocosm using satellite imagery and maps, and at the microcosm using the gene sequence of a microorganism which lives off methane in the peat bogs and which plays its part in stabilizing these greenhouse

gases. This work and the Three Views of Eaval are made with the pigment of the land itself; peat.

The final work Breath/Anail (in studio 1), a video loop of a breaking wave originally intended to be powered by a rowing machine, takes us back to the primal experience of this exposed island’ to wind, breath and spirit, but also warns of climate change, rising sea levels and increasing storm and flood dangers.

‘˜The Uists and Benbecula are part of a flow country whose interweaving of sea, lochs and land takes on a wave pattern, as when the tide retreats from a beach. The chain of islands and sea are dominated by Eaval (Island Mountain) in the North and Hecla in the South, both Norse names transfixing a fluid landscape with history and language. For the experience of this land is multi layered: the actuality of the place – the wind, the rain, the light, the sound of the curlew, the roar of the surf, the brown squelch of the peat bogs and the scent of the burning peat from the cottage chimneys – intermingles with the culture interred in the place names on the map, given both in Gaelic and Norse: Loch of the Pulling of the Boat, Loch of the Sheiling of the Harbour, Bay of the Curlews, Sheep Island, Loch of the Old Woman, etc.

So language and meaning and history are embedded in this now sparsely populated place. And using satellite imagery we can look at this pattern of land and water, observe the ever changing patterns of weather fronts which mirror the land beneath. At the same time we can look at the microcosm in the small bacteria embedded in the peat bogs and know through the science that these micro-organisms are affecting the climate and the weather in which the whole is embedded.’™
Chris Drury

Land, Water and Language was commissioned by Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre, Isle of North Uist.

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