Ditty Boxes. John Cumming, Cecil Tait

Artist Diary: John Cumming on Ditty Boxes at the Künstlerhaus, Dortmund

Gunnar Jónsson, Hringsól 4 (Wander around 4), 7 minute video loop, 2012

24 February 2013

On the invitation of Imi Maufe and Rona Rangsch, joint curators of this themed exhibition, The Ditty Boxes formed part of “Voyage – sea journeys, island hopping and trans-oceanic concepts “, at the Künstlerhaus, Dormund. I travelled, via Copenhagen, to Dortmund for the hanging and opening of this show. Most of the participating artists were in attendance and a hastily arranged, informal buffet dinner on the pre-opening evening afforded everyone an opportunity to meet. As with the Sea Change project, this enterprise reaffirmed for me the belief in art which is outward looking, risk taking and in the best sense, playful. My few days in the city gave me ample opportunity to experience all the works at leisure. The exhibition is a triumph for the joint curators, and the theme has given a conceptual rigour to the project.

There were no weak links in this exhibition, but three works stood out for me. Sally Waterman [England] shows a video based on a sea journey to the Isle of Wight to attend the funeral of a close friend. Gunnar Jónsson [Iceland] has also contributed a video, this time of a traditional fishing boat carving a constant shimmering circle in the northern Atlantic. A sound sculpture by Jeff Talman [USA] was composed of recordings made deep in the earth, in the ocean on America’s Atlantic shore and in the upper atmosphere. The resulting work, played in a darkened stone chamber was, frankly, visceral in its effect. To spend twenty minutes surrounded by this on a Dortmund evening as a gentle snow fell outside the gallery window, was a mind-alteringly beautiful experience.

8 November 2012

See the review by Orkney writer Morag MacInnes on Ditty Boxes and Cape Farewell at The Pier Arts Centre, Stromness:

http://northings.com/2012/11/09/cape-farewell-at-the-pier/

 

21 June 2012

The “Ditty Box” project continues to evolve and gradually assimilate into the main body of my work. What pleases me particularly is the extent to which, over the past year, it has led me into collaborations and disciplines I would otherwise have missed. As Cecil constructs the actual boxes in Scalloway, I am busy making contents here in Stromness. We have agreed on the scale, materials and structure of the pieces, but when we introduce the contents to the boxes there will inevitably be a period of readjustment and rearranging. For the sound piece I have been talking to islanders and fishermen who are old enough to have a long-time perspective on changes within the environment and ecology of the isles, while Fionn has trecked the hills, geos and skerries recording the voices of those birds under immediate threat. Among the people I have talked to there is an awareness of changes and a deep sense of loss. Recording these conversations has given me access to the profound knowledge, wit and narratives of some exceptional people.

Over recent months I have also been exploring collagraphy as a medium and developing a graphic equivalent to those “Stone Pillow” forms and textures I have explored previously in stone. The strength of the whole Cape Farewell initiative lies in the extent to which I no longer regard this as a one-off project, but simply an on-going body of work which will continue to develop and grow.

October 2011

There is only so much expansion one can take.  We go into our dying with a handful of memories, as an explorer might take a knife, a flint, length of cord and a twist of tea into the wilderness…
Who we are is not in our obituaries but in those final items.

Andrew Greig, At the Loch of the Green Corrie.

Our visit to the Shiants touched me deeply, as it forced me to confront the most obvious and visible evidence of the environmental crisis in the Northern Isles.  When I returned home I made contact with an ornithologist friend who is familiar, not just with Orkney and Shetland, but also with the Western Isles.  He confirmed my suspicion that the kittiwakes, arctic terns, auks and skuas had experienced yet another disastrous breeding season, and assured me that the arctic skua’s future here can be measured in single figure seasons.  The reason for this collapse he attributes directly to increased ocean warmth, which has led to an absence of sand eel; the essential food species.

I have made recordings of the skuas and terns, which I intend to use in some future work, and at present am searching for a musician/ sound artist who might share a similar ambition.  As well as the environmental issues, I began to think of the many islanders who were forced into sea journeys either as press-ganged sailors, as whalers, or emigrants and I took the idea of the ditty-box as a symbol of these journeys.  I have begun a collaboration with a designer/cabinet maker in Shetland (Cecil Tait) to make a ditty-box as sculpture, with contents for a life journey.

The word “sailor” is so obscured by romantic association that we may become blinded to its true meaning, so let’s talk about “seamen”. For centuries the role of the seaman was one of hardship; of physical drudgery, danger, sickness and estrangement.  Seamen were driven to this life by poverty, impressment, exile or fear.  Many enlisted voluntarily, but did so in a world where the options were few and harsh.

To think oneself into the mind of a seaman, we must imagine a world in which one’s fate lay entirely at the whim of others.  The length of one’s service, the conditions of labour, one’s safety and welfare were in the hands of officers and captains.  Those few possessions which gave one identity, the things which said – this is my past, my present, my hope, were kept in a “ditty box”.

Imagine a wooden box so small as to be manageable in a ship with almost no private space.  Inside the box are some tokens of home and loved ones, some small tools, a sewing kit, perhaps some scrimshaw; the bare essentials of identity, self-maintenance and a hoped-for future.

About the Project

Ditty Boxes, an installation by John Cumming and Cecil Tait travels across the islands to arts venues and community centres in 2012.
+ Find out more

Be Sociable, Share!

Away with the Birds returns to Canna: Review

Hanna Tuulikki

birdies beach

Click here to read the Away With The Birds Review from The Scotsman  › Costumes by Deirdre Nelson Read More ›

Mathematics, making and birding

Deirdre Nelson

tommy bird

  Fair Isle bird made by Tommy H Hyndman At Da Fishin’ Hands premiere at the community hall I noticed a beautiful Fair Isle jumper in shades of mossy green and later discovered that the wearer was Inges grandfather Stewart, a retired Light House Keeper, fiddle player, spinner and spinning wheel maker.  His wife Annie... Read More ›

Fair Isle treasures

deirdre nelson

nick studying a sea slug

  On Saturday morning we made our way to  the rock pool at at Muckle Uri Geo. Ready and waiting were a group of young islanders armed with small fishing nets alongside Nick Riddiford, a passionate Fair Isle ecologist.  As they dispersed on their mission, Nick told us about the area and the many species... Read More ›

‘An eye to the Windward’: Sea Change on Fair Isle

Ruth Little

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 19.06.45

Anne Sinclair points at a narrow yellow pine door leaning against a wall in the Fair Isle Museum: ‘When I was growing up, nearly all the internal doors in people’s houses were from shipwrecks.’ Fair Isle may be largely treeless, but there’s wood to be had. Over some 5000 years of settlement here, the sea... Read More ›

Data and culture rich

Deirdre Nelson

misty sheep

Due to a rather atmospheric blanket of fog I arrived into Fair Isle two days and 1 hour late.  From my first glimpses of the island from the ferry, it was well worth the wait, and Inge Thompson, on a break during rehearsals and preparations for her performance Da Fishing Hands, was there to greet... Read More ›

Lost Birds and Fishing Hands: Getting our Bearings on Fair Isle

Ruth Little

Inge Thomson

  It’s a Caspian Stonechat, and it’s lost. Its feathers are spiked with rain, and it seems to have a hacking cough. It’s been on Fair Isle for a month, and the word around the island is that it’s unlikely to see the Caspian Sea again. ‘Blown off course, all of them’, says one of... Read More ›

Skye Loneragan and Q-Poetics: Culture 2014

XX Commonwealth Games

Plucked of Purpose - The Adventures of PB

Poet/performer Skye Loneragan took part with Cape Farewell in Glasgow’s Merchant City Festival at the Ramshorn Theatre, hosted by GalGael in 2013. Skye is Q-Poet at the Commonwealth Games Glasgow 2014. Q-Poetics is a Culture 2014 project placing poets and poetry in places and spaces of of waiting. See Skye’s video-poems at http://qpoetics.com/ Skye Loneragan is... Read More ›

Grounded (Freumhaichte/Wadlu-Gnana). Judith Parrott

An Lanntair, Stornoway: 13 September - 11 October

12b-lewis9005-600p

Grounded is an exhibition of photographic prints, audiovisual, sound and prose, resulting from residencies with Gaelic speaking communities of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland and with Wangkangurru, Arrarnta and Arrernte people of the Central Australian Desert. The exhibition was launched at XX Commonwealth Games, Glasgow 2014. Follow Judith’s Grounded blog at http://judithparrott.wordpress.com/ Arriving in Steòrnabhagh (Stornoway) The... Read More ›

Andy Crabb’s short film Sea Changes Part 1 documents the Orkney Expedition

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 18.55.32

Sea Changes, part 1 featuring Karine Polwart from Andy Crabb on Vimeo. Filmmaker and SAMS artist-in-residence Andy Crabb joined Cape Farewell’s Northern Isles expedition in August/September and reflects here on the first days of sailing in Orkney waters. Sea Changes is the first part of a film about Cape Farewell’s Northern Isles expedition, on board... Read More ›

Karine Polwart sings Freedom Come All Ye in Orkney’s Italian Chapel

Jen Wilcox and Karine Polwart, Orkney

http://vimeo.com/73406037   Read More ›

The Swan Northern Isles Expedition

See the 2013 Expedition site

Swan1

In August 2013, Sea Change set sail with two crews of artists and scientists from Orkney to Shetland via Fair Isle. Sailing on 113-year-old community owned Shetland Fyfie The Swan, the journey took us around Scotland’s most northerly coasts and islands. Click here for Expedition site >   Read More ›

Sexy Peat / Tìr mo Rùin. Highland Print Studio/Cape Farewell: Year of Natural Scotland 2013

Inverness Museum and Art Gallery 8 March - 5 April 2014

Sexy Peat

Following the success of Sexy Peat/Tìr mo Rùin as part of Sea Change at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, the exhibition transfers to Inverness Museum and Art Gallery in March-April 2014, before returning to its island of origin at An Lanntair, Lewis. Sexy Peat/Tìr mo Rùin artists: Anne Campbell: http://www.annecampbellart.co.uk/ Jon Macleod: http://www.jonmacleod.com/ Kacper Kowalski:... Read More ›

Things Unspoken / Things Unseen. Andrea Roe, Anne Bevan

Book launch 20 August 2013 at Pier Arts Centre, Orkney

Anne Bevan Ammonia Beccarii giclee print from CT scan with Dr Ian Butler & Michael Wolchover 2012

Things Unspoken Things Unseen by Anne Bevan and Andrea Roe 2 volume artist book Things Unspoken Things Unseen, by Anne Bevan and Andrea Roe, was launched with Cape Farewell’s 2013 Swan expedition at the Pier Arts Centre in August 2013.  Including contributions by Janice Galloway, Jen Hadfield, Kathleen Jamie, Robert Alan Jamieson and Alan Spence,... Read More ›

Air falbh leis na h-eòin – Away with the Birds: Culture 2014

Isle of Canna, August 2014

away-with-the-birds2-600x364

Hanna Tuulikki’s body of work exploring the mimesis of bird sounds in Gaelic song was described as ‘heartbreakingly gorgeous’ on BBC Radio Scotland’s The Culture Show in January 2014. Performed in collaboration with vocal artists, field recorder Geoff Sample, filmmaker Daniel Warren, Gaelic singer Mary Smith, textile artist Deirdre Nelson and choreographer Rosalind Masson, the... Read More ›

Air falbh leis na h-eòin – Away with the Birds

Hanna Tuulikki's Complete Audio Diary

Compass Hill, Canna. Photo by Hanna Tuulikki

28 June 2013 Listen here to an extract from Hanna’s diary: Voices at Dusk   29 May 2013 Listen here to an extract from Hanna’s diary: Tracing Lines 19 April 2013 The creation of Air falbh leis na h-eòin: Hanna on tumblr 14 January 2013 Listen here to an extract from Hanna’s diary: Meeting Mary... Read More ›

Mapping the Sea: Barra. Stephen Hurrel

Timespan, Helmsdale. 5 - 29 July 2014

Two Screen image of Calum A' Chal and Lighthouse Lens

Stephen Hurrel’s Sea Change commission, Mapping the Sea: Barra, will feature in an installation at Timespan Museum and Art Gallery, Helmsdale. Stephen is one of the artists for Generation – Scotland’s largest ever art show –  involving 100 artists in 60 venues, coinciding with the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Generation is produced by Glasgow Life and... Read More ›