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

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Caspian Stonechat on Fair Isle

Caspian Stonechat on Fair Isle

  It’s a Caspian Stonechat, and it’s lost.Cheap Jerseys china 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 the all-weather birders who migrate regularly to this tiny and beautiful upheaval of cliff, stac, moor and grazing land at the confluence of the Atlantic and the North Sea, 40 miles from Shetland’s South Mainland. ‘Most of the things that land here are lost.’ He walks away to peer over a wall at a female Bluethroat, and the rest of us are left to ponder the philosophical implications of his comment. Fair Isle is the most remote of the British Isles, and one of the most remote islands in Europe. But remote from what, exactly? From regular and predictable transport links to the rest of Scotland, certainly. Artists Deirdre Nelson and Jennifer Wilcox have been waiting for 2 days to cross those 40 miles of sea, shunting to and from the little airport at Tingwall, as the fog for which these islands are famous settles and spills, lifts briefly, tantalizingly, and descends again. No flights, no ferries, and nothing to be done about it. Remote too from the insistence of phone and email, with faltering signal and limited wifi. So visitors and residents look out more than in, at the tangible world, at its constant changes, at how things are, not how they might be. In the Bird Observatory guests sit by the windows, intent on wings flickering in the garden, or talk to one another about the day’s ‘five star’ sightings. Down at the community hall, musician-singer Inge Thomson is rehearsing a new music collection, Da Fishing Hands, with her band. We came over with them on the Good Shepherd, ushered out of Shetland’s southern waters by three magnificent orcas, before the fog and the yawing and rolling of the boat took away the will to live. Fair Isle is remote from a constant power supply; the kind that floods our lives with electricity from unimagined sources. Only one of the island’s two wind turbines works; the Observatory draws most of its power from a diesel generator, and weather, intermittency or a coincidence of washing cycles can plunge the island into temporary blackness. There’s no such thing as stand-by here: equipment is on when it’s in use, off when it’s not. Nothing is mediated, expedited, sexed-up, dumbed down or spun – except wool, straight from the sheep’s back. ATMs, cafes, fast food, advertising – Fair Isle’s remote from them all. Or rather, they’re remote from Fair Isle. And when the clamour of impatience and habit die down, when the phone’s been turned off and the debit cards jettisoned, Netflix pushed to the back of the mind and the laptop replaced with a manually-operated paper notebook and pencil, then it’s the systematic wanting that seems remote, the breathless timeliness, the sat-naving of our coordinated lives. The thought of being lost is so terrifying that we perpetually try to find ourselves in space and time, pinpoint our own whereabouts, take high-altitude selfies. But Fair Isle isn’t remote from itself; from light, sky, wind, weather, tide, change, community, ecology, from the passage of hundreds of species of birds, from the full passage of lives lived on and with the island in direct relationship with its human and non-human species. Fair Isle is a place of bearing, of orientation, where the connectedness of all things makes all things relevant. ‘Isolated’ derives from the Latin insulatus: ‘made into an island’. But islands aren’t isolated; they’re amongst it all, threshold places of constant change and exchange, where nothing is wasted and so nothing is lost. Insularity and disorientation are urban phenomena, when the fear of being misplaced in the complexity of days, of being milled into dust by a globalized economy, separate us from our context and our conversation with one another, and replace them with neurotic self-assertion: I’m here, I’ve checked, I matter, I’m being tracked, everything’s ok. ‘To converse’ once meant to ‘live amongst’, to be intimate with. In our sophisticated metropolitan model of living, we’re losing the skill of ‘keeping company’ – the abiding still practised and passed down on Fair Isle and in oral cultures around the world. ‘Living amongst’ gives us our bearings, and means learning, or re-learning, the reality and rhythms of interdependence – person to person, person to place, place to climate, climate to person. Unlike the Caspian Stonechat, we migrants can make our way home when the weather allows, but we’ll take with us the understanding that being ‘at home’ in the world is an active state of living amongst and conversing with, of orientation through multiple points of direct connection with our living context. That’s what we’ve learned from a small bird on a wire, and from a small island in conversation with the world. Ruth Little
Inge Thomson

Inge Thomson

Inge Thomson’s Da Fishing Hands, created with and in memory of Lise Sinclair, and performed with Fraser Fifield, Steven Polwart, Sarah Hayes and Graeme Smillie premieres on Fair Isle (23 May) and tours to Hillswick (24 May) and Mareel Shetland (25 May): http://www.mareel.org/listen/events/da-fishing-hands/ – .U33Lta1dUWw http://www.folkradio.co.uk/2014/02/inge-thomson-da-fishing-hands-interview/ Da Fishing Hands was commissioned as part of Creative Scotland’s  Year of Natural Scotland, in partnership with EventScotland and Scottish Natural Heritage. http://www.creativescotland.org.uk/investment/year-of-natural-scotland-open-fund Fair Isle Marine Environment & Tourism Initiative (FIMETI) website and on Facebook              

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Andy Crabb's film portrait of Inge Thomson's Da Fishing Hands

Andy Crabb, Da Fishing Hands

In 2014, Sea Change artists Andy Crabb, Deirdre Nelson and Jennifer Wilcox, with filmmaker Peter Cutts, returned to Fair Isle with Inge Thomson and her band to record the premiere of Inge’s song cycle, Da Fishing Hands. The first performance took place in Fair Isle’s community hall in May 2014, and Da Fishing Hands has... Read More ›

James Brady. though everything was gone, we would stay

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wholesale jerseys ‘The essence of Orkney’s magic is silence, loneliness and the deep marvellous rhythms of sea and land, darkness and light’ George Mackay Brown wholesale nfl jerseys See the film here: though everything was gone, we would stay Artist and curator James Brady joined the 2013 Northern Isles expedition, sailing from Orkney to Shetland via... Read More ›

Deirdre Nelson, Inge Thomson. Sleeping Starfish @ The Glad Cafe as part of Luminate, with Fraser Fifield, Kerri Whiteside

Poster by Deirdre Nelson

Surrounded by a relentless sea, http://www.wholesalekansascitychief.us Fair Isle is an island of strong traditions and fierce beauty. Celebrating this, and running in support of the island’s bid for marine protected status, two artists are knitting together waves of sound and yarn, stories and starfish. Sleeping Starfish is both a work of environmental advocacy and a... Read More ›

Deirdre Nelson's The Kildas project returns to the Glad Cafe Glasgow, with Jason Singh, Inge Thomson, Hanna Tuulikki, Mischa Macpherson and Borderline Theatre

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wholesale nfl jerseys DStitch presents: The Kildas + Seachange Thursday 26 February @ The Glad Cafe, Glasgow wholesale jerseys from china In partnership with Cape Farewell, the Kildas project will present an evening at Glad Café,  26th February 2015 7pm. Cost £5 The evening will partner the remote islands of St Kilda and Fair Isle in... Read More ›

Working the Map: Islanders and a Changing Environment


Beautiful artists’ book by John Cumming: http://www.indianapoliscoltsjerseys.us Working the Map – islanders and a changing environment Available from just £9.99 http://www.capefarewell.com/art/media/working-the-map-book.html wholesale jerseys from china Shetland/Orkney artist and Sea Change commissioned artist John Cumming has created and edited an artists’ book documenting social and ecological change across the Northern Isles. Produced in partnership with Orkney... Read More ›

Fair Isle treasures

nick studying a sea slug

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

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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 cheap jerseys houses were from shipwrecks.’ Fair Isle may be largely treeless, but there’s wood to be had. Over some 5000 years of settlement here,... Read More ›

Data and culture rich

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

Inge Thomson

wholesale jerseys   It’s a Caspian Stonechat, and it’s lost.Cheap Jerseys china 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... Read More ›

Grounded (Freumhaichte/Wadlu-Gnana). Judith Parrott


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 Cheap New Orleans Saints Jerseys. Follow Judith’s Grounded blog at http://judithparrott.wordpress.com/... Read More ›

Inge Thomson's Da Fishing Hands in Celtic Connections

‘ wholesale nfl jerseys Some of the finest music and poetry ever to have emerged from these fair isles’. Fair Isle musician/singer/composer (Fair Isle is full of multi-taskers) Inge Thomson brings her haunting and mesmerising Da Fishing Hands to the Tron Theatre, Gladgow, during Celtic Connections in January 2015. Written with Fair Isle poet and... Read More ›

Julie Fowlis Band win Scots Trad Music Award

Congratulations to Julie Fowlis and her band, wholesale nfl jerseys from china who have won best group of the year at the Scots Trad Music Awards 2014. Julie was recently the first Gaelic singer to be honoured with a ‘Tartan Clef’ Scottish Music Award. Julie sailed on the 2011 Sea Change Western Isles expedition. See... Read More ›

Mathematics, making and birding

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 ›

Skye Loneragan and Q-Poetics: Culture 2014

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.wholesale jerseys from china Skye is Q-Poet at the Commonwealth Games Glasgow 2014.cheap nfl jerseys Q-Poetics is a Culture 2014 project placing poets and poetry in places and spaces of of waiting. See Skye’s... Read More ›

Andy Crabb's short film Sea Changes

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Cheap Jerseys china Sea Changes, part 1 featuring Karine Polwart from Andy Crabb cheap jerseys 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... Read More ›

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

Jen Wilcox and Karine Polwart, Orkney

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The Swan Northern Isles Expedition


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 >   cheap nfl jerseys pushed from their hiding... Read More ›

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

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 ›

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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


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

Compass Hill, Canna. Photo by Hanna Tuulikki

28 June 2013 Listen here to an extract from Hanna’s diary: Voices at Dusk http://www.capefarewell.com/seachange/wp-content/uploads/canna-diary-extract-13.mp3   29 May 2013 Listen here to an extract from Hanna’s diary: Tracing Lines http://www.capefarewell.com/seachange/wp-content/uploads/canna-diary-extract-121.mp3 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:... Read More ›

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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 ›