Skye's no limit for big art ideas

Jessica Ramm's Sky Skimmers. <em>Picture: cànan</em>
Jessica Ramm's Sky Skimmers. Picture: cànan
By John Knox

On a wooded hillside on the Isle of Skye, seven local artists have created what can only be described as “ideas”. Great big ideas. They stretch across time and space and into our inner space.

The seven have been brought together by a new arts organisation, appropriately named “Atlas” and the exhibition – in the grounds of the Clan Donald Centre at Armadale – is called, again appropriately, “Scale”.

Starting at the main gate, the first idea you come across is a metal man, resting on his axe, on top of a huge tree stump. He has just felled a tree, or rather he is contemplating a tree which was felled some years ago and has been left to decay and remind us of its majesty. And of the value of trees in our lives and in our environment. The artist, James Adams, calls it simply “Feller”.

The second idea, by Daniel Bar, is in the old laundry building. It’s a ruin now and he has filled the whole floor area of the laundry with water, to reflect the stone walls. The building itself has become a basin of stone and water.

Idea number three takes us under water. We see cut-out fish, of various bright colours, swimming, suspended, through the bushes. The whole shoal, twisting and turning in the wind, is made from debris found on local beaches … plastic bottles, fertiliser bags, old fish boxes etc. And Zoe Birrell has called her creation “Fish/Time.”

The fourth challenging idea is called “Light Cone” and is a large wigwam made of layers of wood. Each layer is a geometric shape and they become smaller as you reach the top of the wigwam, standing maybe 20ft in the air. It’s a modern cairn, hollow and more delicate, marking perhaps a burial spot or a pathway to our own version of “heaven.”

To find number five you have to wander deep into the woods, and there among the tall trees and the beams of sunlight streaking across the leaf floor, you see two old fashioned stane dykes. But they are built of rough white marble stone from Torrin which reflects the sunlight into the dark forest. The two dykes are set at a random angle to each other, as if uncertain whether they will meet or not. Julie Brook says she wanted to create “dialogue and tension” between the walls and the upright forms of the trees.

Number six takes you back into the garden proper, among the lawns and bushes. Suddenly you come across a kind of windmill. There are three pairs of wings or blades made of rusting metal, each held aloft on a thin metal pole. Each pair moves slowly in the wind, like a bird of prey hovering, its tail tied to a stone which balances the wings and gives the impression of perpetual motion. “Sky skimmer” Jessica Ramm calls them and says they are a metaphor for the tension between the need to be rooted to the land and the desire to take to the sky.

And the last one of all, “that ends this strange and eventful history,” is the “Long Wave” by Gill Russell. This is a listening horn, rather like “His Master’s Voice” horn, set on a pole, way up the hillside, and facing south. You look through the narrow end of the horn, like a telescope, and you see the wonderful Sound of Sleat. And then a notice board beside it explains that at certain times of day, when the earth has moved into the right position, the horn is pointing to the very centre of our galaxy, 26,000 light years away.

This is art on a large scale indeed. The notice board, and a sound recording that emerges from it at the touch of a button, tells you that someone standing on the edge of the black hole at the centre of the galaxy – in the middle of its 100 billion stars – would be looking back at the earth as it was 26,000 years ago, when Skye was covered in an ice sheet 700 metres thick. Another button gives us a poem which speaks of the fluttering of an eye, the brush of parted lips and the final idea, that we live “among the sparks” of a fiery universe.

This is art that not only challenges us to think about the outer world but also our inner world. Each of the seven pieces forces us to take up an attitude to it, to form an opinion, and thus it helps to define ourselves.

Sir Ian Macdonald, the chairman of the Clan Donald Lands Trust, says in his introduction that the clan’s support for the arts goes way back in time, perhaps not to the ice age, but to the Lordship of the Isles in the centuries before 1493. Now the clan is once again supporting “talented and original local artists” and watching the sparks fly in a universe of ideas.

The exhibition is on until 25 September, see for details or phone 01471 844 305.