I was given a book and as I held it and touched the embossed lettering reading ‘Sailm’ in a slight gold tinge held against the dense black. It was authoritarian and austere though well worn, almost dishevelled. How many hands had touched it and how many had studied this Gaelic psalm book? These feelings and thoughts are part of my landscape.
It was an afternoon in August on the Isle of Harris. It was raining with a slight grey fog covering the landscape in a damp blanket. I was out with a fishing rod and attached to the end of the line was a pair of crow wings. I needed to investigate some 7th century Pictish beehive dwellings hidden in the hills of North Harris. The rain increased in ferocity, lashing down as I climbed the steep hills, the land barren, archaic, with old stories from childhood resonating inside my skull.
Near to the beehive structures the wings were ‘cast’, fleeting against the stability of this never changing landscape. I caught the images, snapping at the heels of flight. I couldn’t see what I was shooting. I was playing a numbers game taking them fast, as many as I could, hoping for the best.
Back in the print studio I laid the images out and as I reorganised them it seemed appropriate for these to become a series, a narrative. I decided to translate these as photo-etching prints and the process slows you down making you look and look again. There is something physical about the nature of this with the photograph being exposed onto a metal plate, developed and then ink pressed into it, wiped, before being pressed into paper. The surface quality of the image becomes embossed into the paper, the blackness of the ink, the paper and its timeless quality all playing an important role.
I am drawn to stories, to myths, and how they lodge in the back of the mind holding their profound effect. I remember as a child being told this legend about a mountain [ Ronival ] on Harris.
“If, on mid-summer morn at sunrise you walk anti clockwise three times around the ancient stone enclosure on the top of Ronival the fairies will take you for a year.”
As a child, this story had a deep effect, it is this effect that I try to explore through my work.
‘Thief in the night’ is the narrative of the myth of the tooth fairy and, as with many chldhood stories, it has far darker connotations; The tooth being a body part taken in the middle of the night; a pillow could be used to comfort or to murder.
The ‘Tooth parcels’ piece relate to ‘Thief in the night’ but deal with connections through materials. Here, I have cast my own tooth parcels into sterling silver taken from coins dating back to the 1920’s which, at that time in Britain, were made purely in silver. The process of casting involved the parcels being burned and destroyed.
“Myth is about the unknown, it is about that for which initially we have no words. Myth therefore looks in the heart of a great silence” (Armstrong, 2005 p. 4)
Light plays an important role especially with ‘Death-Watch Beetle’. The concept of ‘Death-Watch Beetle’ arose during a residency at Lincoln. The Cathedral was being renovated, restoring damage to the timbers in the roof caused by the insect ‘Death-Watch Beetle’ so named because, centuries earlier, part of the funeral practice involved the ritual of watching over the corpse through the night while installed in the chapel and in the quiet small hours the sound of the beetle ‘tapping’ as it eats it way through the timber to reach the light kept the watchers company. I created an image of the beetle by drilling hundreds of holes through elm, a timber classically used in coffin manufacture, the hole reflecting the damage the beetle makes being the same size as the beetles. The work subtly changes in the light, during the day the detailed work on the front can be seen but at night, in the dark, the light shines through the holes and the piece starts to illuminate.
My work explores connections between mythologies, rituals and the concept of place. Certain works draw on the sublime nature of rural landscapes; In other works the ‘place’ might be, a Cathedral. I make associations between the ‘place’, the associated narrative or ritual using the most appropriate medium with which to explore this.
Alexe Dilworth June 2016
Armstrong, K (2005) A short history of myth, Canongate Books Ltd, Edinburgh.