My time as artist in residence on the Rahoy Hills Nature Reserve came at a transitory time and has a curious tale… I came to my first period of residence in February, 2018 having just moved out of my home in Fife that afternoon. As darkness gathered, I chased the constellation of Cygnus flying head first down a dark Glen Coe and arrived at Ferry Cottage late in the evening with a car full of belongings, completely exhausted. I then spent three amazing and restorative weeks regularly visiting the reserve alone or with Steve the ranger. At the end of the residency, I drove south to prepare to fly to China later that week, to Chong Qing where my wife was lecturing at the Sichuan Centre for Fine Arts. We lived at the edge of a city of 30 million people and I considered the differences of there and here: the space at the western edge of Scotland and the intensity of a thriving Chinese megacity.
I had time to make art there and made small studies from the many photographs I had taken on the reserve. My thoughts were often somewhere between the mossy boulders, heavy oak trunks and the edge of Loch Arienas. Yet my feet stood in my temporary studio on the seventeenth story of an apartment block looking down onto a rising concrete metropolis; its concrete foundations continuously growing out of a patchwork of sprawling old Chinese farmland.
During my time in China, I had a solo exhibition in Taiwan, which I had spent the last year preparing for. We embarked on several adventures across China and over the weeks I slowly continued to make small works about a remote nature reserve at the western edge of my homeland.
After four months in Asia, I returned to Scotland at the end of July and quickly gathered my things to spend two weeks back out on the verdant summery reserve before trying to find a new home. I then lived in Glasgow and made my work for the solo exhibition, ‘Wild Hanging Woods’ which was arranged to be the culmination of the residency ‘Wild Hanging Woods’ . I feel like I have lived many lives this year, yet throughout all of it, a constant has been with me…
On the opposite shore of Loch Arienas is the wood; in the dark twiggy gloom over there a steep-sided burn pours over crystal studded boulders. Steep sides give way to a wide gorge that the burn has carved into the hillside for a long time. Moss greens abound around there, the oak trunks, branches and boulders are soft with their deep moss blankets. On one side of the burn, a huge beech reaches into the void. On the other, a tall grove of emerald green pines stand lilac and lofty. The glistening noise of the burn hypnotises.
You can find some quiet shelter and look out from the cave up on Beinn Uamha. From the hill’s top and looking northeast the cold wind blasts. Down there are swathes of moor and further away rising out of the heather is the snow-covered slopes and crags of Beinn na Ladain. Isolation here. A beautiful yet haunting melancholy washes over.
Back in the stillness of the wood, nose touching the old oak trunks, gaze at the many structures of moss, lichen, epiphyte and bryophyte. So many patterns, forms, and colours to these mosses and lichens. These are at the edge of my knowledge: a state of open unknowing can take hold gazing at these fractals. They are there.
Focusing on the phenomena to just be there with it: a man within the landscape alone becomes together for a time. Above a golden eagle circle, signaling it’s time to move on. It is man’s landscape. Geometric deer fences enclose an overgrazed woodland, the wood itself a forgotten plantation for charcoal burning – the mossy platforms for this practice can still be found – and the old lichen-rich ruins of a few old crofts are near the loch’s edge. The loch’s edge… the moon’s rippling reflection and the green soft trunks of the old oaks and the faraway sound of the burn.