Insights on Grounded

Excuse my indulgence in posting at the end of this entry a small selection of the comment cards from the Grounded exhibition’s first showing in Glasgow. The many comments received about the importance of preserving culture and sense of place support the aims of the exhibition and I felt that a selection of these insights were therefor worth sharing.

Glasgow workshops, talks and exhibition details are here An interview about my work with journalist Jim Gilchrist is on the Struileag website which can be linked to here or here. And the Digital Resources pages of the blog for further information are here and here. The introductory panel for the exhibition can be found here.

The Grounded residency diary entries begin here in Scotland and then in Australia here. This is a record of my thoughts whilst gathering the material. These thoughts and images inform the production but are not part of the final exhibition.

The exhibition is showing next at An Lanntair Art Gallery in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, from 13 September to 11 October.

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An interview with journalist Jim Gilchrist


An interview about my work with Journalist Jim Gilchrist is now available on the Struileag website which can be linked to at Jim Gilchrist’s review. This interview also contains a couple of the Grounded audiovisuals and some photographs. Thank you Struileag and Jim.

Struileag are also doing some wonderful work meeting with the Gaelic diaspora which you can see more about on their website, or even add your own story to. And they have some great performances lined up at Festival 2014

If you are new to the blog, Grounded residency diary entries/photographs for Scotland begin here and for Australia here. Workshops, talks and exhibition details are here

Heading to Glasgow; exhibition, workshops and artist talks details


Lewis on Isle of Lewis; seaweed harvest


Jim at sacred fish hole of Thutirla Pula story

Tomorrow we are heading to Glasgow to start setting up the exhibition, (and then to enjoy the festival), and so I will be absent from posting for a couple of weeks.

But before we go, I’d like to let you know that I am also running some workshops at the Airc Gaelic Cultural Space and giving two talks at Strathclyde University.

At the Airc Gaelic Cultural Space, 121/127 Saltmarket, (Sat 2 and Sunday 3 August at 9.30am) I am facilitating a photography workshop, and will be “In Conversation” with poet Babs MacGregor. The promo blurbs are here:

In Conversation: Connecting through Culture
Babs MacGregor, Gaelic Poet and Judith Parrott, artist for the Grounded exhibition, discuss what the impact of a strong cultural identity might be on personal and environmental well-being. In the discussion reference is made to Scottish Gaelic and Australian Aboriginal cultures; loss of land and suppression of language, and the deep connections to land that has kept these cultures alive. Chaired by Gaelic Arts Producer Rona MacDonald.

Photography workshop

Judy Parrott, artist from the Grounded Exhibition, invites you to bring your cameras along to the exhibition to discuss photographic composition and design in the context of the show. Then head out into the festival together to take a few exciting festival shots using some of your new-found skills. Suitable for age 15 years and over.

At Strathclyde University as part of their Summer Programme ( Phone 0141 548 2116/4287 or booking information is on page 55, here) on Monday 28 July

The promo blurbs:

Grounded (1.30-2.30pm)

In association with the exhibition Grounded, showing at Merchant City Festival during the Commonwealth Games 2014, this presentation includes images from Australian Aboriginal communities in the Central Desert regions, and from Gaelic speaking communities in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Two places with nothing and everything in common. The presentation invites discussion on ways in which people connect through the land and find spirituality through land. It also addresses the consequences for environmental and personal well-being when people become disconnected from the land.

Antarctica (12-1pm)

This class follows the life of the scientific and trades-people community during four months with the Australian Antarctic Division at Casey, Mawson and Davis Stations, on the ship south, and out on the field. Seen through the eyes of Artist in Residence, Judith Parrott, the presentation includes images and sounds of Antarctica and tells a story of life in one of the world’s remotest locations. How do people manage in an isolated environment with the same small group of people for months or even years at a time, with none of the conveniences of city life? Come along to find out and join in a discussion with the artist about the importance of community and of connection to our environment. (Some information on the Antarctica residencies can be found on my website here)

Grounded Exhibition

And finally, Grounded is on at 121/127 Saltmarket, at the Airc Gaelic Cultural Space, 11am to 6pm, 23 July to 3 August. Details can be found in the Merchant City Festival programme.

The Gaelic Cultural Space will also feature an acoustic programme of Gaelic inspired performances most days at 3pm, morning workshops at 9.30-10.30am and Galgael whose cafe was such a tasty success at last year’s Merchant City Festival.

There is a HD version of the short promotional video for Grounded here and a lower res version here.

Culture and Festival 2014 guides can be found here

Day 42, Lionel Possum and preserving language and culture


Kanytjupai and the Pitjantjatjara bible translation

20 September

I am introduced to Lionel Possum today. Lionel is the son of Clifford Possum who is considered one of Australia’s most renowned Aboriginal artists. Lionel has inherited the right to his father’s stories and his dot work has the same precision and uniformity as that of his father.

Lionel is working on a painting, Worm Dreaming. He tells me if I go out at night I can hear the whistle of the worms, digging under the earth. We sit on the concrete in the shade of some corrugated tin with his painting spread out on the ground, its precisely placed, deep ochre red and yellow dots, set beside rich dark black. He is a strong man, like his Daddy, he tells me, painting the Dreaming.

My other meeting today is with Kanytjupai. Kanytjupai is Pitjantjatjara from Pukatja (Ernabella) but lives now at a hostel in Alice Springs for her care. She is working as part of a team translating the bible into Pitjantjatjara, and has been working on this for many years. She says it will be for many years more too.

Kanytjupai shows me a copy of this amazing work, and the beautiful paintings it contains. Zebras and Kangaroos drink side by side at a waterhole with emus grazing nearby. Rabbits and koalas and snakes move through the trees and the grass, and on the horizon, the silhouette of a young Aboriginal boy feeds what appears to be a gazelle. The whole image has a beautiful golden water-colour wash.

It is important to translate the bible into language, as this has been one way that language has survived. Ironically the missionaries who introduced the bibles were also responsible for much of the banning of cultural practices. It is with great resilience that the Aboriginal people have used this medium as a means of preserving what they can of culture and language.

(The Digital Resources Australia Page of the blog has 2 new links – one on Lionel Possum and an ABC article about Australian Aboriginal youngsters retracing the steps of their ancestors)

The Gaelic Alphabet, and Belonging to a Place

17B Heather_9483

This last post from Scotland, before I move onto Australia, is here because I think it demonstrates how essentially connected to the landscape we are. This is the essence of Grounded; that because of this intrinsic connection, perhaps the world might better survive by embracing our environment, connection to place and the traditional cultures that uphold this.

The first morsel that I think demonstrates this is that the connection is even the essence of language: “Scottish Gaelic is written with just 18 letters each of which is named after a tree or shrub”. (Listed below. From Omniglot, the online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages)

(You can learn also about the lore behind each tree in the alphabet at Mandy Haggith’s website)

A – Ailm(Elm)

B – Beith(Birch)

C – Coll(Hazel)

D- Dair(Oak)

E – Eadha(Aspen)

F – Fearn(Alder)

G – Gort(Ivy)

H – Uath(Hawthorn)

I – Iogh(Yew)

L – Luis(Rowan)

M – Muin(Vine)

N – Nuin(Ash)

O – Oir/Onn(Gorse)

P – Peithe(Guelder Rose)

R – Ruis(Elder)

S – Suil(Willow)

T – Teine(Furze)

U – Ur(Heather)

Secondly, from the Visit the Hebrides website:

“A Gael is identified by his or her sloinneadh, an enumeration of ancestors (usually patrilineal descent) and by a home village. The first two questions that any native Gael would traditionally ask a Gaelic-speaking stranger are Có leisthu? and Có ás a tha thu? ‘Who do you belong to’ and ‘Where do you come from’, meaning not where your current residence is, but where you were born and raised. Typical phrases about locale are very interesting, as statements of origin translate in English, for example, as ‘I belong to Glen Uig’. People are conceptualised as belonging to places, not the other way round.”

This concept that people belong to place and not the other way around is the same in Australian Aboriginal culture which I’ll start posting about next.

Day 20, Gaelic music and a house ceilidh

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9 July 2013

There is a fine mist throwing moisture over everything this morning as I walk into Daliburgh. And there are signs of Ceòlas on the road; a young boy walking with his fiddle case, the sounds of the pipes drifting towards me from Borrodale Hotel. It is 9am.

Today I am joining the step dance class, and reels and quadrilles. It is intense getting from one to the next and managing a cup of tea somewhere in there too. I don’t make it to the Gaelic class which runs between first and second choice classes. I am pacing myself for the day.

By 4 o’clock the mist has burnt off and the sun is intense. A bus is waiting for those who want to go for a walk on the island of Eriskay.

Dòmhnall Ruairidh takes us along the shoreline to Roisnish, telling us snippets from history as we go, and the island of Barra comes with us as we walk, a curve of shadowy hills on the horizon. Returning over the single-track road, we stop at a grassy verge with a view, for a dram and a plentiful supply of home baking. Home baking appears regularly throughout the day here; cakes and scones, pancakes, shortbread and dumpling. Peggy, I believe, is up until 3am each day baking behind the scenes.

It is scorching in the sun and I struggle to shade myself from this unaccustomed burning, sinking into the grass and closing my eyes. We are seated in a large group, and as is the norm, someone starts singing. The group sways to the music, joining in with the chorus. I swear there must be enough Gaelic songs to wrap the entire length and breadth of the islands and back again in a cocoon of stories from the crofts or the sea; of love and of loss, or describing some activity of the day.

In true South Uist style we are still on the hill at 7pm; sun floating high in a summery sky. I know transport is organised for the house ceilidhs tonight at 8pm. I am only just home and showered when my lift arrives to take me to Father Mackay’s of St Peters.

Ceilidh means a meeting of friends. The singing and dancing traditionally happened in the barns or homes of the village, and this tradition is continued in house ceilidhs today. During Ceòlas, these ceilidhs are spread over 6 or 7 homes around the village, but I am told we move between them as the night goes on.

The villages here are not clustered around a square as in other parts of Scotland, but spread widely across the landscape, houses seemingly randomly scattered. But after Father Mackay’s I don’t have to move far, just across the road to Mairi’s house. In both houses the living room is filled with song and fiddle, pipes and dance, the drinks passing round and a constant Gaelic banter.

When I finally leave, I walk the 2 miles home along the road, and once more the air is laden with moisture and mist, smelling of sweet, warm, dew-heavy grass. There is total silence in the dark, the loch a silver shimmer at the roadside and the hills a grey shadow against the stars.

2am – just home – and I am writing this. I know many are still roaming from one living room to another. Last night I hear they were still singing in the hotels and homes until 4am. This is late enough for me. I have work to do tomorrow.

(Check out the blog Scotland Digital Resources page for more on Ceòlas and Gaelic traditional music and language)

Day 19, Ceòlas music, language and dance school


8 July 2013

It is the first day of Ceòlas classes and I feel slightly overwhelmed. I am here to record, absorb and enjoy. So much is happening all around; people re-uniting, a kitchen in full swing with home made baking and giant kettles of tea, classes beginning in piping, fiddle, clarsach, song, reels and quadrilles, step dance, Gaelic language … A hum of anticipation and excitement from those who return each year and know the ropes.

I am surrounded by Gaelic speakers, – of course! But the fascinating thing is that people are also here from many countries of the world – Japan, Romania, Germany, Canada, America, Austria, Switzerland – and they are speaking Gaelic too. My Gaelic consists of what I have learnt from the BBC online class, Beag air Bheag. This has been a great help, and a beautiful language to learn, though I am still in the ranks of beginners. But there is a place for everyone here and I am gradually finding my way to that place.

We have all signed up for two classes, a first choice class, which we do in the mornings and afternoons, and a secondary one, which we do between morning tea and lunchtime. I have signed up for Gaelic song and step dance, but I will try and go to all the classes, as I am here to record too. There are also Gaelic language classes between morning tea and lunch.

At the end of the day there is a crossover class, where classes merge – musicians with singers and dancers, to pull the work together for a final event.

It doesn’t stop there, and each evening there is a ceilidh or a concert – tonight a piping concert, and of course the music continues on in the hotels and the bars well into the night.

I am in the swing of staying up late here but the pace has just cranked up another notch!!

(Links to some Gaelic language lessons, some songs and the Ceòlas site are on the blog Scotland Digital Resources page)