6 ° West — Inch Kenneth

October 2011

Publication:

° West — Inch Kenneth
An Exhibition by Artists’ Collective ° West at St Oran’s Chapel, Isle of Iona 15th – 22nd October, 2001
 
Veronica Slater
Transit 24 Hour Tor Mor
An Roth Community Enterprise Centre
Craignure
Mull
 
In June 2011, the four artists who comprise the collective ° West – Anne Devine, David Faithfull, Mhairi Killin and Veronica Slater – completed a week-long residency on Inch Kenneth (Innis Choinnich), a small island in private ownership a few miles north-east of Iona at the mouth of Loch na Keal. Curated by Alicia Hendrick (the fifth member of the collective), the current show, which is open to visitors for one week only, is an essential response to the island, consisting of a one print each by Devine, Killin and Slater, and two by Faithfull. 
 
Although the response by each artist to the geology, history, landscape and genus loci of the island is unique, there are a number of striking threads of continuity to be found in the artists’ prints. A wider understanding of both the residency process and the individual approaches of each artist to the challenges and opportunities of the isolated island environment has been provided in a remarkably fine collection of photographs by Shannon Tofts. Tofts’s work is both technically accomplished and artistically motivated so that he achieves a rare combination of record and response.  Tofts is in  a very real sense a collaborator in that his vision derives from a sympathetic and emphatic response to the individuality of each artist.
 
Working in a recognisable personal idiom Faithfull (working at Edinburgh Print Studios) has created a three-part image focussing on the relationship between the island’s geology, landscape and fragments of text from William Golding’s novel, Pincher Martin, in  an approach which might be termed ‘geopoetic’. Faithfull’s approach is predominantly stylised and graphical; and although it’s clear that he is a gifted draughtsman and designer, his work can seem devoid of feeling.  Here, however, the central image, derived from a photograph, shows a cave on the shore of the island which might be read as a metaphor for a mouth and all the associations of noise, language and song which that connotes. In an allied work, more technological than geological, the image is of Inch Kenneth as plotted by a GPS system. 
 
The central image of Devine’s print (made with print-maker Elspeth Lamb), is, somewhat coincidentally, Agnus Dei, ‘the Lamb of God’ and Devine is the only one of the artists to have acknowledged the religious context of the Island’s history in an explicit manner (Inch Kenneth houses a chapel of similar age to the 12th Century St Oran’s on Iona and like St Oran’s has a collection of ‘Celtic’ cross-slabs).  In a complex image, Devine has conflated religious vision with a geological perspective, suggesting, perhaps, that both views have a validity and a mystery. 
 
Mhairi Killin’s ancestors were silversmiths on Iona and she combines this ancient art with her contemporary artistic practice; each feeds into and complements the other. Here, various images such a stone markings, inscriptions and objects are woven together by silver wire suggesting a continuity between past and present. Underpinning these images is a faint reproduction of a shipping chart, allowing for the introduction of idea of visual, historical and cultural ‘plotting’ and the contemporary metaphor of ‘mapping a territory’.  A piece of text in the form of a silver tag describes a ‘grass covered cairn 550m North East of Inch Kenneth House’ suggesting a much older, Neolithic context to the island’s history.  Killen’s work is at once delicate and strong, tentative and forceful.
 
Continuing the cartographical trope Veronica Slater has chosen to create an emotional and experiential map of her time on Inch Kenneth, concentrating on the dilapidated interior of the house itself as well as referring to aspects of the island’s history and landscape. The house belonged at one point to the Mitford family and it was here that Unity Mitford, a Nazi sympathiser, lived on following an attempted suicide; she died in Oban in 1948. Such strange and traumatic histories inform Slater’s image which seems like the visual representation of layered memory where suggested synaptic events trigger  series upon series of recollection.
 
In a similar way Slater has created a series of twenty four works which are on show in Craignure on the east of Mull. Some of these images link to the Inch Kenneth residency while others range more freely in their diversity and scope.  However, central to Slater’s approach, is an over-layering of imagery which suggests that seeing and the process of perception is complex, involving various stages.  One work which might stand as a useful tool in deconstructing Slater’s approach is her representation of the head of a golden eagle.  This is what she describes as “an image of an image” in that it is derived from an ubiquitous postcard on sale on the island. But Slater’s eagle suggests a new way of looking, as if an ‘icon’ had somehow become “de-iconized” allowing for a fresh approach to seeing the reality of things, despite the fact that most people will never see a real golden eagle.