The stunning landscape of Skye. Photo: Alan McAteer.
Janette Scott travelled 700 miles to climb The Storr and experience a cultural high with a £1m artwork.
Anne Martin’s piercing Gaelic lament resonates across the vast dark mountainous landscape luring us down from The Storr, the Isle of Skye’s 719 metres-high dramatic geological landmark. Constellations of light glitter on the nearby Isle of Raasay and the sea reflects the full moon.
This is The Storr: Unfolding Landscape, a £1m, ‘environmental art’ project created by Angus Farquhar, artistic director of Glasgow-based arts organisation, nva. His aim is to create “an intense and remarkable night in the Scottish hills” inspired by a “heartfelt intellectual curiosity in the landscape” and a long interest in technology based art.
Every evening until September 17 2005, local guides lead 200 people up The Storr for two hours of sound, light, poetry and performance. Everyone is briefed on the strenuous nature of the walk and given a head torch, one of the environmental aspects of the project that negates the need for heavy lighting equipment in such a fragile area.
The Storr experience is rather different to visiting an art gallery. Photo: Alan McAteer.
The Storr itself forms part of the Trotternish Ridge, a range of spectacular pinnacles and buttresses with habitats rich in rare grasses, ferns, lichens and other flora. The area is so ecologically important that an environmental consultant was appointed to the nva team.
The weather, meanwhile, can vary greatly from warm, balmy evenings, to visibility-restricting nights of heavy mist and unrelenting rain. Farquhar sees this as part of The Storr experience, creating a true public artwork that the audience directly engages with.
Marking the beginning of the project, a fairytale arch leads the audience to dense spruce and pine forest. Individual trees are cast in amber-lit luminescence, pine branch hammocks stretch from tree to tree and ghostly ethereal figures fleet past. The gravelly Gaelic voice of Raasay poet Sorley MacLean and the tremulous pagan calling of Bronze Age horns eerily sound through the forest.
The torch-lit procession snakes up the path in an increasingly silent vigil towards the towering pillar of the Old Man of Storr. Light projected onto the Old Man emphasises his precarious hold on the mountainside and lends him the look of a Hindu deity. Above, the looming jagged peaks of The Storr heighten the effect of being on an alien planet and beneath us is the Corrie, the scattered rockfall from last year’s 4,000 tonne landslip.
Almost lunar... Photo: Alan McAteer.
Accompanying the whispered, earthy soundscape, a small glowing figure across the Corrie performs slow, struggling movements. The impact, however, is minimal against the geological grandeur.
A poem by Rainer Maria Rilke recited by Meike Schmidt is wonderful in its original German but disappointingly is not followed by an English translation. Poetry is the original starting point for The Storr and from McLean and Rilke’s words evolve the sound and light narrative of the project. Farquhar states that he “feels really passionate about poetry being a truer form for the times that we’re living in, a contemporary commentary”.
There is no doubting the immensity of what Farquhar and his team have achieved. nva’s critically acclaimed previous project The Path, was a spiritual evocation in one of Scotland’s loveliest places, Glen Lyon. Farquhar admits that this was “a tough act to follow up.”
The Storr combines art, geology and ecology to provide not just entertainment but a physical and cerebral challenge. At times it is difficult to distinguish between the natural geological drama of the landscape and the artwork, but that is the point. “I wanted to make it stark and not overburden it with trickery,” says Farquhar.
Little artistic trickery was needed to make the Storr memorable. Photo: Alan McAteer.
Many have travelled from Europe and the US to have The Storr experience and were not just hungry ‘culture-vultures’ but included holidaying hill walkers and backpackers. My own epic journey from London had taken 20 hours and covered 1127 km (700 miles) by rail, road and sea.
I saw it as cultural preparation; as the scenery increased in magnitude so did my sense of anticipation and adventure.
This is a long way to go for an arts experience but no different from travelling to other cultural events such as the Edinburgh Fringe or Glastonbury. Thousands visit sculptor Antony Gormley’s 100 cast iron figures on Crosby Beach or Andy Goldsworthy’s far-flung artworks made from natural materials. Many made it to snowy Bristol in 2004 to see Richard Box’s 1301 fluorescent tubes planted in a field close to the M5.
Like many of the more popular and intriguing art happenings across the country, however, The Storr: Unfolding Landscape is a temporary thing. You’ve only got until September 17 2005. Don’t miss it!
Fancy a crack at The Storr yourself? Visit www.nva.org.uk for more information.