The Fiddle

Musical instruments have insect-like ‘life-cycles’, sheathed in hard-casing they’re dormant most of the time, then burst into life when picked up and played. And they can ‘live’ 100’s of years. “The Yellow London Lady” – gifted to Duncan Robertson in 1774 – has lost its casing (nearly lost its neck, but that’s another story) and currently resides under glass. It was gifted to Robertson by Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne, who after arduous months on Schiehallion observing the night sky, then surveying by day (when weather permitted), organised a big last night bash in his bothy; at some point flames broke out and bothy burned to the ground taking Robertson’s original fiddle with it.Since then the replacement fiddle has remained within the Robertson family, passing from one Duncan to the next. The original recipient, delighted with his new fiddle composed a tune to it, leaving us wondering: what would it be like to hear that tune played on the instrument it was composed for? Present-day musician – and all round gudd’en – Munro Gauld is working to release it from its museumy bonds so we can hear it, record it (then hopefully return it unscathed to dormancy).

Please forgive me, I know this blog is ostensibly devoted to contour lines, and this fiddle is quite tangential to that story. But here’s the thing, for me it aids thinking about processes: how we remember, how we archive, how materials, maps and resources can be dormant and then ‘activated’. How sometimes in order to understand the history we are exploring we need to be active: follow the map in its landscape, re-draw it to understand it. Like Maskelyne, I am an outsider to Schiehallion, my experience of the mountain is of limited value compared to those who live within sight of it. Hopefully the next few weeks in residence will be a lively opportunity to learn, to share and explore, and to hear that fiddle revived.

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Lines of Attraction

‘The Lines of Attraction’ Schiehallion mini-festival is fast approaching. The exhibition opens next Wednesday (in Pitlochry). Places on the contour walk booked up fast but there are plenty other opportunities to visit. We will be ‘at home’ (at yurt?) at the foot of Schiehallion just beyond the car park the afternoon of Weds April 18, so please call in and see what we are up to. More structured activities include early morning walks to see the black grouse strut their stuff on a Lek plus Alec Finlay & Ken Cockburn will be leading a walk and talk on place names kicking off 10.45am on Saturday April 21 (meet at the yurt).Drop me a line if you’d like further information, and if anyone out there knows the words or tune to “The Yellow London Lady” PLEASE get in touch.

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Walks and Talks on Schiehallion

Thrilled to announce – with the support of Creative Scotland – we are organising a mini-festival on and around Schiehallion from the 19th of April with The Great Lines exhibition on show at the Alan Reece Gallery, Pitlochry throughout.

‘We’ are (me) the John Muir Trust and Artlink Central who came up with the brilliant idea of erecting a temporary yurt on Schiehallion to run some of the activities from. In so many ways they are a great partner, their work is all about diversity, bringing artists together with people experiencing exclusion, disability or disadvantage. It’s a dream team as the John Muir Trust engages people with wild places.There are a number of events that are open to all, two of them – if you are in the vicinity, or happy to travel – are:

A ‘Contour Walk’ on Sunday 22nd April, 10am till 3pm. This will be an exploratory walk along one altitude of Schiehallion observing the differences between South and North faces. We will focus on the flora and fauna (with Dr Liz Auty from the Trust), but also explore the mountain’s history and the surveying of it in the 1770’s… yes, that’s my thing. Places are limited please book early through Eventbrite.

Then on Saturday 28 we have a series of talks at Pitlochry Festival Theatre titled ‘Four Views of Schiehallion’, with Chris Fleet, Robin Johnson, Liz and myself and – hot off the press – live music too thanks to Munro Gauld. The Eventbrite page for this is live already.

Both these events are free, but booking essential.

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Places Past and Present

Why be ‘against’ drawing contour lines on maps? Tucked deep in the shelves of the Lit and Phil is an 1856 report, or ‘minutes of evidence’, where eminent engineers of the day weigh-in, for and against, the contour line. It’s the detail that captivates; there are descriptions of maps “hung up in the committee room… similar to those in general use in Bavaria, Baden Baden, and Switzerland.” Sadly with no clues as to which maps they are, the scale or look of them, and begging the question: in which room did this meeting take place?

I am as much drawn to the ‘missing’ as what is left behind. An idle moment with nose stuck in a ‘brief memoir’ of Hutton reveals an angry outburst at the break-up of his library. He intended the whole to be left to the British Museum but: “I have been cruelly prevented from having it kept together… by my old implacable enemy, the president of the Royal Society [Sir Joseph Banks]”. Poor him, poorer us. Would his ‘missing’ map have been amongst those books and papers? Sadly ‘proper’ research is currently on hold, but the models and drawings created for the initial exhibition are to go on show again.

From the 19 to 29 April 2018, they will be at the Alan Reece Gallery within the John Muir Wildspace, Pitlochry, Scotland. As one of the nearest towns to the mountain Schiehallion I am delighted to be taking the artwork there. And, with the John Muir Trust, an afternoon of talks on all things Schiehallion is being arranged for Saturday, April 28. More details on this and other related events soon.

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Cultural Significance of Place

If you live on an isolated island, or in a prison cell, how would you mark the passing of time, scratches on a wall perhaps? Eschewing the rhythm of day and night, artist Fiete Stolte invented an 8 day week divided into 21 hour days thus cutting himself adrift from the lives and rituals of those around him. He contended his work stemmed from having lived in ‘isolation’ (in the ‘peculiarly’ adrift wall-era Berlin).

Time: Saturday, 1pm. Place: Venice Biennale Open Table; 20 of us (including curator Christine Macel) discussing: time, place, the ephemeral and isolation, which of course led me back to how  – in isolation – we devise (or re-invent) structures  (such as contour lines) for ourselves as a means to comprehend place.

It was, for me, the most interesting event of the Biennale: sharing of ideas, questioning assumptions, grappling with why we think what we think in a way that sometimes ‘looking at art’ (rather than engagement) just doesn’t cut the mustard. For the like-minded, may I suggest a time: 2.30 to 5pm, Friday 8th December and a place: Room 3.39 Armstrong Building, Newcastle University for a roundtable on maps and mapping. Organised by Cultural Significance of Place Research Group, the event is free and open to all, though as it is expected to be fully booked reserving soon (now) is recommended: More information on the Events Page.

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Changing Landscapes

“In the beginning, the land was soft”, thus began the first talk of the British Cartographic Society’s Symposium. By William Cartwright, the words relate the ‘feel’ of Australia before ‘lines’ (fences, roads, and railways) snaked their way into and across that continent; the ‘softness’ due, quite literally, to the absence of hoofed animals (or shod humans) to compact the ground.

Talks ranged from the historical, poetical, deeply thoughtful, through to the airy heights of hi-tech. I missed “Using PopChange Raster data with RStudio (nope, me neither), to attend “Adding an extra dimension: basemaps for modern GIS” on the grounds I understood most of the words used in the title. Yet here too, the excellent Nicholas Duggan lost me on software I am sure I could understand if my head wasn’t firmly stuck in the 18th Century.

The joy of these events is the quality of conversation between talks and the shared passions. Without understanding ‘how’, Nicholas has laid my recreation of Hutton’s (missing) contour map over a GIS generated relief map of Schiehallion, (follow this link for a fuller picture than these screenshots can give), opening up an entirely new approach to visualise and assess the data Hutton was working from: thank you Nick! (And a huge thank you to BCS for inviting me to talk).Next up: CSoP (see events page for an explanation)


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Maps for Changing Reality

The programme is published and booking system live, for the British Cartographic Society (BCS) – Society of Cartographers (SoC) Conference.

There are plenty of interesting talks, workshops and debates scheduled, and as the blurb says: come and join with mapmakers, map users and other enthusiasts  at Redworth Hall Hotel, County Durham, DL5 6NL

5th to 7th September 2017.

To book a place use the link

I am delighted to be showing models and related work throughout the Conference, and to be giving a talk about the project on the Thursday morning.

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