In Words - Ritual and Rebellion! UHI Alumni Publication

There is something of an environment that can trickle through the membrane of the senses, transmute, and be reimagined as a work of art. In this way I feel the environment get into my cells, I experience it on a molecular level - a sliding relational embodiment which registers as a dissolution of boundaries between my body and the other (Rosie/gneiss or Rosie/loch). My daily routines are punctuated by encounters (rushing somewhere, I stop to gently remove a caterpillar from my boot). Nan Shepherd describes it thus: ‘Place and a mind may interpenetrate till the nature of both is altered.’ 1

An island is a place of constant flux, full of multiplicities, isolation soothed by community (both human and non). Here in the littoral zone 2, the landscape shifts with the power of the weather, and the ineluctable signs of a changing climate. Art making here is both a ritual and a rebellion: repetition of sequences and gestures over time to build a creative practice; and, a refusal of order and a resistance to established traditions, the urge to discover new pathways. As Cameron Esposito said: ‘Art dismantles power, otherwise it is propaganda’. 3

What makes a person want to study art in a place like this? Art students are like enzymes, metabolising their surroundings, using imagination as a critical tool. Through the past six years as a tutor here I have had the privilege to see the translation of place into a multitude of forms: the recorded soundscape of a carved wooden cup, burning in the crisp night air; light captured in a pinhole photograph, tracing the arcs of the sun; an eerie composition of the industrial thuds and metallic squinks of the ferry terminal. People seeking ways to make the unsayable said, make the sensory tangible, words drawn together, trying to translate the sparkling vibrancy of here, now.

Art-making as a conduit for experience of place comes with infinite possibilities: form, medium, aesthetic... It may feel like a translation of this process into writing would be more straightforward, but language is always an approximation, and the skill of articulating something ineffable is complex, knotty work.

In this collection of writing from Alumni of the BAFA programme we see an approach akin to Shepherd’s sensorial and rhizomatic methodology. Drawing up knowledge through roots in research, theory, and also, vitally, through encounter, accessed by immersion in place.

This collection journeys through deep time, with a reflection on the very origins of mark making, in Jean Newman’s The Rituals of Time; Holly Moffat- Hardy considers the ‘Effervescence in Rebellion’ through collective ritual dance, traced through mythology; Gina Macdonald unravels the journey of her study, written in her ‘mother-tongue’, the native language of the Outer Hebrides; Kathrhona Lawson’s poem reweaves the supernatural lore of the Gàidhealtachd retelling the tale of the ‘Selkie’ and the ‘Changeling’ in her own words; Maya El Nahal explicates the meaning of ‘organic matter’ and compares encounters with decay between the rural and the urban environment; Sif Nielson explores the relational connection between the body and clay, through haptic performance, and tactility; and finally Katherine Taylor’s excerpt considers the narrative agency of octopuses in an inquiry of the terrestrial and the marine.

The writing held within this publication has evolved on, through and eventually away from this - UHI Outer Hebrides - the site of the writers’ connection. The college here at Taigh Chearsabhagh, in the words of Site Writing expert Jane Rendell, has become ‘the passage that divides and connects inner concerns and outer imperatives, through voices that are intimate but respond to broader political issues’ 4. Through continuation of practice, the sagacity which evolves in one locale travels beyond boundaries, enabling exchange of insight and an enrichment of understanding.


  1. Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain, 1977
  2. Littoral zone refers to the area of a coastal environment, extending from the high water or tide mark to areas that are permanently submerged.
  3. Cameron Esposita, Queery podcast, 2018
  4. Jane Rendell, Site Writing, 2010