Convocation Exhibition Post 4: Susan Brind

Sweet Surrender, neon text, (2013)

Sweet Surrender is a reflection on the final command uttered by St Columba in the C7th to his community on Iona and, somewhere in the background, an aural memory of Tim Buckley’s seductive voice singing the refrain from 1972:  “…. sweet surrender, it’s so sweet to surrender, oh sweet surrender to love …”; his voice an embodiment of earthly passion.  Both speak of love; one secular the other sacred but both felt intensely.  It was said by St Adomnán that Columba was so loved that he was visited by angels; immaterial beings who could move between the heavenly and physical worlds.  Accounts tell of how seeing an ‘angel’ can illuminate one’s whole being.

On the last day of his life, at the point when his corporeal self was giving way to unite with the Divine he so desired, and with foresight of the imminence of his death, Columba said:  “love one another unfeignedly”.  Four simple words but can we really understand them in their fullest sense?

Susan Brind is Reader in Contemporary Art and lectures in the Department of Sculpture & Environmental Art, co-ordinating the final year undergraduate and M Litt programmes, as well as supervising PhD students at The Glasgow School of Art.

Convocation Exhibition post 3: Caroline Dear

The nature of I, Peat, water, book and found object (2013)

The I is a form of self portrait, I am thinking about my identity, my individual-ness. I, me, myself – our society relishes the ego. We worship the special qualities and identity of individuals, especially in the art world. The authority of the creator, making original work is paramount. To make strong art, however, I believe the ego needs to be in abeyance and I also question whether work can ever be original seeing as we are a fundamental part of the zeitgeist.


Peat is the one material that physically links us to the time of the monks It was around then and is unchanged. Peat is a lovely material it holds the resonance of a place, it is formed from one plant, Sphagnum, with everything else coming from the air (pollen, CO2 dissolved, ash from volcanic eruptions etc.) around it – peat forms at 1mm a year.

At the time of Columba, a monk’s aim was to lose the individual, the ego, in recognition of the greater I, the creator of all. This book, ‘Life of St. Columba’ by Adomnán, would, at the time of Colm Cille, have been its own character, also itself an I. In the book there is an amusing miracle where Columba is asked by another monk to check his recently illuminated texts for a book. Columba replied, ‘Neither one letter too many nor one too few – except that in one place the letter ‘I’ is missing’. The book was duly checked and indeed one ‘I’ was missing.

One of the other references I was drawn to in ‘Life of St Columba’ gives us the story of Columba asking where he should […]

Convocation Exhibition Post 2: Thomas Joshua Cooper


Remembering the Celtic Peregrinati – Saint Patrick, Brendan and Columba

North – Looking towards Scotland. The North Channel, Benbane Head, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, 2013. The North-west Point of Northern Ireland.

East most – Looking towards Scotland. The North Channel and The Irish Sea. Burr Point, The Ards Peninsula, County Down, Northern Ireland, 2013. The East-most point of all Ireland.

Looking towards Ireland – St Patrick’s birthplace. The River Mite, Ravenglass, Cumbria (2013)

Evening – The Reputed Burial Place of the Irish Saints –Patrick, Brigid and Columba. The River Quoile, Downpatrick, County Down, Ireland (2013)

Evening – St Columba’s Birthplace. Gartan Lough, County Donegal, Ireland (2013)

Last light – Looking West – the Birthplace of St Brendan the Navigator, the Wanderer. The North Atlantic Ocean and Brendon Bay, Brandon Point, The Dingle Peninsula, County Derry, Ireland, (2002-13)

Last Light – High wind – A Crossing Point. The River Foyle – Lowther Peace Bridge, Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland (2013)

Over an eleven day period, Thomas Joshua Cooper, travelled to Skye, Raasay, Cumbria and Northern Ireland, covering a total of 3135 miles.

He worked on two photographic bodies of work. For one series, he went to the very edges of land, visiting the cardinal points of Northern Ireland including Benbane Head, County Antrim, the north-west point and then onto the east-most point at Burr Point on the Ards Peninsula.  In particular, with the latter location, he focused on the view from Ireland across the water to Scotland, aiming to echo St Columba’s last view from Ireland, before his exile to Scotland.

For the second series, he travelled to photograph the birthplaces of Saint Patrick, St Brendan and St Columba. The way he described Lough Gartan, St Columba’s birthplace as having, “Three silver birches, leaning towards the Lough, […]

Convocation, Glasgow, Exhibition Post 1: Edwin Pickstone

Convocation: Colm Cille’s Spiral exhibition ran 12 Oct – 1 Nov 2013 at Mackintosh Museum, The Glasgow School of Art. Participating artists were Emma Balkind, Susan Brind, Thomas Joshua Cooper, Caroline Dear, Michail Mersinis, Hardeep Pandhal, Francis McKee, Edwin Pickstone, Jessica Ramm, Johnny Rodger, Augustus Veinoglou. All were invited to write about their work, and this information was available during the exhibition. The following posts will include each artist an image of their work.

 Edwin Pickstone: Illuminator

Map of a Convocation: Raasay, Letterpress print on Ordanance Survey map, gold bronzing powder (2013)

Using the landscape to structure content, the print is a map of Raasay and of the residency; It both records our experience and offers a guide to the processes behind the artworks. Influences in editing, composition and typography were drawn from illuminated manuscripts, early medieval maps and 18th century design practices (the latter made relevant through Samuel Johnson’s 1773 account of the island).

Edwin Pickstone is Typography Technician at The Glasgow School of Art, where he cares for the school’s collection of letterpress printing equipment.

Convocation CCA Glasgow event 11.10.13

The first part of Convocation occurred at Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow on 11 October 2013. The event ‘Convocation: A contemporary response to the extreme past’ combined historical information with contemporary responses. University of Glasgow’s Gilbert Markus (lecturer, Celtic and Gaelic Dept) looked at Colm Cille, in his presentation ‘Who’s / Whose Colum Cille’, whilst his colleague Dr Katherine Forsyth (Reader, Celtic and Gaelic Dept) presented on ‘Columba’s Spirals’. Our illuminator Emma Balkind provided the contemporary response, with her recording from the Raasay residency entitled ‘Raasay ASMR’, of which a rough cut is available for listening to on Soundcloud: .

Gilbert Markus’s presentation looked closely at the question of ‘Who is Colum Cille?’ remarking that St Columba’s identity shifted depending on “who you ask and what sources you use”. Markus stated that Columba had fallen out of favour in Scotland, and that there was evidence that he been erased in a number of instances. The first, was from a thirteenth-century Psalter, now in Oxford, but apparently possessed and used in Argyll.  There were a number of saints in its calendar, including Colum Cille, but his name had been removed from it. A similar ‘erasure’ took place in the landscape.  A chapel of Colum Cille existed at Skipness Castle in 1261.  Shortly afterwards it was taken over by the Stewarts, and the dedication disappeared. The chapel there is called Kilbrannan (church of St Brendan) now.

In Dr Forsyth’s presentation, she spoke about how words connect us to the extreme past, through the illuminations, and also material objects. Dr Forsyth went on to describe the symbol of the spiral as “a sending out and a gathering in”, which aptly describes the thought processes and movement of the […]

Documentation from ‘Convocation’, Mackintosh Museum, The Glasgow School of Art

Documentation from ‘Convocation’ exhibition at The Glasgow School of Art, which ran 12 Oct – 1 Nov 2013, can be viewed on Flickr at

With work by Emma Balkind, Susan Brind, Thomas Joshua Cooper, Caroline Dear, Francis McKee, Michail Mersinis, Hardeep Pandhal, Edwin Pickstone, Jessica Ramm, Johnny Rodger and Augustus Veinoglou.

Reflections on Raasay


I have been following the blog entries from the residency in Raasay, made up of artists, scholars, illuminators and medievalists who all took part in the different knots of the Spiral to ruminate over questions surrounding Colm Cille; the extreme past, retelling myths, exile and labour.


One of the things that occurred to me is our connection or rather disconnection to sea and landscape in comparison to Colm Cille’s time, when it was inherent to human nature. This connection is one that is being attempted to re-invoke throughout the spiral and residency on Raasay. The sea and land were vital tools to export the knowledge of Colm Cille, from his initial pilgrimage to Iona and the unique settings he founded monasteries and settlements for contemplation. This reminds me of the Vicissitudes performance, a participant, Liam Campbell who had a big interest in Colm Cille and had just completed a Phd about the River Foyle, its symbolism and how it connects people. This reconnection to our surroundings to me is an element of Colm Cille’s Spiral that is vital to explore.


Some other themes that stood out to me was re-interpretation of power structures and traditions. Local traditions of places such as Raasay are at danger of being lost. Tory Island is just off the coast of Donegal, where Irish is the native language. It draws similarities to Raasay, with a similar population count, traditions, native language, all of which are dwindling. There is a King of Tory who is selected by the islanders as a spokesperson for Tory, a tradition that has died out in other places. The local people use the sea and soundscape as a tool to throw their voices to manage everyday island […]

Peregrinatio: Thomas Joshua Cooper

Over an eleven day period, GSA’s Head of Fine Art Photography Thomas Joshua Cooper travelled to Skye, Raasay, Cumbria and Northern Ireland, covering a total of 3135 miles.

He worked on two photographic bodies of work. For the first, he travelled to photograph the birthplaces of Saint Patrick, St Brendan and St Columba. His description of Lough Gartan, St Columba’s birthplace, echoes the mention of birches of Sorley MacLean’s poem ‘Hallaig’. MacLean imagines the cleared village’s absent women as, “ … a wood of birch trees / Standing tall, with their heads bowed.” Cooper speaks of, “Three silver birches, leaning towards the Lough, a trinity picture”.

For his second series, he went to the very edges of land, visiting the cardinal points of Northern Ireland including Benbane Head, County Antrim, the north-west point and then onto the east-most point at Burr Point on the Ards Peninsula.  In particular, with the latter location, he focused on the view from Ireland across the water to Scotland, aiming to echo St Columba’s last view from Ireland, before his exile to Scotland.

A quote from a book brought in during our residency by local Raasay resident Jennifer Burnet describes who Columba was in terms of the cardinal points.
 ‘In the West he was called upon as a bard, a guardian of the magical powers inherent in the literary traditions of the Celtic languages; in the North, he was a prince, a member of a prestigious lineage with a responsibility for the defence of his people; in the East he was a father, an abbot who was a just and tender provider of the many monks under his care and in the South he was a priest who dealt directly with […]


The long green journey through the highland braes have given me ample time to reflect on the last few amazing days that I have spent on Rassay Island with the Convocation group.
What a way to begin a commissioned project! The dynamic was rich,informative and full of good will. I feel that perhaps due to the nature of the themes that we were exploring, that of contemplation, of spirit, prayer, language, the soul.. that this may have instilled and created a framework for a particular level of connection.

Each day we set out to a different part of the island to visit specific sites,to discuss aspects of the Life of St Columba and to raise various departing questions/points for the project. Among many subjects, we talked about the the rhythms and structures of monastic living.
I found it interesting to hear Clare Lee ( Professor of Medieval English Literature,Kings College) discussing the monastery as a place of production. A”power house of prayer” for the lay people, who in turn provided the monastic community with food and means. It is bizarre to me that salvation and prayer was and still is something that can be considered as a ”produced” mass of substance.
I am fascinated by the effects of belief systems on social structures and communities. Artist Augustus Veinoglou brought an excellent book with him called ” Religion for Agnostics’ by Alain De Botton. I couldn’t put it down all week ! It presented so many ideas for me, around the themes of art, culture and religion.

Each evening after dinner we were blessed to have really interesting talks. Rodger Hutchinson, author of the book ”Calum’s Road’ came to tell us the story of Calum Mac Leod and how he […]

Di Domhnaich

We left the island today.

Over the course of the week, we have oscillated between the rational and aspects of faith or mystery. The artists in the group are comfortable about using the latter terminology in talking about their practice, with Michail Mersinis talking about “photography as an act of faith”. The group are split however between the two entities when thinking about ‘The Life of St Columba’. “Maybe the book doesn’t want you to know”, Clare Lees said earlier in the week. “The book is its own I”.

As we sat in the waiting room yesterday evening for our last discussion, looking out to the ferry making its way in between Raasay and Skye, it was a good location to highlight that the group are at the start of seeing how the information from the week will filter down into their practice. Distance and the return home seemed to be the next stage that will help us see what we have learnt.

Jennifer Burnet, the woman who helped Jessica Ramm cut peat, has been visiting Raasay House with a wealth of information in forms of books, photocopies and photographs relating to our area of enquiry. A quote from one of the books she brought, sums up our first phase of the Spiral.

“The Celtic mind was never drawn to the single line; it avoided ways of seeing and being which seek satisfaction in certainty. The Celtic mind had a wonderful respect for the mystery of the circle and spiral”1

1 ‘Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World’, John O’Donahue