Completing The Fold

Colm Cille’s Spiral has been a complex project with many elements. It addressed the apparently remote history of a 6th Century monk about which, as Clare Lees said in closing remarks to the project ‘We know nothing – right? Nothing’. It was firstly perhaps a project about the difficulties of history. It took place around six locations or knots, and each of these fractured into multiple locations (ultimately at least twelve places across the British Isles were sites for work, with others from the UK Ireland and Greece brought into play). So the project was also on the surface about territory in some way. It was ‘delivered’ by twenty-six artists and poets of varying artforms across those locations and resulted in some amazing and rich works. It gives a flavour of the richness of the project to note the media and practices included (poetry, typography, ceramics, photography, video, sound work, walking, singing, sailing, sculptural objects and installation, drawing, and the growing and documenting of online communities). A deeper look at the works, covered in more depth elsewhere on this website could extend this list. These artists have been supported and guided by five arts organisations, five universities, four independent curators and a network of advisors. This scope of time, place, people and institution gives a good idea of the projects’ complexity.

However it is important to distinguish between complexity and complication, because all these voices were navigating through and illuminating the same project and formed a related investigation around an easily grasped central point of gravitation. By finding their own interpretations and using their own networks and techniques these multiple voices were helping us all work through our own understandings.

The project was initiated by Difference […]

‘The Fold, A Creative Convention after Colm Cille’, ‘Colm Cille’s Spiral’, 30 Nov – 1 Dec 2013, Derry~ Londonderry

Colm Cille, the founding father of Derry, is attributed in a poem as describing the city as follows:

“The reason I love Derry /Is its quietness, its purity/ For full of angels white it is/ From one end to the other”.

We arrive in the city for our concluding event, ‘The Fold’, at a time when it could be described as busier than Colm Cille envisaged it in his mind’s eye, with impressive queues for the Turner Prize, nightly gatherings in squares to see the Lumiere Festival projections and generally a city and audience confidently in full swing for all the cultural offerings of Derry~Londonderry City of Culture 2013. With this event ‘The Fold’, The City of Culture itself and London Street Gallery become the containers for all six knots of ‘Colm Cille’s Spiral’.

There was a word regarding Celtic Art that Dr Katherine Forsyth (Reader, Celtic and Gaelic Dept, University of Glasgow) used in her presentation at CCA in Glasgow back in October:  ‘interlace’. Interlace refers to the complex geometric patterns on stones, manuscripts and on jewellery, where motifs are looped, and braid and knots intertwine. The detail is so extraordinary that in some of the manuscript illustrations, it would take a magnifying glass to see the full picture. This word ‘interlace’ describes my understanding of this multi-layered project.

So, if we pick up the magnifying glass and hold it up to ‘Colm Cille’s Spiral’ at its conclusion – ‘The Fold’- what can we see? The ‘interlace’ brings into full view the ‘knots’ of Glasgow / the Hebrides, Newcastle/ Lindisfarne / Bamburgh, Derry, Dublin, London / Bradwell-on-Sea and Lichfield / Llandeilo. The ‘interlace’ also braids the past and present, mirrored by a key objective of ‘Colm Cille’s […]


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 […]

Reflections on “The Word” and “Ethical Knowledge”; Sacred spaces, forgotten histories and challenging predispositions


There has been a lot of talk in the past few entries of folding and unfolding. The layers of Colm Cille’s legacy are definitely being peeled back in the last two commissions and conversations surrounding them.  I’ve been gathering my thoughts on the blog entries.


The spiral moved to Newcastle to interpret “The Word” resulting in a poetry sound installation in opposing sites, one a tower on the island of Lindisfarne and the other in St. Aidan’s Crypt in Bamburgh. These same pieces resulted in very different reactions. Shadow Script, the commissioned poetry, which was used in Antiphonal sound installation, told us fragmented stories of pilgrimages, myths, secrets and meditations, leaving us to piece the rest together. Linda had felt that the Crypt installation was more successful as the reverent, peaceful atmosphere allowed the piece to be enjoyed and reflected upon. The space used for these commissions seems like a vital element, to create the atmosphere for contemplation, as I feel was successfully created in Vicissitudes.


The third knot of the spiral, “Ethical Knowledge” in Bradwell, where the medievalists played the role of artists at “Interruptions” in St. Peter’s church. I found this interesting as it forced the historians to challenge all their predispositions and embrace the challenge of imagination and the unknown. During the Curator’s Conclave in May this was raised as being a transition from referencing and accuracy to using contemporary at, literature and performance as a new way of understanding the past. The engagement and interactive element of Interruptions seemed to be an informative element of the work, as with the personal stories and connections people brought to the Vicissitudes performance.


Kathryn Meade‘s piece on forgotten women today and in medieval times sounded like […]

Vicissitudes Film Clip

This short clip of  ”Vicissitudes. Exile, Ritual and Lament” gives an insight into Ceara’s interpretation of Colm Cille and the “Voice” theme for the Derry commission on June 9th. Combining sean-nós singing (traditional Irish song), along with fragments of her experiences journeying on the Colm Cille trail and the historical, religious, political and cultural figures she met along the way. The audience engaged with her on topics such as exile, the idea of home and spirituality in a unique setting on a curragh along the River Foyle.

The performance was experiential; the curragh and its short journey on the River Foyle created an atmosphere that was intimate and spiritual. Even though we were a mere few metres within sight of the city of Derry, the journey felt secluded and offered a time to reflect, be still and listen. Every person on the boat seemed to have a personal connection with the stories, symbols and topics that Ceara sang and discussed. Each passenger was gifted with keepsakes; a handmade broighter boat, a packet of soil from St. Colmcille’s grave (believed to protect your home from fire when put in your fireplace) and a photograph of Paddy Gillespie from Gleann ColmCille with a healing stone, which is associated with the saint.

The “Vicissitudes” sound installation was installed on the Marina on the River Foyle and passers by could catch fragments on the wind as they walked. It included snippets of interviews and songs. I picked up on elements of conversations about the lost act of creation, how in the past people were impulsed to create as part of human nature and a song of a teacher on an island who lost all his books on a boat journey […]

Vicissitudes, the River Foyle, Derry

It was a moment to reflect, sitting in the Colmcille, a 35ft replica ‘curragh’ (traditional open boat similar to that which Colm Cille may have sailed across to Iona) in the middle of the River Foyle, Derry, listening to Ceara Conway’s ‘Vicissitudes’, in the warm sunshine. Colm Cille’s Spiral is about connecting with the distant past, and the experience felt layered in time and space. Ceara’s gentle philosophical probings made us think about our own personal journeys, feeling quite insignificant in the expanse of water, but also what strengths there might be in collectively responding to our frustration for change in the face of the apparently immovable objects of global corporations, the church and state. We were still in the water, absorbing the  language, but not understanding Ceara’s laments in Irish …for a little time to pause.

It was quite a contrast to the night before, when the Foyle Embankment was packed with some 30,000 people from the city celebrating the Irish saint’s slaying of the Loch Ness Monster, apparently with a panoply of flood lights and dazzling fireworks. The procession earlier in the day brought on a mind boggling eclecticism of imagery – burning Viking ships, monks dancing to apparently Turkish drum and bass, other monks beating to the sounds with bones, young punks and older punks – the fantastic Undertones – and giant shirts (Derry was famous for shirt-making). I’m not sure what it all meant,  nor what Colm Cille would have made of it, but we had a great time none-the-less.

Ben Eastop

Vicissitudes. Exile, Ritual and Lament

Vicissitudes marks the beginning of the first commission of Colm Cille’s Spiral.
The setting is the marina on the Foyle Marina, Queen’s Quay, Derry, Northern Ireland. The river is the fastest flowing in the country and Derry city holds strong connections to Saint Colm Cille.

The date is 9th June, St. Colm Cille’s feast day, when celebrations and festivities take place to commemorate the patron Saint.

Vicissitudes is a voice and sound performance that explores themes of exile and immigration, the lament and economic myths inherent to the life of Colm Cille.

Artist Ceara Conway will be doing this performance in the Colmcille curragh (pictured below) on the River Foyle this Sunday 09th June. Performance times: 1.45pm, 2.30pm, 3.15pm & 4.00pm. Places on the boat are free but limited so booking is required either by emailing me on: or phoning: 0778 454 6910.



Curators’ Conclave

I was invited to take part in the Curators’ Conclave in King’s College, London on Wednesday 22nd May. This offered ourselves as curators from the six knots of the Spiral, medievalist historians and Difference Exchange to meet to share ideas, interpretations and debates surrounding Colm Cille’s legacy and how we feel visual and literary art can represent this.

It was interesting to hear medievalist, Michele Brown talking about questioning her role as an historian and what drives her.  To “fire the imagination” and to question medieval society and in turn, reflect on the issues and values of society today. I noticed that common themes in Colm Cille’s story arose; information flow, ownership and copyright, all of which are topical with the rise of the digital, open access to information and knowledge online.

In Colm Cille’s time oral storytelling were traditional ways to safe keep information, which leaves many gaps in knowledge. Perhaps literary and visual arts can play an interpretive role of filling in the grey areas of knowledge to create new possibilities. Instead of establishing historical facts, the knots may be open ended and ephemeral, we ask more questions rather than answering them.

Curators from the six knots or “themes” gave us an insight into their work with the chosen artists, scholars or illuminators; discussing approaches, outcomes and ways of representation. Interpretations ranged from song performances on a boat, sound installations in a crypt, literary interpretations, google algorithms, tours of hidden relics and exchanges of knowledge, which cross over cultures and languages.

We discussed the state of flux that the projects are in and how the six knots could be represented as a whole. Is physical representation in a gallery space necessary? Or could it be an […]