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

Colm Cille Spiral:Caroline Dear

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.

Colm Cille Spiral: Caroline Dear


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 settle in exile and he is told ‘I’. This concise reply, a fourfold pun, expands to mean ‘Go into the isle of Iona.’ I still means island or islands to us. Whilst on convocation on ‘I-Raasay’ I found, on the empty shelves of the library of Raasay House, a piece of wood with the letter ‘I’ painted on it. This intrigued me and I brought it on a ‘peregrinatio’ across the island. As we gathered and as we talked in spirals around questions, I thought about myself in relation to the lives of the monks we were discussing.

Caroline Dear trained as an architect, working as an architect and landscape architect in various countries before concentrating on art after moving to the Isle of Skye in 1986, where she lives and works.