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 persevered, on his own, day after day to build a road on Rassay Island. The story was quite touching and it made me think about the balance between the practical and metaphorical aspects in public works. It seems to me that ”practicalness” as an element in public art work is sometimes not viewed very favourably, as though art has nothing to do with being useful.

His story highlighted some of the questions that arose at the end of my ”Vicissitudes” performance.
What to do in the face of dominant power, political etc, when It appears somewhat that we have no choice? Stories such as Calum’s story and his actions, illustrate or ”illuminate” to us that individually we can create changes great and small. It made me think of metaphors as art works in themselves, a theory by Ricouer that I have previously seen explored in a book by Dr Lillis O Laoire.

”Within the bounds of this world, certain metaphors are also revealed. Ricoeur’s view of metaphor as creation in miniature differs from the conventional understanding, where metaphors are merely seen as substitutes for other figures of speech, on merely stylistic grounds. There is no innovation except that one word replaces another for aesthetic purposes. This is denied by Ricoeur, who believes in the power of good, new metaphors to reveal meaning previously unthought of. Ricouer holds that new metaphors exist in a dynamic tension between accepted, logical boundaries of categorization and the creation of new categories which extend the boundaries, allowing us to see new similarities which arise form the shattering of the preceding limits ( 1991,81)

”On a Rock in The Middle of the Ocean” , Lillis O Laoire, ph 34

Kathryn Maude gave a talk on her current research inquiry ‘Should we be trying to ‘find’ women in the past, or should we accept that they are impossible to see with the sources that remain?
It was dismaying to hear of how little evidence we have of women in prose/letters or poetry from the past. She raised interesting questions, around the role of women as ”patrons” and great commissioners of cultural works and spaces. Its fascinating to think of women creating ”creative frameworks and contexts” but then removing themselves from the ”authoritative” role of creating works themselves. Someone in the group mentioned the infamous tea houses, public meeting spaces where both men and women could meet publicly and share ideas and views.
I can’t believe that this was radical in its time, yet it was, and it makes me wonder what are the parallels , what radical subversive actions and spaces are women creating now?

It was interesting for me to see the group go through their process of inquiry around the subject matter and to see the smatterings of experiments that began to sprout up. Had I begun my research for my part of the ”Spiral” in a similar way, my work would have been entirely different.
I could see how the island and its history had begun to connect in some way for everyone in relation to the themes of the Life of Columba.
When I left, artist Jessica Ramm was beginning to work with peat and had made some wonderful connections with the local islanders.Johnny Rodgers from the GSA, had already begun working on some great ideas, using video footage and song he began to form a contemporary comment/alluding to folk/Gaelic culture and Johnson and Boswell’s connection to Rassay House. Micheal Mersinis left us on the third day, taking to the wilds with his camera to capture images on sliver plates. In a sense the group literally did go through a process of gathering as a core and the ”spiralling” out into explorations and experiments.

I have returned to the West feeling differently about my work and its direction, such was the inspiration I received from everyone in the group.

I’d like to thank everyone for their generosity of spirit and to Jenny BrownRigg and Talitha Kotz for inviting me.
I really can’t wait to see the completed works in October in Glasgow.!
Beannachtaí ar an an obair
Ceara Conway