Wilder Being: Creation and destruction in the littoral zone


Sanday, Orkney 30-31 August 2014 Archaeology Institute UHI, Orkney College, University of the Highlands and Islands

Orkney boasts a plethora of spectacular, well preserved archaeological sites, many of which are suffering acute erosion related to climate change through sea level rise and increased storminess. The erosion of these sites spills onto the shore shells, bones, stone artefacts and pottery amongst bright lens of fuel ash and midden.

The archaeological sites fuse with the shore and the sea, and past and present, culture and nature become confused: sea birds nest in burial cists; shells and bones spilling from middens become indistinguishable from those on the shore. Ancient artefacts mingle with dead sea creatures and sea debris – tangles of rope, plastic bottles and the soles of single shoes.

These sites, on the edge of the sea and land, are far too numerous to record or excavate and are not easy to visit or experience. We based our interdisciplinary and community workshop on Sanday, Orkney,  at Pool, a multi-period site where settlement from the Neolithic through to the Viking periods are superimposed on top of one another. Cut through by erosion by the sea, an impressive section is exposed with buildings and occupation deposits clearly visible.

The workshop was an innovative form of experience, bringing together archaeologists, artists, environmental scientists and community for a field workshop at this littoral locale. The Sanday workshop participants observed and recorded artefacts and materials – both ancient and modern – and used archaeological techniques of 3-D laser scanning, GPS survey, artefacts recording combined with photography, drawing, sculpture and text to explore impressions of place and environment.

Folklore around the dreadful ‘Nuckelavee’ inspired a new creature, the Lopness Monster, who inhabits the sea and recovers detritus from the coast (http://www.orkneyjar.com/folklore/nuckle.htm). A film by Mark Jenkins documents the Sanday workshop and tells the story of the Lopness monster.

Students from Orkney College UHI BA Fine Art and Textiles drew inspiration from this folklore/makelore creating a ‘wilder mann’ or ‘Wilder Being’: artworks constructed from the littoral environment.

The Sanday workshop and exhibition raise the profile of humanities research, engaging a diverse audience in the practices of recording and thinking about the issues related to sustainability and climate change.

Laser scanning – recording our activities in point cloud assemblages.

The scans are interesting because they subvert the usual application of laser scanning (fixed objects, places) and capture an event (movement, transitory moments).

Movement is also included in the scans by the way the instrument scans first, and then takes the photographs (used to colour the point cloud) afterwards, with a time gap of  5-20 mins. People and things recorded in the scan may be coloured by events afterwards or the background (beach section, sky or sea). Scanning an event in this manner goes some way to exploring this as an assemblage of humans and non-humans, materials and space.

Collecting things - Sorting, categorising and recording artefacts in the pop-up lab and photographic studio. Through these activities we subject a whole range of ‘artefacts’ and ‘ecofacts’ collected to the methods used in archaeological fieldwork and processing; using items such as seaweed, shells, and debris washed up by the sea the boundaries between sea and land, ‘culture’ and ‘nature’ are blurred and redefined, and objects of interest and beauty emerge under the microscope and through the photographer’s lens.

Drawing and walking drawing – recording vistas and moments, and tracks walked, also recorded with handheld GPS. Impressions of the monster’s dwellings on land and in the sea are envisioned, and our paths in our efforts to find traces of him recorded.

Creating our monster from materials collected – the weekend culminates in the creation of our Lopness monster, a prototype for the costume/sculpture that will be created over the next few months to be exhibited with the film of the events. A happy ending – the monster was adopted and taken to a good home on Sanday.
  • Temporary exhibition in Kirkwall, Orkney College UHI Art and Design space (Sept-Nov 2014)
  • Film screening and exhibition opening at the Pier Arts Centre Stromness 15th November 2014 (Exhibition 15-20th Nov 2014)
  • Project Film: https://vimeo.com/112154339
Sanday Wilder Being workshop and exhibition was created and implemented by:

Jane Downes* and Anne Bevan**with Mark Jenkins**, Dan Lee*,  Carol Dunbar (Pier Arts Centre), Antonia Thomas*, Rebecca Marr**and Julie Gibson*, Kirsteen Stewart**, Ingrid Mainland*, Joanna Buick**

Exhibition sculptures: Jean Tulloch, Ruth Tait, Becky May & Norna Sinclair.

Film: Mark Jenkins

Participants from Sanday and elsewhere included: Cath Parker, Ruth and Ean Peace, Rod and Sylvia Thorne, Mark Edmonds, Jen Harland, Barbara Bender, John Torrance, Rosey Priestman, Brendan Colvert, Jo Vergunst.
(* Archaeology Institute UHI, **Art & Design Department, Orkney College UHI).