Alasdair Gray Season: ‘Spheres of Influence II’

Reid Gallery, Reid Building, The Glasgow School of Art, 164 Renfrew Street, Glasgow G3 6RF

22 Nov 2014-25 Jan 2015

Aubrey Beardsley, Oliver Braid, Eric Gill, Alasdair Gray, Peter Howson, Dorothy Iannone, David Kindersley and Lida Lopes Cardozo, Stuart Murray, My Bookcase, Denis Tegetmeier, Hanna Tuulikki

This exhibition provides alternative readings of Alasdair Gray’s visual practice, through the prism of others’. Spheres of Influence II includes both historical and contemporary pieces from the realms of visual art, design and illustration. Gray’s work forms the central point around which the other works orbit. The broad themes drawn from Gray’s oeuvre include graphic style; symbolism; text and image; lettering and the alphabet; portraiture and identity; labour; religion; war; love and sexuality. The exhibition includes four new commissions by Oliver Braid, Stuart Murray, My Bookcase and Hanna Tuulikki. The new commissions and event programme are funded by Outset Scotland in association with YPO.

'Spheres of Influence II', Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2014). Photo: Alan Dimmick

‘Spheres of Influence II’, Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2014). Photo: Alan Dimmick

Alasdair Gray‘s (b. 1934) visual work is the central inspiration for ‘Spheres of Influence II’, which is part of The Alasdair Gray Season. This season is devised by Sorcha Dallas, to celebrate Gray at eighty years old. Gray studied in Mural Design at The Glasgow School of Art 1952-57. His fifteen works selected for ‘Spheres of Influence II‘ include working drawings for book covers, poster designs and screenprints made between 1954 and 2010. Gray’s retrospective ‘From the Personal to the Universal’ is at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, running until 22 Feb 2015. ‘Spheres of Influence I’ is at Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow (GoMA) until 25 May 2015, and draws on works from Glasgow Museums’ collection, to look at Gray’s practice, influences and work.

Installation view, 'Spheres of Influence II', Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2014). Photo: Alan Dimmick

Installation view, ‘Spheres of Influence II’, Reid Gallery, The Glasgow School of Art (2014). Photo: Alan Dimmick

Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) believed that ‘The grotesque is the only alternative to the insipid commonplace‘. An artist of the Art Nouveau era, his black ink drawings, inspired by Japanese Shunga woodblock prints, emphasised the erotic and decadent. This exhibition shows two illustrations made for Edgar Allan Poe stories including ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ (1895). Alasdair Gray remembers,

When fifteen or sixteen I discovered Aubrey Beardsley and loved the way he made innocent fun of mild perversity. He drew naked bodies beautifully, but also enjoyed inventing fantastic costumes for them to dress and undress in‘. 1

A further series of Beardsley’s illustrations can be seen at GoMA.

Eric Gill (1882-1940) has been cited by Alasdair Gray as a visual influence. Gray’s work ‘Corruption‘ (2008) borrows a Gill image of an entwined couple, to rest in the belly of a skeletal woman (this image of the couple also appears in Greenhead Church mural in 1963 and in the oil painting ‘Eden and After’ (1966)). Gill was an artist, letter cutter, sculptor, designer, writer and wood engraver, ‘with a passionate urge to achieve an integration of life and art and work and worship, his own sense of mission -often thwarted- ‘to make a cell of good living in the chaos of our world’.” 2 Influenced by John Ruskin and William Morris, he founded a Roman Catholic craft guild, The Guild of St Joseph & St Dominic, and built workshops, homes and a chapel on Ditchling Common in East Sussex. His three main households were at Ditchling (1907 – 1924), Capel-y-ffin, Wales (1924-8) and Piggots (1928-40).

'Our Lady of Lourdes', (1920); 'Epiphany' (1917), Eric Gill (1882-1940). Photo: Alan Dimmick

‘Our Lady of Lourdes’, (1920); ‘Epiphany’ (1917),
Eric Gill (1882-1940). Photo: Alan Dimmick

Commissioned by Monotype, Gill created the type of Gill Sans and Perpetua. ‘Spheres of Influence ll‘ shows a series of Gill’s illustrations and bookworks. In the former, a number of his striking religious illustrations are shown, including ‘Our Lady of Lourdes‘ (1920), ‘Epiphany‘ (1917) and ‘The Madonna and Child: Madonna Knitting‘ (1916). Illustrations of his lettering for ‘Autumn Midnight‘ (1923) show figures animating each letter. Through St Dominic’s Press, his printing venture with Hilary Pepler, a series of ‘Welfare Handbooks‘ were printed covering all their favourite topics of the time, including Welfare Handbook No.10 on ‘Birth Control’, and the two Welfare Handbooks on display, No. 4 ‘Riches‘ (1919) and No.7 ‘Dress: Being an essay in masculine vanity and an exposure of the Un-Christian apparel favoured by females’ (1921).

Display case, 'Spheres of Influence II', GSA (2014). Photo: Alan Dimmick

Display case, ‘Spheres of Influence II’, GSA (2014). Photo: Alan Dimmick

Eric Gill was a controversial figure in his life and choices. Fiona MacCarthy’s 1987 biography ‘Eric Gill’ charts the contradictions between his life and practice.

Peter Howson (b. 1958) studied Painting at GSA 1975-7, then 1979-81. In between these periods, he signed up for the army spending nine months in the Fuseliers in Midlothian. In an interview with the actor Steven Berkoff he says of this time,

I was about 18, 19, I think. I was in the Infantry and then because they thought I would go onto different things they put me in the Scottish Divisional Squad. All sorts of mad things in that, but I couldn’t handle it. I was too young, so that’s why I left... I spent about a year doing other jobs before I went back to Art School. When I returned I still continued being unhappy until one day a new tutor came called Sandy Moffat... He was going through all my drawings and the drawings were mostly crap; until the last few at the bottom, the ones that I had hidden away. They were the Army drawings. And they were all these things about regimental baths, all the stuff that happens in the Army. He went crazy for these drawings – so that was the start of me getting, I suppose, more confident.’ 3

Spheres of Influence II’ shows these early drawings, alongside two portraits from ‘Saracen Heads‘ series that Howson made of people he encountered around his studio of that time in the Gallowgate, Glasgow. Howson’s army images echo the gaunt lines of Gray’s ‘Preliminary Sketch for the Horrors of War (for Scotland USSR Friendship Society)‘ (1954), an artwork Gray made whilst still at GSA. This piece is the design for a mural which Gray describes as denoting his ‘dread of how nuclear war would distort humanity.’ 4

Peter Howson’s portraits ‘Jimmy‘ and ‘Rupert‘ from Saracen Heads (1987) link with Stuart Murray’s six drawings from his blog ‘The Folk Ye Bump Intae‘, where the artist remembers the people he encounters in East End of Glasgow pubs and streets, and draws them from memory, along with their conversations.

'Jimmy' and 'Rupert' from Saracen Heads (1987), Peter Howson. Courtesy of Flowers Gallery. Photo: Alan Dimmick

‘Jimmy’ and ‘Rupert’ from Saracen Heads (1987), Peter Howson. Courtesy of Flowers Gallery. Photo: Alan Dimmick

Dorothy Iannone (b.1933) is an American self- taught artist, now living in Berlin, who is a year older than Alasdair Gray. As Gray’s works have more often contextualised with his own peer group, or with a younger generation of artists, ‘Spheres of Influence II’ offers the opportunity to see his work alongside an international artist who is also drawn to using a graphic style of confident line and flat colour, to record the autobiographical in text and image. Whilst Gray’s work speaks from a masculine perspective, Iannone offers the female viewpoint, of a woman in search of ecstatic love. Iannone’s work, such as ‘The Next Great Moment is Ours‘, (1976), is in the style of a hand drawn comic strip and records “a journey of ever-increasing sexual, political and spiritual awareness and a life perpetually in search of union – with the beloved, the viewer, listeners and the world.” 5

'Unknown', (1967) Dorothy Iannone. On loan from Living Art Museum. Photo: Alan Dimmick

‘Unknown’, (1967)
Dorothy Iannone. On loan from Living Art Museum. Photo: Alan Dimmick

David Kindersley (1915-1995) and Lida Lopes Cardozo, formed the Cardozo Kindersley Workshop in Cambridge in 1976. Designers of the main gates at the British Library in London, the Workshop also undertook the letter cutting of the gold signage of The Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow on the front facade of the building. Kindersley had been an apprentice of Eric Gill’s at Piggots in the 1934, drawn to the workshop as a model of integrated art and life, following reading Gill’s book of essays ‘Art-Nonsense and other essays‘ (1929) which derided the mystery and elitism of the artworld. The small slate work by Kindersley and Cardozo in ‘Spheres of Influence II’, ‘The Promises of Lovers‘, cut in 1988, bears the inscription ‘The promises of lovers are as light as the leaves which the winds carry away’.

'The Promises of Lovers', cut in 1988, David Kindersley and Lida Lopes Cardozo  Slate, h. 311mm, w. 311 mm, d. 19mm On loan from Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council. Photo: Alan Dimmick

‘The Promises of Lovers’, cut in 1988,
David Kindersley and Lida Lopes Cardozo
Slate, h. 311mm, w. 311 mm, d. 19mm
On loan from Glasgow Life (Glasgow Museums) on behalf of Glasgow City Council. Photo: Alan Dimmick

Denis Tegetmeier (1895-1987) was an illustrator, engraver, carver, letterer, designer and painter. He, (like Kindersley), was an apprentice of Eric Gill, marrying Gill’s daughter Petra in 1930. Tegetmeier was also a political cartoonist, gathering cuttings of all the news of the day, then going onto use them as the source for his illustrations for Catholic Herald and GK Weekly. The six etchings on show are illustrations from a collaborative bookwork with Eric Gill called ‘Unholy Trinity’ (1938). This book opening sentence is, ‘In the beginning was power; that is to say, the police and the military‘. Tegetmeier fought in WW1, spending three years fighting in France in the Royal Field Artillery. Following this experience, he believed his path to be religious and stayed for a period with monks. When they tried to persuade him to become a priest, which would not have allowed him a solitary existence to draw, he went on to attend the Central School of Arts and Crafts. His tutors put him forward to assist Eric Gill in the lettering for the War Memorial Gill had been commissioned to make in Oxford.

'Europe and the Bull', (1932); 'An obese reclining man carrying whip', (1932), Denis Tegetmeier (1895-1987). On loan from Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft. Photo: Alan Dimmick

‘Europe and the Bull’, (1932); ‘An obese reclining man carrying whip’, (1932), Denis Tegetmeier (1895-1987). On loan from Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft. Photo: Alan Dimmick

Oliver Braid (b.1984) studied MFA at GSA from 2008-10. One group of three drawings are a series from his event ‘Communal Dolphin Snouting’ at Transmission Gallery, Glasgow (2013). The second group are commissioned for ‘Spheres of Influence ll‘. Braid always works on A3 sketchbook paper for his intricate pen drawings, which in their level of detail are reminiscent of Gray’s ‘Faust in His Study‘(1958) or illustrations for ‘Lanark‘ (1982). Braid conceals symbols and messages within his drawings, endeavouring, ‘to get away from our pre-occupation as the audience with the meaning of an artwork being the full stop and us working it backwards to understand it.’ He is keen that, ‘the artwork moves forward, relying on the idea of belief or leap of faith.’ 6

'Phew drawings on decisions: Radio Octopus', (2014); 'Phew drawings on decisions: The One', (2014); 'Phew drawings on decisions: Donkeyroo Caught', (2014); Oliver Braid. Photo: Alan Dimmick

‘Phew drawings on decisions: Radio Octopus’, (2014); ‘Phew drawings on decisions: The One’, (2014); ‘Phew drawings on decisions: Donkeyroo Caught’, (2014); Oliver Braid. Photo: Alan Dimmick

Stuart Murray (b.1978) has made a new book, ‘Gateway to Work’, which brings together sixty new drawings made from his experience in the early 2000s attending  ‘Gateway to Work ‘ training through the ‘New Deal’, a workfare programme instigated in the late 1990s by Blair’s Labour Government to reduce unemployment. In Gray’s City Recorder series, showing at Kelvingrove, Gray notes that ‘The man wearing a blue jacket with a folder under his arm, ‘ in ‘Graham Square Cotton Mill and Entrance to the Meat Market’ (1977) ‘was a modern inspector employed by the Jobs Creation Scheme, who had come to find if I was usefully employed’. 7

'Gateway to work', publication (edition 300), Stuart Murray (2014)

‘Gateway to work’, publication (edition 300), Stuart Murray (2014)

Stuart Murray studied Printmaking at GSA from 1997-2001. ‘Gateway to Work’ is shown alongside Eric Gill’s book ‘Servile Labour and Contemplation’, published posthumously by The Aylesford Press (1987). Gill believed in ‘the idea of the sacredness of workmanship: the perception that ‘happy intense absorption’ in any work, brought as near to perfection as possible, is a state of being with God’. 8

My Bookcase’ (b. 1986) From a dialogue between artist and writer Alasdair Gray and Cristina Garriga, founder of My Bookcase, a book resource has been created in occasion of Alasdair Gray Season: Spheres of Influence II. The book collection on display has been specially picked by the artist from his personal bookshelves. It acts as a reading resource for the visitor, as well as an alternate reading of the artist through his personal library. is a non-profit organization dedicated to the dissemination, understanding and appreciation of books. My Bookcase won a Deutsche Bank Award for Creative Enterprise in 2014. Cristina Garriga graduated from GSA’s MLitt in 2014.

'Alasdair Gray & My Bookcase' (2014), My Bookcase. Photo: alan Dimmick

‘Alasdair Gray & My Bookcase’ (2014), My Bookcase. Photo: alan Dimmick

Hanna Tuulikki (b.1982) is an artist and composer. She studied 2003-2006 GSA Sculpture and Environmental Art. For this exhibition Tuulikki has brought together illustrations for two ‘Alphabets’, where the letters are formed by naked figures. These two pictorial alphabets were made for the artwork of albums by Tuulikki’s band Two Wings. Alphabet 1’ was devised as the artwork for the album ‘Love’s Spring’ (Tin Angel Records, 2012), and inspired by medieval figurative alphabets. ’Alphabet 2’ was devised as the artwork for the album ‘A Wake’ (Tin Angel Records, 2014). Again, devised from naked figures, on this occasion carrying tools, celebrating the ordinary everyday objects with which we make and remake the world. The objects carry practical and symbolic meanings. For each Alphabet, a possible ‘meaning’ is expressed in a phrase realised from the letterforms: ‘A Rose in the Dawn’ and ‘A Wake to the Dream’.

'Ascension', (2011); 'Fall', 2011 Hanna Tuulikki. Photo: Alan Dimmick

‘Ascension’, (2011); ‘Fall’, 2011
Hanna Tuulikki. Photo: Alan Dimmick

Linking to Alasdair Gray’s ‘The Fall of Kelvin Walker’(1990) and Eric Gill’s ‘Ascension‘ (1918), the exhibition also shows Tuulikki’s two original pen and ink illustrations ‘Fall‘ (2011) and ‘Ascension‘ (2011). Tuulikki says of the works:

These drawings reflect on the familiar themes of fall and ascension, setting aside the traditional Christian axis, which places the earth in the centre (Hell-Earth-Heaven), for one that places the sun in the centre (Earth-Sun-Sky).  In Ascension genderless naked bodies transcend their human form. Emerging from the dark earth they clamber on top of one another and learn to co-operate, creating a human ladder, in order to reach to their common goal ­– the sun, source of light and life. The same genderless naked bodies, this time pictured with wings, dive out of from the constellations of the night sky and reach towards the sun, in Fall.”

The commissions and event programme are funded by Outset Scotland in association with YPO. Works on loan are from Sorcha Dallas, Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, Glasgow Museums, The Living Art Museum (Iceland), Flowers Gallery, the collection of Sandy Moffat and the artists.

The exhibition is curated by Jenny Brownrigg.


1 P.15, ‘A Life In Pictures’, Alasdair Gray, Canongate (2010)

2 P22, ‘Eric Gill’, Fiona MacCarthy (1989), Faber and Faber Limited

3 ‘Profile: Peter Howson: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times,’ in conversation with Steven Berkoff

4 P.60, ‘A Life In Pictures’, Alasdair Gray, Canongate (2010)

5 Camden Arts Centre interpretation, ‘Innocence and Aware’, Dorothy Iannone, solo show 2013

6 Conversation with artist on studio visit

7 p.179, ‘A Life In Pictures’, Alasdair Gray, Canongate (2010)

8 P257, ‘Eric Gill’, Fiona MacCarthy (1989), Faber and Faber Limited

Hanna Tuulikki: Away with the Birds

You stand water-loud

From the poem Ben Eubhal, Mary Maclean, (1952) [1]

'Away with the Birds', Canna (2014) Image: Daniel Warren

‘Away with the Birds’, Canna (2014) Image: Stewart Connor

These words by the North Uist poet Mary Maclean (1921-2004) are addressed to her island’s mountain, where she describes the speed of its streams as moving fast from the summit then, ‘Gentle voiced to the quiet bevelled edge of the shore‘ [2].

The phrase ‘You stand water-loud’ is highly apt to describe Away with the Birds/Air falbh leis na h-eòin’ , a performance (29/30 August 2014) addressed to the surrounding sea, sky and land of Canna. Staged on the foreshore of Canna’s harbour, this location was noted by Martin Martin in 1695 as having ‘good anchorage‘[3]. Ten women dressed in costumes based on shore birds, such as the oystercatcher and redshank, performed a score composed by Hanna Tuulikki. The composition was drawn from fragments of traditional Gaelic songs where different birdsong is mimicked.

The foreshore defined as the area of land between low tide and high tide is a strange zone of land. Historically owned by the Crown, this land is always in a dance with the sea. The choreography of the piece, by Nic Green, deftly picked up on this. Over the duration of this one hour performance [4], the ten singers [5] moved over manmade and natural elements of terrain which included the old pier, new purpose-built jetties designed in the v-formation of a skein, and the seaweed coated rocks. The weather altered from overcast to a light rain, then sun. In the fourth movement entitled ‘flock and skein’, the tide had sufficiently drawn in over the wooden jetties for the crabs to run over the singers’ red neoprene feet. Further out in the bay, a curve of six horn speakers- each standing at four meters high- transmitted the calls of the women. During interludes, as the singers silently dispersed to re-congregate in another position, a series of field recordings by birdsong expert and wildlife sound recordist Geoff Sample, of birdsong from the Western Isles, was played. This clever shift in sound created a transitory space, suggestive of the women moving between human and avian form.

Tuulikki carefully evolved ‘Away with the Birds’ over a period of four years, with the score beginning with one person, moving to three, nine, then finally ten singers for Canna. As Margaret Fay Shaw (1903-2004) noted in her book Folksong and Folklore of South Uist, ‘To sing a complete waulking song alone without anyone to take up the chorus imposes a considerable strain on any reciter’. [6] The score is drawn from fragments of Gaelic lullabies, children’s songs, keening, dance and work songs from the Highlands and Islands (all women’s songs or sung from a woman’s perspective), from Barra to St Kilda, that include bird song within the narrative. Tuulikki, with Gaelic expert Mary Smith and Geoff Sample, analyzed the transcriptions of birds ranging from seabirds on cliffs, to redshank, oystercatcher, whooper swan, raven, Manx shearwater, geese and ravens. In the subsequent performance of ‘Away with the Birds’, through repetition and vocal techniques such as ululation, the score truly created ‘syllables that carry the air’ [7]. The vocalists who joined Tuulikki, all brought with them their own reasons for creating sound that makes a connection with nature, ranging from a belief in ‘wildness’ [8], a connection to Canna, (Nerea Bello is the niece of the Canna House Archivist Magdalena Sagarzazu), to a background in Gaelic singing. In the seven week rehearsal period that led up to the Canna performance, the group went ‘deep into the material’ [9] in a series of sessions around improvisation and play, in order for Tuulikki to organically develop the skeleton of the composition.

Tuulikki sourced a number of the songs from the Canna House Archive and John Lorne Campbell’s recordings. Magdalena Sagarzazu, whose life’s work has been dedicated to working with Canna House, describes this house and its remarkable contents perfectly:  “I often think of Canna House as an island within an island” [10]. This archive was created by the island’s previous owners, the photographer and folklorist Margaret Fay Shaw (1903-2004) and Gaelic scholar, environmentalist, farmer and folklorist John Lorne Campbell (1906-1966) who gifted the island and archive to the National Trust for Scotland in the 1980s. Canna House, their collective archive and preserved home, contains their lifelong work of recording Gaelic songs from the islands and chronicling Gaelic culture through its language and traditions. Also, contained in the House’s archipelago are Shaw’s photographs, Campbell’s butterfly collections and possessions including an engaging cornucopia of ephemera relating to cats. Pattern cascades across wallpaper and curtain material, with bird curtains in the bedroom (now archival room) and fish swimming across the walls of the bathroom.

The couple would have no doubt have greatly appreciated both the high spec technology embodied by the speaker horns and the sounds of women singing in ‘Away with the Birds’. A trawl through the Canna House archives shows that methods of recording and writing alter each time technology superseded itself, from recordings on wire, to reel to reel, to VHS. In Campbell’s own voracious correspondence and research, his notebooks and papers show that he utilized a typewriter, then carbon paper, followed by the earliest photocopies to the first computer printouts on voluminous concertinas of green lined paper with perforated edges.

Hanna Tuulikki

Hanna Tuulikki

Tracing the lines that Campbell’s correspondence took from the island as he compiled a Gaelic dictionary is like following the flight path of birds. The correspondence shuttled back and forth between Canna House and destinations from all over Scotland and the world, in the days before the internet. There were letters from Sister Veronica in Nova Scotia; Father Allan Macdonald on Eriskay; Annie Johnston from Barra (Tuulikki drew from Campbell’s recordings of Annie Johnston and her husband Calum); and correspondences with academics from the universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen amongst others. They worked with Campbell to try and pin down Gaelic for phrases like ‘a crop of pimples or to describe specific types of seaweed or on phrases relating to ‘Strange Things’.[11] These lines of words in flight are very much present in the beautiful notations of Tuulikki’s scores for the performance, where the lyrics can form the chord [12] of a wing or denote the lift and fall of a bird in flight.

Both ornithologists and folklorists have established methodology to recognize particular song. With many versions of the same songs existing, due to locality, dialect and additions of verses, according to length of activity, Margaret Fay Shaw in ‘Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist’, identified it was often ‘the chorus called the fonn or ‘ground’ and is the means by which the songs are popularly identified’ [13]. For the bird-watcher, where the sound is often in advance of the sighting, the mnemonic is a human aide-memoir for identification. Tuulikki’s score gathers the Gaelic mnemonic along with the narrative. The techniques that Tuulikki and the nine singers developed, ensure mimicry through concentration on pitch, volume, complexity of sound. The numbers of voices in the acoustic structure cross over on notes. Some species of birds can split a note, to sing both at the same time. At times, the sound created by the singers is often spectral in its mimesis, which is no small feat given that the avian vocal organ, the syrinx, is at the bottom of the trachea unlike the human larynx which is at the top. In order to explore the voice as an instrument itself, Tuulikki has long used the ‘extended vocal technique’ and improvisation to “find ways to define self through similarity with the more than human world“. [14]

The costumes, designed by Deirdre Nelson, cleverly combine symbolism and pragmatism. The colouring and detail of the costumes reference the distinct visual appearance of waders, whilst also drawing upon their Celtic meaning. The name of the Oystercatcher, or gille-brìghde , translates as servant of St Bride. The book The Peat Fire Flame, Folk Tales and Traditions of the Highlands and Island, tells the following tale about this bird:

When Christ was being pursued from one Hebridean isle to another, he was hidden at low tide by two oystercatchers, who covered Him with seaweed, and kept watch over Him until His enemies had passed. [15]

The costumes are a key element of production linking ancient belief in nature to the spiritual. The colour red in Celtic culture is associated with the otherworld. The redshank is the bird who sings to the soul on its departure to the next. Nelson references red in the singers’ legs and the pleated insert on the back of the tunics. The designer cleverly combines contemporary with historical fabric in the singers’ costumes. Local Canna wool made by islander Julie McCabe is used in the tunics, whilst hi-tech red neoprene creates the legs of the garment which allows the singers to move in the water. The hoods of the woolen shrugs, somewhat monastic in nature, are based on 1930s’ patterns of fishermen hoods, providing a protection against the elements. The hood is a key part of the outfit. When drawn up over the singer’s head it aids the visual transition of human turning into bird. The detail of the reveal is key too, with knitted white inserts in the sleeves under the arms, detailed with a ‘v’ pattern, mimicking a skein of birds in flight. Tuulikki mentions in a studio visit that she enjoys the wordplay of ‘skein’, meaning a skein of wool or birds. At the back of the charcoal grey tunics, an inserted red pleat accentuates choreographed movement. The transformation of the human form into the unknown is reminiscent of Margaret Fay Shaw’s photograph of islanders dressing up in sheep skins for Halloween.

One of Tuulikki’s source material songs ‘An Eala air Loch Chaluim Chille’ -‘ The swan on St Columba’s loch’- suggests the bird’s association with this Saint. The sonic properties of Sounds are recorded in the ‘Life of St Columba’, by Abbot Adomnán, where visitors frequently stand on the far shore of Mull, to call over the Sound to Iona, asking to be picked up by boat. Indeed, Canna’s original chapel was dedicated to Colm Cille, with Campbell stating in his book ‘Canna: The Story of a Hebridean Island’ that the Saint ‘certainly must have visited [Canna] on his missionary travels during his exile in Scotland, AD 563-97‘ [16]. ‘Away with the Birds’ fills the Sound of Canna with a new sound. Sailors coming in to moor in the bay during the rehearsals later remark on hearing mysterious, magical song.

A collective feeling is created by ‘Away with the Birds’  through the experience of meeting fellow spectators travelling to and from the island, from time camping together, a camp fire and chance encounters in the social spaces of the island at the community shop and café . By the time the audience gathers on the shore road to watch the performance, they form a migratory ‘skein’ from the mainland and Skye. Following the first performance of ‘Away with the Birds’, an illustrator, Kieran Austin, goes camping to Garrisdale Point, over on the west of the island. When he returns several days later to Canna Harbour, he finds it uncanny that two hundred visitors have flown and that the island has returned to normal. This humanity is also very much present too in the Canna House Archive where, as well as the scholarly interplay on Gaelic phrases, throughout this correspondence a warmth flows between the writers. Academic secretaries thank Campbell for Christmas gifts; anecdotes describing local situations are swapped; greetings are passed onto spouses and people promise to come to Canna again soon. Indeed, the table in Campbell’s office is a billiard table, which he used a respectable office ‘table’ during the week thanks to a sheet of wood placed over it, and as the site of an on-going billiards competition with islanders at weekends.

For the final movement ‘night flight to the burrow‘, the ‘birds’ move up to positions behind the audience to sing. Woven from fragments of a St Kilda lullaby, this movement is dedicated to the Manx shearwater,  a bird once prevalent on Canna (indeed Campbell commissioned a special stamp bearing its image).  Tuulikki sees this movement as an incantation for their return. The dramatic backdrop to the performance, Rum, which lies five miles away, is now centre stage. Geoff Sample observes this island beautifully in his field notes:

‘I find the architecture of Rum’s western mountains constantly satisfying. They aren’t quite as ruggedly spectacular as the Cuillin proper. But their serrated vertical ridges, swooping down to the sea, hemmed in lush green ribs, mark the course of the day like a sun dial, as the light changes.” [17]

At its conclusion, with any human physical presence removed from the scene, the sound more than ever filled the land and seascape. Whilst the people and their voice are the source of oral tradition, with Tuulikki taking her place with this rich interpretation, it is the land and the sea that will endure.

Return to the sea

                                    Breathe           [18]


[1] P.56, The Voice of the Bard: Living Poets and Ancient Tradition in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Timothy Neat with John MacInnes, Canongate, (1999).

[2] P.56, Ibid.

[3] P.167, A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland Circa 1695, Martin Martin. Birlinn Ltd (1999).

[4] Attended 29.8.14 performance.

[5] Vocalists: Hanna Tuulikki, Lucy Duncombe, Nerea Bello, Anna Sheard, Judith Williams, Nicola Scrutton, Mischa MacPherson, Kim Carnie, Megan Henderson, Kirsty Law.

[6] P.73, ‘Folksong and Folklore of South Uist’, Margaret Fay Shaw, second edition Birlinn Ltd (1999). First published Oxford University Press (1977).

[7] P.73, Ibid.

[8] ‘My practice is wildness and not knowing’, Judith Williams. Vocalists biographies, ‘Away with the birds’ brochure (2014).

[9] From conversation in Tuulikki’s studio, 12.9.14.

[10] In conversation with Magda Sagarzazu.

[11] Any of the Gaelic words that Campbell could not categorise or that related to myths, second sight and ghosts, he entered into his ‘Book of Strange Things‘.

[12] In terms of birds and aeronautics, the ‘chord’ describes the imaginary line drawn between the leading edge and trailing edge of a bird’s wing.

[13] P.73, Folksong and Folklore of South Uist, Margaret Fay Shaw, second edition Birlinn Ltd (1999). First published Oxford University Press 1977.

[14] From conversation in Tuulikki’s studio, 12.9.14.

[15] P122, The Peat Fire Flame, Folk Tales and Traditions of the Highlands and Islands, Alasdair Alpin MacGregor, The Moray Press, (1937).

[16] P.1,Canna: The Story of a Hebridean Island, John Lorne Campbell, Fourth Edition, edited by Hugh Cheape, Birlinn Ltd, (2004).

[17] Geoff Sample, from his notes taken on Canna, Aug 2014.

[18] From verse (v), 5. Night-flight to the burrow. Away with the Birds score, Hanna Tuulikki.


‘Away with the birds’ is part of the Culture 2014 programme.

 Jenny Brownrigg, September 2014