The first part of Convocation occurred at Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow on 11 October 2013. The event ‘Convocation: A contemporary response to the extreme past’ combined historical information with contemporary responses. University of Glasgow’s Gilbert Markus (lecturer, Celtic and Gaelic Dept) looked at Colm Cille, in his presentation ‘Who’s / Whose Colum Cille’, whilst his colleague Dr Katherine Forsyth (Reader, Celtic and Gaelic Dept) presented on ‘Columba’s Spirals’. Our illuminator Emma Balkind provided the contemporary response, with her recording from the Raasay residency entitled ‘Raasay ASMR’, of which a rough cut is available for listening to on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/emmabalkind/raasay-asmr-rough-cut .
Gilbert Markus’s presentation looked closely at the question of ‘Who is Colum Cille?’ remarking that St Columba’s identity shifted depending on “who you ask and what sources you use”. Markus stated that Columba had fallen out of favour in Scotland, and that there was evidence that he been erased in a number of instances. The first, was from a thirteenth-century Psalter, now in Oxford, but apparently possessed and used Argyll. There were a number of saints in its calendar, including Colum Cille, but his name had been removed from it. A similar ‘erasure’ took place in the landscape. A chapel of Colum Cille existed at Skipness Castle in 1261. Shortly afterwards it was taken over by the Stewarts, and the dedication disappeared. The chapel there is called Kilbrannan (church of St Brendan) now.
In Dr Forsyth’s presentation, she spoke about how words connect us to the extreme past, through the illuminations, and also material objects. Dr Forsyth went on to describe the symbol of the spiral as “a sending out and a gathering in”, which aptly describes the thought processes and movement of the ‘peregrinatio’ the group has undertaken during the process of ‘convocation’, in order to arrive at the point of this event and exhibition.
Emma Balkind presented a different kind of evidence, with her sound work ‘Raasay AMSR’. AMSR stands for ‘Autonomous sensory meridian response’. It is a perceptual sensation of tingling in the scalp, head or back in response to visual, auditory or olfactory stimuli. ‘Raasay AMSR’ presented recordings from the residency on Raasay, as she wished to “bring back something of the trip for those of you who were not on it with us”. Echoing the fragmentary nature of history that our University of Glasgow colleagues referred to, these contemporary fragments recorded people in the group singing, speaking in different languages including Scottish and Irish Gaelic and Old English, and walking, discussing and listening. As she pointed, out, we never experienced silence.
The ‘Life of St Columba’ by Abbot Adomnan refers to miracles and prophecies. The event had its own serendipitous connection, on the day, as Scottish folk singer Alasdair Roberts was pulled in off the street by audience member Hanna Tuulikki, clutching his new vinyl which also happened to be on the theme of St Columba, ‘St Columba’s Oxter Packet’, his new single with Ivor Kallin on Happy Soul Records. Roberts told the story of the ‘Oxter packet’, where St Columba happened upon a weeping shepherd boy and gave him some herbs to place under his armpit to stop his crying, which it did. The herb was St Johns Wort.
Emma Nicolson, Director of ATLAS Arts, in the reflections section of the event, described our group of historians, artists and organisers as essentially being ‘experimental tourists’, wandering through the fragments of evidence and landscape, trying to understand this past time and saint.