Colm Cille’s Convocation

Colm Cille’s Convocation is part of a wider project across the British Isles (Colm Cille’s Spiral) reimagining the legacy of 6th Century monastic culture. It forms a process of purposeful enquiry and creative dialogue; a ‘journey of ideas’ linking creative and research practices, bringing together artists and scholars.


Gilbert Markus

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: .

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.

Emma Balkind

(CCA event only)

Raasay ASMR

Emma Balkind

“My role on the residency was an illuminator. For this I decided to take along an audio recorder to bring back something of the trip for those of you who were not on it with us. A week on Raasay yielded hours of recordings, and so in order to reflect on the conversations we had together on Raasay, I have picked out some moments which I felt were representative of different aspects of the trip.

People sang, spoke in different languages, taught us skills, read to us, exercised, played instruments, shared stories, gave tarot readings, swam in the sea and shared every meal together. We spent a lot of time outdoors on Raasay, walking and discussing, but mainly listening. I have included some of the sounds of this place and time as we experienced it.”

Emma Balkind is an AHRC PhD Candidate at the Glasgow School of Art. 

Drafts and Fragments from Raasay, Francis McKee, 2013

A new publication presented a diary from Francis McKee’s time on Raasay.




A medievalist: Professor Clare Lees, is explaining to us that Columba and his monks were heavily influenced by the desert fathers – early Christians who retreated to the Scetes desert in Egypt to live as hermits or in monasteries. Rejecting all luxury they dwelt in the utmost simplicity, their lives shaped by the discipline of the monastic routine or by solitary prayer and meditation. Iona was founded on similar principles. The Atlantic ocean became the desert of the Western monks and the islands of the Hebrides were retreats from the mainland…..

Where there is a woman, video, 4 mins, filmed by Talitha Kotze, edited by Ry McLeod



Where there is a woman looks at gender relations in the context of the sea journey, the lyric, the meeting of ocean and land, and the identity of territory. The Gaelic proverb attributed to Columba translates as: ‘Where there is a cow there is a woman. Where there is a woman there is trouble’.

(Gaelic proverb attributed to St Columba / video of women singing and reciting / plan of 2ndC  BC underground tunnel in Raasay / section of spiral form of Dante’s hell / 7thC Latin text of men on sea journey with monsters / 18thC Gaelic text of men on sea journey with monsters)

Johnny Rodger is Reader in Urban Literature at the Glasgow School of Art.



Relic I-VII.  Silver gelatine Prints, 8×10” inches




Hours I – Prime (the new hour). Reversed photographic negative backed with solid sterling silver, 20×24” inches

Hours II – Terce (the golden hour). Reversed photographic negative backed with solid sterling silver, 20×24” inches

Hours III – Sext  (the hour of light). Reversed photographic negative backed with solid sterling silver, 20×24” inches

Hours IV – None (the hour of temptation). Reversed photographic negative backed with solid sterling silver, 20×24” inches

Hours V – Vespers (the hour of contemplation). Reversed photographic negative backed with solid sterling silver, 20×24” inches

Hours VI– Compline (the hour of prayer). Reversed photographic negative backed with solid sterling silver, 20×24” inches

Hours VII- Matin (the longest hour). Reversed photographic negative backed with solid sterling silver, 20×24” inches




1. Longtitude, solid steel plate cut with water, 8×10” inches

2. Latitude, solid steel plate cut with water, 8×10” inches

3. Elevation, solid steel plate cut with water, 8×10” inches

4. Summer Time, solid steel plate cut with water, 8×10” inches

5. Winter Time, solid steel plate cut with water, 8×10” inches

6. Magnetic Declination, solid steel plate cut with water, 8×10” inches

7.Tide, solid steel plate cut with water, 8×10” inches

The work on the project is concerned with the notions of time and place. Making a single picture on each of the canonical hours, which mark the divisions of the day in terms of periods of fixed prayer at regular intervals an attempt is made to connect with a time that has passed. Each hour and each division of the day is characterised by conditions. Conditions of light and conditions of activity describe and organise each day that passed and is to come. The monks that followed this strict structure did so with the intention of allowing for themselves the opportunity to venture on devotional pilgrimages each day. The series of pictures attempts to do the same. The photographic gesture is subject to a strict schedule that occurs every three hours from the first light to the darkest hour. Light and subject matter follow the passing of the time. Each picture is made by reversing a photographic negative and backing it with a plate of solid sterling silver. Dense and heavy, each picture attempts to comment on a set of conditions that surrounds both the photographic gesture and the monastic life. Both are a pilgrimage – and as such both are acts of faith.

Bone fragments, sea shells, stones and quartz crystals were collected throughout the residency and brought back. As with every memento these too speak of an absence and a presence at the same time. Each object was selected, collected, removed and brought back to function as a relic of practices that are migratory and subject to the passage of time.

Each sundial is a marker and a descriptor at the same time.Whilst each individual sundial traces the time, all sundials together mark and describe the particular geographic characteristics of the Isle of Raasay. Longtitude, Latitude, elevation sunrise and sunset, magnetic declination and the duration of the tide are each made into a solar instrument which functions as a system of coordinates.

 Michail Mersinis is a Fine Art Photography tutor at the Glasgow School of Art. 




In Praise of Conjecture, 8 minute .mov, ink and gouache on paper, custom airbrush t-shirt, 4 used books, MDF, (2013) with ‘’Saint Assent’ (11 minute mp3) by David Steans with Iona Smith.


The title is inspired by Desiderius Erasmus’s parodic essay ‘In Praise of Folly’. My own copy of the essay is displayed in book form as part of my response to the residency, which consists of four components laid flat on a single, coffin-esque, plinth: a video, a drawing, used books and a custom airbrush t-shirt. In addition, a commissioned ballad is emitted from inside the plinth.


The video merges footage taken during a promotional interview arranged and shot by GSA Exhibitions department halfway through the residency and footage shot by myself intermittently throughout the residency. I was asked to describe what it was like to work with my fellow residents and what I thought about the ‘mandatory’ reading of The Life of St. Columba. Incidentally, I did not make it to the end of the book. Instead, adopting the viewpoint that just as much, if not more, significance can be gleaned from observing the benefactors of a nationwide project such as this than its supposed cultural target(s), I treated my own unrehearsed answers to the questions from the interview as starting points to make my overall response. The two types of footage differ markedly in their approach. In both I saw ritual behaviour being played out. I wanted to highlight this affinity without labouring upon it too forcefully in postproduction – to mirror in the viewing the conflicted and somewhat improvised nature of my responses in the video. I also wanted to get a sense of how intention may be imposed by others through communal and often seem-less pressures. This is what religious experience is. It is about initiation and the lengths one may go to feel a part of a group or some thing. At a distance I think this process can seem absurd.



On Raasay, academic and non-academic forces fused momentarily but the profanity of it all was impossible to erase. This sentiment may characterise the other works I’ve presented. These make overt references to things historically removed yet closely related to the key thematic question arising from the project; how do we recuperate what we conjecture about ‘distant’ others? I do not know the answer to this question but I feel it involves a fair amount of negation and invention, deliberate or otherwise. So my work may best be seen as an attempt to manifest and prolong the spirit of conjecture inherent to making and legitimising creative acts – notwithstanding this writing!


The sound work included in the plinth installation is Saint Assent, “a horror-story about a Saint who’s lived a long godly selfless life doing good deeds and saintly works. He’s nearing the end of his life and is looking forward to rest. He’s in a cave and picks up a pebble which starts talking to him. The pebble tells him that even though he’s nearing death, he is still going to have to carry on doing good deeds and saintly works. So when he dies he returns from the grave and keeps on trying to do good, of course with contrary results to his good intentions, due to him being a corpse.” David Steans

Hardeep Pandhal is a MFA graduate from the Glasgow School of Art. 

Inbred, fabric, timber, steel, lights (2013)

Inbred is a site-specific installation which sets as its basic premise, the audience’s experience of the space it is surrounded by. Inspired by the architecture of confession boxes, the work invites the audience to circulate around and experience the nuances of light and shade and the internal aesthetic interplay with the architecture of the museum space.

Inspired by the 6th century Irish monk St. Columba and specifically by Adomnán of Iona’s The Life of St. Columba; the work serves as a metaphor of the effect of Divine light during St Columba’s miracles and angelic apparitions.   The presence of “internal light” as a sign of divinity within objects, buildings and rooms is consistent in the Third Book: – “concerning visions and angels”, becoming a pattern throughout. The appearance of  Holy light, during miracles and angelic interventions seems to be a barometer of holiness amongst the brethren in the book. Disclosed or even forbidden at times in the martyries by Adomnán, the non-consented seeing of the holy light is considered sacrilege and can be punished by God through the holy powers of the Saint. The work is inspired by this metaphor and is a derivative of it, using light as a symbol of truth and an end point or Pinnacle.


Augustus Veinoglou lives and works in Edinburgh.

Jessica Ramm

a vision seen in the same hour, cotton, fluorescent lamps, electrical components (2013)

The Walking of the Peats, film with custom display stand (2013)

Soft clods of Scottish earth scrape the ground.

Heavy with the weight of penance, a man exiled from his homeland must make arrangements of the most audacious kind if he wishes to return.

From these strange shoes the dark mud oozes between clinging toes. They are hard to lift, harder still to balance upon.

How curious that a man of such power and certainty should find himself in a position so precarious.

Shuffling forward, back, to the east and to the west, the walk of an exile is awkward and repetitive.

No rest, no end, just Exile.

The light soul and the heavy earth are bound together.

Jessica Ramm is completing her Masters at Edinburgh College of Art. She is from the Isle of Skye.

ColmCilleSpiral:Jess Ramm

Colm Cilles Spiral Susan Brind

Sweet Surrender, neon text, (2013)
Sweet Surrender is a reflection on the final command uttered by St Columba in the C7th to his community on Iona and, somewhere in the background, an aural memory of Tim Buckley’s seductive voice singing the refrain from 1972:  “…. sweet surrender, it’s so sweet to surrender, oh sweet surrender to love …”; his voice an embodiment of earthly passion.  Both speak of love; one secular the other sacred but both felt intensely.  It was said by St Adomnán that Columba was so loved that he was visited by angels; immaterial beings who could move between the heavenly and physical worlds.  Accounts tell of how seeing an ‘angel’ can illuminate one’s whole being.

On the last day of his life, at the point when his corporeal self was giving way to unite with the Divine he so desired, and with foresight of the imminence of his death, Columba said:  “love one another unfeignedly”.  Four simple words but can we really understand them in their fullest sense?

Susan Brind is Reader in Contemporary Art and lectures in the Department of Sculpture & Environmental Art, co-ordinating the final year undergraduate and M Litt programmes, as well as supervising PhD students at The Glasgow School of Art.

The nature of I, Peat, 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. 


Remembering the Celtic Peregrinati – Saint Patrick, Brendan and Columba

North – Looking towards Scotland. The North Channel, Benbane Head, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, 2013. The North-west Point of Northern Ireland.

East most – Looking towards Scotland. The North Channel and The Irish Sea. Burr Point, The Ards Peninsula, County Down, Northern Ireland, 2013. The East-most point of all Ireland.

ColmCilleSpiral Thomas Joshua Cooper

Looking towards Ireland – St Patrick’s birthplace. The River Mite, Ravenglass, Cumbria (2013)

Evening – The Reputed Burial Place of the Irish Saints –Patrick, Brigid and Columba. The River Quoile, Downpatrick, County Down, Ireland (2013)

Evening – St Columba’s Birthplace. Gartan Lough, County Donegal, Ireland (2013)

Last light – Looking West – the Birthplace of St Brendan the Navigator, the Wanderer. The North Atlantic Ocean and Brendon Bay, Brandon Point, The Dingle Peninsula, County Derry, Ireland, (2002-13)

Last Light – High wind – A Crossing Point. The River Foyle – Lowther Peace Bridge, Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland (2013)


 Over an eleven day period, Thomas Joshua Cooper, travelled to Skye, Raasay, Cumbria and Northern Ireland, covering a total of 3135 miles.

He worked on two photographic bodies of work. For one series, he went to the very edges of land, visiting the cardinal points of Northern Ireland including Benbane Head, County Antrim, the north-west point and then onto the east-most point at Burr Point on the Ards Peninsula.  In particular, with the latter location, he focused on the view from Ireland across the water to Scotland, aiming to echo St Columba’s last view from Ireland, before his exile to Scotland.

For the second series, he travelled to photograph the birthplaces of Saint Patrick, St Brendan and St Columba. The way he described Lough Gartan, St Columba’s birthplace as having, “Three silver birches, leaning towards the Lough, a trinity picture”, echoes the mention of trees in Sorley MacLean’s poem ‘Hallaig’. MacLean imagines the cleared village’s absent women as, “ … a wood of birch trees / Standing tall, with their heads bowed.”

Cooper also described the title of the residency and exhibition ‘Convocation’ as having meaning for him in terms of how he works with the land, as he only takes one negative at each site. “Can there be a convocation with the site? In enough silence, things will speak. If there is enough respect and the site is willing to participate, then that for me is a conversation.”

Professor Thomas Joshua Cooper is School of Fine Art’s Senior Researcher at The Glasgow School of Art. 

Colm Cille's Spiral Map

Convocation: Colm Cille’s Spiral exhibition ran 12 Oct – 1 Nov 2013 at Mackintosh Museum,  Glasgow School of Art. Participating artists were Emma Balkind,Susan Brind, Thomas Joshua Cooper, Caroline Dear, Michail Mersinis, Hardeep Pandhal, Francis McKee, Edwin Pickstone, Jessica Ramm, Johnny Rodger, Augustus Veinoglou. All were invited to write about their work, and this information was available during the exhibition. The following posts will include each artist an image of their work.

Edwin Pickstone: Illuminator

Map of a Convocation: Raasay, Letterpress print on Ordanance Survey map, gold bronzing powder (2013)

Using the landscape to structure content, the print is a map of Raasay and of the residency; It both records our experience and offers a guide to the processes behind the artworks. Influences in editing, composition and typography were drawn from illuminated manuscripts, early medieval maps and 18th century design practices (the latter made relevant through Samuel Johnson’s 1773 account of the island).


convocation, Mackintosh Museum, GSA

Documentation from ‘Convocation’ exhibition at The Glasgow School of Art, which ran 12 Oct – 1 Nov 2013, can be viewed on Flickr at

With work by Emma Balkind, Susan Brind, Thomas Joshua Cooper, Caroline Dear, Francis McKee, Michail Mersinis, Hardeep Pandhal, Edwin Pickstone, Jessica Ramm, Johnny Rodger and Augustus Veinoglou.

Photography: Janet Wilson

Glasgow School of Art (GSA Exhibitions) have produced a short film about the residency on Raasay, forming the first part of the Convocation.

see it here!

Convocation: Colm Cille’s Spiral Raasay residency August 2013 from The Glasgow School of Art

Filmed by Talitha Kotze, Edited by Kate Robertson

Thomas Joshua Cooper. Photo: Laura Indigo Cooper

Thomas Joshua Cooper. Photo: Laura Indigo Cooper

Thomas Joshua Cooper. Photo: Laura Indigo Cooper

Thomas Joshua Cooper. Photo: Laura Indigo Cooper

Over an eleven day period, GSA’s Head of Fine Art Photography Thomas Joshua Cooper travelled to Skye, Raasay, Cumbria and Northern Ireland, covering a total of 3135 miles.

He worked on two photographic bodies of work. For the first, he travelled to photograph the birthplaces of Saint Patrick, St Brendan and St Columba. His description of Lough Gartan, St Columba’s birthplace, echoes the mention of trees in Sorley MacLean’s poem ‘Hallaig’. MacLean imagines the cleared village’s absent women as, “ … a wood of birch trees / Standing tall, with their heads bowed.” Cooper speaks of, “Three silver birches, leaning towards the Lough, a trinity picture”.

For his second series, he went to the very edges of land, visiting the cardinal points of Northern Ireland including Benbane Head, County Antrim, the north-west point and then onto the east-most point at Burr Point on the Ards Peninsula.  In particular, with the latter location, he focused on the view from Ireland across the water to Scotland, aiming to echo St Columba’s last view from Ireland, before his exile to Scotland.

A quote from a book brought in during our residency by local Raasay resident Jenifer Burnet, describes who St Columba was in terms of the cardinal points.

‘In the West he [St Columba] was called upon as a bard, a guardian of the magical powers inherent in the literary traditions of the Celtic languages; in the North, he was a prince, a member of a prestigious lineage with a responsibility for the defence of his people; in the East he was a father, an abbot who was a just and tender provider of the many monks under his care and in the South he was a priest who dealt directly with the forces of the Otherworld.’ 1

In an interview after he had returned firstly from Raasay, Cooper explained his relation to the land and how it impacts on his photographic process. In particular, the group’s question on Peregrinatio had a real resonance for Cooper in describing his creative practice, which involves going out to the edges of the world. He described peregrinatio as, “The compulsion to send yourself out on potentially an unending, undestined voyage”. He went on to say, “As soon as I heard it [peregrinatio], it’s one of those words. It creates through syllabic movement a motion, and I have been set in that motion always, since as a boy. I find my way but I never know where the way is”.

Cooper also described the title of our project ‘Convocation’ as having meaning for him in terms of how he works with the land, as he only takes one negative at each site. “Can there be a convocation with the site? In enough silence, things will speak. If there is enough respect and the site is willing to participate, then that for me is a conversation.”

1 P. 252, ‘Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World’, John O’Donahue

Jenny Brownrigg

Thomas Joshua Cooper. Photo: Laura Indigo Cooper

Thomas Joshua Cooper. Photo: Laura Indigo Cooper

Thomas Joshua Cooper. Photo: Laura Indigo Cooper

Thomas Joshua Cooper. Photo: Laura Indigo Cooper


No Playing on Sundays, Raasay

No Playing on Sundays, Raasay

We leave the island today.

Over the course of the week, we have oscillated between the rational and aspects of faith or mystery. The artists in the group are comfortable about using the latter terminology in talking about their practice, with Michail Mersinis talking about “photography as an act of faith”. The group are split however between the two entities when thinking about ‘The Life of St Columba’. “Maybe the book doesn’t want you to know”, Clare Lees said earlier in the week. “The book is its own I”.

As we sat in the waiting room yesterday evening for our last discussion, looking out to the ferry making its way in between Raasay and Skye, it was a good location to highlight that the group are at the start of seeing how the information from the week will filter down into their practice. Distance and the return home seemed to be the next stage that will help us see what we have learnt.

Jennifer Burnet, the woman who helped Jessica Ramm cut peat, has been visiting Raasay House with a wealth of information in forms of books, photocopies and photographs relating to our area of enquiry. A quote from one of the books she brought, sums up our first phase of the Spiral.

“The Celtic mind was never drawn to the single line; it avoided ways of seeing and being which seek satisfaction in certainty. The Celtic mind had a wonderful respect for the mystery of the circle and spiral”1

1 ‘Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World’, John O’Donahue

18.6.13 Jenny Brownrigg

The group at Hallaig

The group at Hallaig

The group on hilltop at Hallaig

The group on hilltop at Hallaig

Yesterday was bookended with both a real and a transmitted experience of the same place, Hallaig. In the morning, Emma Nicolson led the group on a walk to this cleared village situated in the south-east of Raasay. In the evening we watched we watched Francis Mckee’s copy of ”Hallaig: The Poetry and the Landscape of Sorley MacLean’ 1

‘Back through the gloaming to Hallaig,
Through the vivid and speechless air,
Pouring down the steep slopes,
Their laughter misting my ear.’ 2

Emma Balkind, one of our illuminators, has been recording the sound of our field trips and conversations. When we interviewed her for the short film we are making about the residency, she said, “I felt I was switched on all the time”. She and her microphone have captured the layers of words and movement of the group, alongside the land and the sea around us. I asked her if she has managed to record silence at Hallaig and she said no. Even when Johnny Rodger, one of the most ebullient in our group, asks for silence on the hill, the put-put-put of a boat out on the Sound can be heard, followed by the musical tone of a button on a digital camera.

In the evening, the cadence of Sorley MacLean’s voice and his delivery of the word ‘Thisssssss….’ sticks in my mind. The letter ‘s’, a spiral in form, fizzes in his mouth, shaping the word into a new sound and entity.

How can something, as Sorley MacLean has it, be ‘vivid and speechless’ at the same time? Much of our discussions have circled around pairs of words that come from different realms but are interwoven in order to exist: Faith and Doubt. Rational and Spiritual. Discipline and Devotion. History and Present. Interior and Exterior. Both Clare Lees and Kathryn Maude from King’s College London talked of the desire for dates in their field to evidence an occurrence or event versus the reality of the gaps that exist. As Clare put it, “My career is half-knowing things”. There are many different ways of learning, from the academic to the intuitive. In our discussions over Raasay, “The landscape has unsettled the theory”. 3 We have referred to the remoteness of the past whilst being surrounded by three billion year old rock.The Spiral is still turning, but it is important to acknowledge “Thisssssss”; that the disjoints, impossibilities, gaps and unknowns occurring are as important as the entities that surround them.

1 ‘Hallaig: The Poetry and the Landscape of Sorley MacLean’, originally produced by The Island House Film Workshop, Alva (1984), a film by Timothy Neat.

2 ‘Hallaig’ by Sorley MacLean, translated by Seamus Heaney.

3 Francis McKee’s observation

Hallaig, Raasay

Hallaig, Raasay

Ruin, Hallaig, Raasay

Ruin, Hallaig, Raasay

16.8.13 Jenny Brownrigg

Author Roger Hutchinson and Emma Nicolson, Director ATLAS Arts

Author Roger Hutchinson and Emma Nicolson, Director ATLAS Arts

“It’ll be like an Autobahn” 1

Emma Nicolson, Director of ATLAS Arts, joined the Spiral. Her input on the shaping of the project, her choice of Raasay as location and suggestion of Skye artists Caroline Dear and Jessica Ramm, has proved invaluable. Emma invited local author Roger Hutchinson to meet the group and talk about ‘Calum’s Road’, which tells the true story of a road built over ten years by one man on his time off, Calum MacLeod, to link up to his declining community of Airnish at the north of Raasay.

MacLeod wanted a ‘motor road’, using a 1901 book about building roads for motor vehicles to act has his guide. Using a pick, wheelbarrow, spade and hammer to make the road from stones, his friends also got him dynamite, which he used to blow up a local landmark, a stack that was in the way of the road. He completed the road in 1979, at a point when it was only he and his wife remained in Airnish.

Roger Hutchinson covered the ‘practical sphere and metaphorical sphere’ of this true story. He said that MacLeod was aware he was ‘building a metaphor’ as he fully realised that the migration from his home community was terminal. As the local council, Inverness County Council, had always refused to build the road, latterly citing their decision in view of unsustainable costs for such an enterprise, for such a low population, MacLeod also knew he was building something subversive. Hutchinson said that the Raasay islanders he interviewed said, “Just how he did it was beyond belief to all of us”.

Hutchinson proved to be a great storyteller. He concluded that Calum Macleod died in 1988, found by his wife in his wheelbarrow, presumed to have had a heart attack. Calum MacLeod was posthumously awarded a British Empire Medal, not for the feat of building singlehanded this two mile stretch of road, but for his work as an assistant lighthouse keeper.

1 Vision of Calum MacLeod, Oct 1982, ‘Calum’s Road’, Roger Hutchinson, 2008, Birlinn Limited

Author Roger Hutchinson gives talk at Raasay House to group

Author Roger Hutchinson gives talk at Raasay House to group

15.8.13 Jenny Brownrigg

Edwin Pickstone's rope

Edwin Pickstone’s rope

The rhythm of the residency has changed.

After saying goodbye to the Medievalists, the day became one of ‘Disperse and Distill’ for the group, allowing time for ideas to form and information to settle. Artists set out both individually and in small groups, to swim, walk, and cycle across the island. Some sat with Skye artist Caroline Dear to learn how to make ropes from the reeds near the beach. Jessica Ramm went in search of a local resident who still cut peat, meeting Jennifer, who showed her a Viking burial mound and discussed the Celtic spirit along the way to the peat bank. Hardeep Pandhal found two containers of Camp Coffee in Raasay House’s library, and thought one of us had placed them there on purpose. He is currently making work back in Glasgow about this coffee originating from the same city, bearing its picture label of a Sikh servant serving a British soldier with a cup.

Augustus Veinoglou summed up the type of endeavour many have at this point, by saying “I want to extract wisdom from this space”. What is this space formed from? We have the book, our conversations with each other and the Medievalists, our past work, this location, experiments, serendipity and the unknown we are yet to encounter.

A number of artists have previously explored aspects of extraction, dispersal or distillation in their work. Edwin Pickstone, one of our illuminators, runs the Letterpress at The Glasgow School of Art. He gave us a summary of the Letterpress at the artists’ presentations, focusing on what this form of production had historically meant, speeding up the hand printing process by ‘the equivalent of 300 years’. Edwin said that learning about the placement of type, helps computer-literate students to understand the weight of space between words. He showed us an image of a close-up of the edge of an 8pt letter ‘e’, the black ink seeping into the white pulp of the paper. This view pushed the physical matter of language into an unknown territory. In his work ‘The Components of the Complete Compact English Dictionary’, Edwin distilled the dictionary ( a book already condensed from twenty-six books into one, through the use of 1pt font) into the sum of its parts – namely 1123 sheets of bible paper and a concentrated poured blob of 128.8 grams of black ink equalling the exact weight of its words. For Convocation, Edwin plans to distill ideas, activity and information of the residency onto the surface of a Raasay map.

In ‘Life of St Columba’, Book Two, there is a story of a knife, which following St Columba’s blessing, has the sacred property that it cannot harm man nor beast. ‘Having discovered this fact…. the monks melted down the iron of that knife and then coated the liquid metal on to all the other iron tools in the monastery. From then on, these tools were unable to harm any flesh…’.

Michail Mersinis has been mixing liquid silver to coat photograph plates, for his series of Raasay landscapes he is making, taking each image at the same times of day and night when the monks prayed.

14.8.13 Jenny Brownrigg

“The stone was dipped in some water, where, in defiance of nature, it floated miraculously on the surface like an apple or a nut, for that which the saint had blessed could not be made to sink.” 1

Through listening to the artists’ presentations and talks on Raasay, there have been a number of links to stones and sorrow.

Ceara Conway, Raasay. Photo: Francis Mckee

Ceara Conway, Raasay. Photo: Francis Mckee

Ceara Conway, the artist commissioned to make work for the Derry~Londonderry knot on the Spiral, has been part of our group and gave a talk on Tuesday night on her practice and this particular project. As part of her research she visited the Stone of Sorrows at Gartan, St Columba’s birthplace in Co. Donegal. This was the stone it is said St Columba laid down and slept on, during his last night on Ireland before he was exiled. He was so full of loneliness and sorrow, but as he lay on the stone, the stone took these feelings away from him. Ceara went on to say that the stone became a site of ritual, for those leaving Ireland through the ages, in exile or emigration, to spend their last night in Ireland there. This longing and sorrow became part of her performance and sung lament, ‘Vicissitudes’, which took place in a boat on the River Foyle.

Kathryn Maude, King's College London

Kathryn Maude, King’s College London

Kathryn Maude from King’s College London gave her talk last night to the group on her area of research, looking at the texts both on and by women in the Medieval period. With so few texts remaining- approximately 5 letters and 2 poems over a 500 year period- she read a section from ‘The Wife’s Lament’ in Old English, which is written in a woman’s voice. “I sing this poem full of grief, full of sorrow about my life”. 2 Kathryn went on to say as well as the distance in time she feels from these women there is also an ‘emotional gap’.

Jessica Ramm sang the Gaelic song “The Cave of Gold” as part of her presentation, where a playing piper ventures deeper and deeper into a cave, in search of gold he has heard lies at the base of it. Those outside can hear the spiral of sound moving away from them, getting fainter and fainter, until the sound of the pipes at the end is transformed into unbearable discord, as the piper has met his end with the ‘Green She-Bitch’.

Over the course of this residency, the scholars and artists have offered several texts and song from different languages and times, including Latin, Gaelic, Irish Gaelic and Old English. Performing these to the group, it brings forward Professor Clare Lees’ notion of performative time: “See! Look! We’re here!” Rather than time being linear, in this moment the link to emotion and voice brings the past breaking through the surface of the present.

14.8.13 Jenny Brownrigg


1 ‘Life of St Columba’, p.182′, Adomnan of Iona

2 ‘The Wife’s Lament’, translated by Eavan Boland, ‘Making New the Word-Hoard. The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon poems in translation’, edited by Greg Delanty and Michael Matto, published by Norton

Group discussion on Raasay beach

Group discussion on Raasay beach

Whoever wishes to explore the Way,

Let him set out, what more is there to say?”

In Sue Brind’s presentation today, she referenced our question of Peregrinatio, through Farid ud’din Attar’s C13th poem, ‘The Conference of the Birds’, where, as she outlined,

“The Hoopoe tries to lead all the birds of the world on a journey to find the Simorgh- the Persian name for a benevolent flying creature-who appears in Attar’s poem as the illusive King of the whole World. It will be an arduous journey, over deserts, mountains and through valleys, gaining knowledge along the way. Only 30 birds have the courage to complete. They finally arrive at the land of Simorgh and what they discover is a mountain lake in whose surface is revealed a reflection of their true selves”. 1

In our journey of ideas and expedition for new knowledge, as we explore the histories behind ‘Colm Cille’s Spiral’ then hear about the group’s own work as individuals, what is our objective? Do we wish the group to find St Columba, and what he means for our times, by peering at history through the mountain lake’s calm surface, or instead to have the ‘sea churning and lashing itself, in maniacal states’? 2

‘The Spiral’ is a common form in manuscripts and monuments, which amongst various meanings represents the dialectic; a method of debate for resolving disagreement. The discursive nature of this project is intended to mirror this dialectic. Where do you enter and exit the Spiral, if it has no beginning or end? The ongoing discussions at different times of the day, both formally in the allotted time at different points of the island, and informally over meals, travel and sharing each others’ space, have allowed us to enter into the debate at diverse points. Through strange alignments of place, repetition, language, mirroring, dislocation, thought and reflection, we are beginning to circle Colm Cille’s Spiral. At times we move away, only to return to the anchor of the book ‘The Life of St Columba’. Where one person finishes speaking, another loops in with the next point or observation.

If you unravel a spiral you will always find a circle. I can recognise Convocation’s structure as made up of three interlocking circles. At the beginning of the project, the working group debated and discussed ideas for the structure. This has been developed until it could be a feasible form to be opened up and made public to the group of artists and scholars participating in the residency on Raasay. The final circle occurs in October, when in the exhibition and event opens up and presents the first two circles for public engagement with a new audience.

History has proved to be a spiral for the group, at times running parallel only to slip out of reach. Yesterday we saw, at a distance, disturbances on the water of the Sound, and birds hovering, then two whales coming out of the water. Professor Clare Lees from King’s College London had, before to this event, spoken of, “The past surfacing like a whale in the present”.

The Spiral is turning each day of the residency. Yesterday, the medievalists successfully illuminated the historical background to the questions. The day was intense with information, with so much of a rich oral resource created it would be impossible to capture it as a whole. Today, the next turn on the Spiral occurred, with the morning’s focus on presentations by each of the group on their practice. Like links in the knot, hearing about each other’s processes and ideas allowed connections to be made between each other and also to begin to see connections to this project.

In the morning Francis McKee observed that the default of yesterday’s discussions had been on the rational, looking at the geo-political aspects of the text, whereas in essence this book is equally about the spiritual, with much emphasis on miracles and prayer. This afternoon’s discussion, on the beach of stones near Raasay House, allowed us to begin with reference to mystery and spirit. As the group unconsciously sat in a spiral formation, in this open landscape and often in a light rain, we saw the other side of the Spiral, and the that the rational and the spiritual exist at the same time. Francis talked of the tradition of immersive prayer, taking place in water. We had originally gone to the beach, as members of the group had wanted to swim there. At the end of the discussion, it seemed fitting that the work of the mind gave way to the embodied experience of the water.

1 Susan Brind and Jim Harold, presented at CCA, Glasgow, for ‘What we make with words’, Artists’ Readings, 10.12.11

2 This quote comes from Johnny Rodger’s presentation, where he quoted from ‘The Long Ship of Clan Ranald’, by Gaelic poet Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair.

The group swims off Raasay

The group swims off Raasay

The group travels around Raasay

The group travels around Raasay

Today the group journeyed by minibus to both the north and south of Raasay. In order to find a foothold in history, and to find a way from our contemporary perspective to respond creatively to the legacy of Colm Cille, Convocation has been structured to begin with a series of questions that can give the historic background to themes that have been identified to be of interest, and also to offer the opportunity to engage with and open up the subjects through discussion within the group. The questions were illuminated by Professor Clare Lees and Kathryn Maude from Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies at King’s College London.

Our first stop was the beach at Brochel Castle, to look at aspects of time. To what extent can this project genuinely engage with the extreme past? Should we connect a contemporary response to the extreme past or should we maintain the gap between present and past?

Calum's Road, Raasay

Calum’s Road, Raasay

We then moved onto Calum’s Road, past the ‘deep time’ represented by the oldest rocks on the island, thought to be 3 billion years old, Lewisian Gneiss, to explore the subject of landscape and spirit. How was ‘place’ thought of in the past? Words such as nature and environment are a contemporary concept. At the third site, Calum’s Cairn, positioned at a commanding viewing point looking over the Sound to Skye, we discussed Peregrinatio and began to identify the different ways in which we can think of travelling or the journey, whether through pilgrimage, exile or from life to death. Throughout our day today, St Columba and his life and death, evidenced 100 years later by Adomnan of Iona, were present. We looked at the questions and contradictions within the life of St Columba, standing round the cist at Eyre, in itself a holder for the dead. What was more important during this time – life or afterlife? Rational truth or devotional truth? How should the book be read? Is it formulaic or symbolic? What is the nature of justice in this book? Then onto the iron ore mines, we stood inside one of the ruins and looked at the notions of the monastery as a way of working. Is there a tension between the individual and the community? What is the economy of the monastery?

Tomorrow we will begin the morning of artists’ presentations with the last question, on The Spiral. How do you navigate the Spiral? Where do you enter and exit the Spiral? What do we do with this knowledge? Is contemplation a privilege?

Brochel Castle, Raasay. Photo: Francis Mckee

Brochel Castle, Raasay. Photo: Francis Mckee

13.8.13 Jenny Brownrigg

The following blog posts 5-12 were written during the residency on Raasay 12-18 August by The Glasgow School of Art’s Exhibitions Director Jenny Brownrigg. They look at the experience of the residency, the ground covered and begin to make connections between the subject matter and the group.



How do you navigate the Spiral? Where does it start and end?

Today the group of 18 artists, scholars and organisers, completed their journeys from London, Galway, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Skye to converge on Raasay for the beginning of ‘Convocation’ and the Scottish knot of Colm Cille’s Spiral.

The Citylink bus from Glasgow, drives through a brooding Glencoe, stopping long enough in Fort William for a leg stretch, then onwards, looping past the waymarkers I always look out for on the way to Skye- the best historically named diner in the Highlands Jac-o-bites, the dramatically picture postcard positioned Eilean Donan Castle, followed by the more modest white house of author Gavin Maxwell which nestles at the foot of the Skye bridge. I see some new signs to me on Skye such as Saucy Mary’s Hostel and the Happy Hand Spinner’s studio. After the arc of the road bridge, we see another- a complete rainbow on the Sound.

The group may not all know each other, but the fact that all have been asked to dip into Abbot Adomnan’s ‘Life of St Columba’, gives a shared starting point, with each having their own observations on the text. As people seat hop over the seven hours of travel, we enter the Spiral of St Columba through conversation. Emma Balkind mentions that it is can be noted in our present and past that there has always been a threat, whether from the heathens of the past or terrorists of today. Johnny Rodger, from the GSA’s School of Architecture, talks about Columba’s ‘Back of the Hill’ on Iona, and how in Gaelic it is ‘tonn air gaoithe’, an architectural principal of orientating the back of the house to face the elements, as we see in black houses. Michael Mersinis mentions he has set himself the nighttime task of celestial photography whilst on the island, with long exposures to catch the light of the stars. The next three days, if the clouds part, we will have meteor showers.

The bus driver asks if there is a party at Sconser with so many of us getting off there, to go to Raasay. Then following a 25 min ferry ride, we arrive at an island off an island, Raasay, our destination. There is much to be discovered- a napoleonic fort, the Cave of the Oars, the remains of a prisoner of war camp and the oldest and youngest rock formations on the island. Time stretches out.

12.8.13 Jenny Brownrigg


Emma Balkind

From the artist group, Emma Balkind and Edwin Pickstone have both been assigned the role of the ‘Illuminator’. St Columba’s story was mediated through an Abbot called Adomnan. The role of the mediator or observer witnessing the story is an important one, so two ‘illuminators’ will make up the group. Their role will be to creatively document the journey of thought and creative enquiry that the group takes through the stages of the project. Their process will also echo the theme of the project as a whole which is to ‘illuminate contemporary responses to the extreme past’. As the monks illuminated scripts, these modern-day illuminators will map the discussions of the ‘Convocation’.

Emma chose to record the layers of conversation that went on during the residency and the sounds of Raasay, in order to make a sound map of the ‘Spiral’. Edwin wrote down the groups ideas, prophecies and details of their physical journeys across the island. He will use Letterpress techniques to make a map of the groups’ encounters.


The Illuminators

Photo: Francis Mckee

In ‘Convocation’ there are six practitioners funded through Creative Futures: Jessica Ramm and Caroline Dear from Skye; Hardeep Pandhal, Emma Balkind and Edwin Pickstone from Glasgow; and Augustus Veinoglou from Edinburgh. They were joined by Ceara Conway, an artist from Galway, who was commissioned for the first ‘knot’ of the Spiral for Derry~ Londonderry, with her work ‘Vicissitudes’

The Glasgow School of Art through Research Development Funding, made it possible for Sue Brind (tutor, Sculpture and Environmental Art), Professor Thomas Cooper (Head of Fine Art Photography), Michail Mersinis (tutor, Fine Art Photography) and Johnny Rodger (Reader in Urban Literature) to participate.

The selected practitioners are cross-disciplinary in nature, including sound, performance and text-based. They were selected as their own areas of enquiry broadly link to the themes of ‘Convocation’ in order to gain the most from this opportunity and the themes of St Columba, which are defined as interests in knowledge (learning, writing, books as source of power), languages and cultures, Water & Crossings, belief, story-telling, landscape or ‘The Miraculous & the Supernatural’.

The ‘Convocation’ group are at different stages of their careers, from emergent to established. To read more about each participant, please go to:’s-spiral/participants/

First night on Raasay

‘Convocation’ is  formed by a process of purposeful enquiry and creative dialogue, creating a ‘journey of ideas’ which links creative and research practices by bringing together a group of artists and scholars. ‘The Spiral’ is a common form in manuscripts and monuments, which amongst various meanings represents the dialectic; a method of debate for resolving disagreement.

The format of ‘Convocation’ echoes the dynamic of the ‘spiral’ rather than a circle or cycle, with the group gathering on Raasay, an island off Skye (Ruminatio), then dissipating (Meditatio), then re-gathering in Glasgow (Revelatio). The aim is to create new knowledge through making contemporary responses to the extreme past. To aid this enquiry and engagement, the group responded to a series of questions around aspects of time (connecting a contemporary response to the extreme past); notions of the monastery; spirit and landscape; ‘The Life of St Columba’ by Abbot Adomnan; ‘Peregrinatio’ (Latin for pilgrimage); and The Spiral.

Beginning with an intensive six-day residency on Raasay, as island off Skye, the Medievalists Professor Clare Lees and Kathryn Maude (King’s College London) illuminated these questions that were linked to St Columba and medieval thinking. As a device, the questions enabled the group to explore the relevance of past ways of thinking and understanding from a contemporary perspective. This exploration allowed for and encouraged group as well as individual responses, linking to ideas of ‘the monastery’ as a place to develop knowledge through existing and generating ideas in a community.

The ‘Convocation’ group moves from the rural to the city over the course of the project, in order to echo the Celtic perception that the ‘Centre of Thinking’ was historically viewed as the island or the monastery; and what was outside this was seen as ‘the peripheral imagination’. This is the inverse of the contemporary perspective which sees the rural as the periphery and the city as the centre. In October 2013 the group re-gathers in Glasgow, to give their creative responses through an event at CCA, and an exhibition at The Glasgow School of Art.

Curatorially, the unique structure for ‘Convocation’ and selection of themes were inspired by a series of meetings between the organisers and academics from University of Glasgow’s Celtic, Gaelic, Music, Art History and Archaeology Depts, including Dr Debra Strickland, Dr Katherine Forsyth, Prof Graham Caie, Professor Thomas Clancy and Gilbert Markus. From these early discussions it was agreed that a series of questions would ‘orientate’ the group on the island regarding the subject matter and background information, whilst also sparking connections for the practitioners. It was felt important that the questions could lead to ‘open creative acts’ rather than be prescriptive, allowing space for those involved to interpret and misinterpret. It was suggested at this early stage that the movement of project  should have the dynamic of the ‘spiral’ rather than a circle or cycle, created by the  group gathering, then dissipating, then re-gathering. Dr Katherine Forsyth recommended that the residency group should read ‘Life of St Columba’ by Abbot Adomnan, a book written 100 years after St Columba’s death. This book became the touchstone for the group to continue to return to whilst on Raasay.

The Glasgow School of Art with CCA, ATLAS Arts and University of Glasgow are part of a unique partnership and project that is part of the Derry~ Londonderry City of Culture programme. Colme Cille’s Spiral is a series of contemporary art and literature commissions and dialogues rethinking the legacy of 6th Century Irish monk Colm Cille (St Columba),  which in its entirety unfolds across Ireland and the UK, starting and ending in Derry~Londonderry for City of Culture 2013. The Glasgow School of Art leads on Scotland’s ‘Knot’ that forms the spiral. Jenny Brownrigg, Exhibitions Director, The Glasgow School of Art is the curatorial lead for ‘Convocation’.

The project title, ‘Convocation’, means ‘a calling together’. For ‘Convocation’, a group of eighteen scholars and artists have gathered, in order to make a contemporary response to this ‘extreme past’, using the book ‘Life of Saint Columba’ by Abbot Adomnan, written 100 years after St Columba died, as their starting point. The group journeyed to Raasay, off Skye 12-18 Aug 2013, for an intensive residency. An exhibition in Mackintosh Museum at The Glasgow School of Art (12 Oct-1 Nov) and concurrent event 2-5pm 11 Oct at CCA, Glasgow, will share their resulting works and findings. The work will go on to be shown at London Street Gallery, Londonderry ~ Derry (30 Nov-15 Dec 2013) at the final exhibition that gathers all six projects of ‘Colm Cille’s Spiral’ together.

Colme Cille’s Spiral is a Difference Exchange project in partnership with The Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies, Kings College London. Please see for further information on the wider project. ‘Convocation’ is part of Creative Scotland’s Creative Futures Programme.

Emma Balkind, Sue Brind, Thomas Joshua Cooper, Caroline Dear, Michail Mersinis, Hardeep Pandhal, Edwin Pickstone, Jessica Ramm, Johnny Rodger, Augustus Veinoglou are the ‘Convocation’ group. They were joined on the residency by Ceara Conway, an artist from Galway commissioned to make work for the first ‘Knot’ of the Spiral in Derry~Londonderry, our two medievalists Professor Clare Lees and Kathryn Maude (Phd candidate, King’s College London) and the ‘Convocation’ organisers Jenny Brownrigg and Talitha Kotze (GSA Exhibitions), Francis Mckee (CCA), Emma Nicolson (ATLAS Arts) and John Hartley (Difference Exchange).

'Convocation' Group, Raasay

Image: Group on Raasay, (l to r) Francis Mckee, Ceara Conway, Sue Brind, Hardeep Pandhal, Talitha Kotze, Jessica Ramm, Johnny Rodger, Jenny Brownrigg, Caroline Dear, Augustus Veinoglou, Edwin Pickstone, Kathryn Maude (King’s College London), Emma Balkind, Professor Clare Lees (King’s College London) and daughter Cora