This series of posts tells the story of my trip to Iona in July 2015 with 3 other artists and a film crew. We went to explore an idea we call ‘Wild Curating’ and the background to this project can be found here.
On the long drive from Sheffield to Oban in the midsummer sunshine the signs were literally there: “Heavy rain forecast” flashed with warning lights on the M74. After two years of planning and dreaming and doubting whether we’d be able to pull it off with so many logistical obstacles to overcome we were on our way, the car packed with art materials, film equipment and film crew and with a borrowed roof box taking up the excess luggage. My one naive prayer “please God don’t let it rain all week” *. There was so much I was worried about that could still go wrong but in the end none of the things I was worried about happened and there was so much that I should have been worried about did occur. On every creative adventure the troubles come from peripheral vision, never from the place I’m looking at.
And so, a few hours into the journey on a busy A road, the location of which remains a secret to protect the innocent, I gave a tap on the brakes and there was a bang as the roof box bounced off the car bonnet, sliding for some distance along the road ahead.
After a yell of surprise and then stunned silence we assessed the situation and the twisted remains of the roof rack as the cars backed up behind us. The only solution was to abandon the roof box on the grass verge and pack the luggage around the film crew on the back seat and so we worked quickly with the eerie calm focus that comes with a surge of adrenaline in crisis situations. What other choice did we have but to press on?
Here I am gazing wistfully into the distance at Loch Lomond.
I set off on the trip with such joyful naivety. En route the film crew interviewed me by the Banks of Loch Lomond on a clear Scottish afternoon and I spoke excitedly about the feel of creative energy and the joy of fulfilling a dream. By lunchtime the next day, sodden with rain at the quayside on Iona as I waited for the other artists to arrive all that had ebbed away because the reality of what adventure really means had hit home. The film crew struggled valiantly as rain seeped into their equipment and the water seemed to push against us and everything we were trying to do. My mistake was to think that this beauty was generous but the landscape of searing beauty is an unforgiving place, it is indifferent to our dreams. Tides have flowed for millennia and will flow for millennia more, there are impassive rocks and extravagant skies can change from sunshine to hail stones on a whim whether we are there to experience it or not. Soaking and shivering I realised that everything here would be stripped away, all of us would be cut to the marrow of our souls and there would be nowhere to hide. And that night, tired from the dramas of two days travelling, I cried with my friend who had helped me organise the trip and told her how foolish I felt to bring people from across the world to attempt something that would fail at the first hurdle.
It’s easy to romanticise these experiences, when looking back from the comfort of my sofa in the warm safety of home. On the last day after all that was going to be done had been done and all that was going to happen had happened I sat in the cloisters of Iona Abbey and wrote “Remember that this time you really thought you’d pushed too far.”. A message from myself to remind me not to allow the passage of time to let the harshness fade into softer nostalgia. Because next time when it’s hard I want to remember that this is what happens when you jump off the cliff to follow the source of extravagant and generous creativity.
The question that kept me going was the one that came to me at the roadside with the lucidity of adrenaline: “What other choice but to press on?” To say again and again “yes I’m going to keep going”. To say ‘yes’ when the sun is on my face and the world is shining, to say ‘yes’ when I’m on my knees in the mud and everything has turned to shit.
The alternative is to say ‘no’ to the creative energy that bubbles up from the recesses of the soul. ‘No’ only leads to the grey mundanity of a life lived sitting in front of a TV trying to drown out the quiet yet insistent call of the creative spirit with a million little distractions of Facebook liking and YouTube watching.
On your knees on a far flung island, exhausted in the rain may not be romantic but if we are to make a choice to be fully alive then maybe that’s what it takes.
The rain did stop (eventually) but nothing could have prepared me for the week ahead. Between us, as a group of artists I think we experienced every human emotion that has a name, and plenty that have yet to be named. That’s the deal on any creative journey as we set out into the unknown there is wonder for sure, but the warnings of old are still true: “Here be monsters”.
*hey kids, don’t try this at home, this isn’t how prayer works: God isn’t up there pulling leavers to change the weather at our behest. Or, if s/he is then God has a lot of explaining to do about his/her priorities.