Monday, 18 January 2010

The Illumination at Garths Ness

This illumination has been hard to install, but I like it a lot. Although I must say that I am still a little stunned that we have done it earlier than originally planned! I ran into a friend at the airport when I went to see Nayan off. Jane and I had a really good chat about looking at light. I feel so heartened because she said that the work has made her aware of light in a new way. Nayan took this photo just before leaving late last night.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Tough Going in Mud and Wind

The winds were pretty fierce last night as were were working at Garths Ness. I've read on the Internet today that the gales are severe south to south easterly and today there may be gusts up to 70 mph. Our site at the former Listening Station is rather exposed and it's tough getting around, not only because the wind threatens to blow me over, but also because there is mud everywhere. Animals shelter among the empty buildings, and there is plenty of evidence of cows, sheep and rabbits everywhere, and sometimes it even seems ankle deep. This installation is the first we've had to do in this smelly mud.

Addressing the Lights at the Former Listening Station

Last night Pete, Emma and Nayan got all the lights set in their final places and later Nayan and I "addressed" the lights. This process of "addressing" is really important and needs doing before Nayan can begin the programming. We had to work out which light corresponded to each number, 1 to 20, on the software programme. The process of setting up the lights attracts attention, and I think some folk think this is our illumination and they begin to pass judgement before it's actually even started! But last night it was really nice because a young couple who live across the water noticed the lights from their house and drove over to ask what we were doing. They wished us good luck with it. I hope they come back to have a closer look once we're finished!

Friday, 15 January 2010

Setting Up at Reawick Congregational Church

I've just got home from the West Side. Nayan and I worked very late last night and tonight to get the illumination finished at Reawick Church. This photo I took with my mobile phone shows Emma and Nayan working to set up the lights last night. I love the site for the way the church is perched on a hill overlooking the community.

Nayan and I drove around the voe in order to see how the lights worked from different viewpoints. We watched our test programme from a high point just opposite the church. When the lights are bright and crisp, the architecture of the church is emphasised. But from a distance, when we'd only illuminated the gable ends, I got a sense of sails as I was watching across the water, with all the local boats in view, too. Then blue lights made it almost seem like Mirrie Dancers. Someone in Yell described the way the illumination at the Sand Dunes seemed like the Mirrie Danciers. Just when you think you have the lights in focus, they change. I got this feeling tonight, too, in Skeld.

In this photo you can see Nayan working on the programming. It was so fine to be able to work indoors where it was warm and light. Usually we sit in the car to do this job!

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Glamour of Being an Artist

Some people think that being an artist gives you a rather glamourous and easy life style. That may be the case for some, but for our Mirrie Dancers team, it is more like very hard work in sometimes horrible weather conditions. Early mornings and late nights lead to severe exhaustion, too. We are also working at night, in the dark, which is an entirely new experience for me. Last night at Reawick Church it was windy, wet and freezing cold. You can see Emma and Nayan working with the lights in this little mobile phone film. Sitting in the dark greenhouses at midnight or hunched over a laptop in a dark, damp field late at night seems rather ridiculous with hindsight, but the results are worth it. Our installation team, Keith, Pete and Mike, are doing heroic work sometimes of horrific weather, so we are especially grateful to them.

Lace Lab at Bonhoga

Our knitters are making the most wonderful pieces of knit for Mirrie Lace. We met at Bonhoga on Tuesday night. I arrived in rather an exhausted and frustrated state, but their work is so marvelous that I felt uplifted and highly energised by the end of the evening. We have an exhibition at the gallery in July, so we had a chance to walk around the space and talk in more concrete terms about details for the show. It was a very helpful exercise as we've come away with some good new ideas.

New Illumination

We are illuminating the former Listening Station used during the Cold War at Garths Ness in Dunrossness, South Mainland earlier than we'd originally planned. The ice and snow we've had recently have caused a lot of upheaval for us - late night meetings, trudging around in the snow looking for alternative sites and millions of phone calls. We have finally resolved the difficulties we have had with access to our planned illumination at Ander Hill in Bressay this month by changing our schedule. Thus we've brought forward this illumination in Dunrossness and decided to have a closing party rather than an opening. We hope to see everyone at the party on 29th January. The pupils at Dunrossness Primary School who will be making films with Roxane and their art teacher, Fiona Burra, will find their films become part of one of our last three illuminations. We hope they are not too disappointed that their films won't be included at Garths Ness and will understand. Apologies to everyone for any inconvenience.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Postponement of Bressay Illumination

We're very sorry, but we've had to postpone the illumination at the Watchtower, Ander Hill in Bressay due to the bad weather conditions. The hill was covered in ice and snow, so we couldn't risk taking the wind turbine up. We've been working very hard every day over the last five days to find an alternative solution. We've decided to try to re-arrange the order of our illuminations. Thus we are hoping to illuminate the Watchtower the first week of February. In the meantime we are waiting for the ice to melt on the road to our site at the former Listening Station at Garths Ness. If the road clears, we'll set that one up this week. Please check our web site Noticeboard for news. We've re-scheduled all the parties we were planning for this week, too, and we'll do have them at the finish of our next illuminations. Our huge apologies to everyone for any inconvenience caused.

Vibrant Schools

I've been going to schools nearest to our illuminations and working with pupils to make films that become part of our temporary illuminations at the various sites around Shetland. This last week I've been to Bressay Primary School, Whalsay School and Skeld Primary School. Unfortunately I had to cancel at Aith Secondary due to the problems that continue to arise due to the bad weather here in Shetland. The pupils are making wonderful films, using lots of imagination to make short dynamic, colour films. In this photo you can see pupils from Mossbank School where they made films that became part of our first illumination at Voe.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Permanent illuminations?

I have been asked a number of times by different folk if it would be possible to have the illuminations on a permanent basis. Quite a few folk asked this question while the illumination at Da Giant's Grave was running, some of whom made more than one special trip to see it. Again, more recently, I've been asked about the illumination at The Glasshouses in Tingwall by someone who drives past it everyday after work. I am afraid that we can't use the Mirrie Dancers lights to make any of the illuminations permanent, because we'll be using them for our permanent installation for the exterior of Mareel. However, there's nothing to stop anyone from pursuing the possibility! Some locations would be more feasible than others, and we'd be happy to discuss the idea with interested folk.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010


Today Roxane and Kathy went to BBC Radio Shetland to be interviewed for the monthly programme, Sideways. Shortie interviewed us, and it was good fun, despite being asked some tough questions.


Tonight it was a bit colder, and all the windows of the Glasshouses were frosted over. The illumination was not very bright, but it displayed the subtle colours in the videos better than I've ever seen. From the field opposite the gable ends, it almost looked like the building was made of ice. I stood and chatted with Austin while he photographed and just watched the colours dance.

While the light in the Glasshouses has looked so beautiful today, in other ways the cold has made it so frustrating. Once again we had no wind, and the sea was flat calm. While we had beautiful mirror reflections, it has meant that our wind turbines needed charging again from our back-up generators. But it was so cold that the doors to the Glasshouses were frozen shut, and I couldn't get in! So after getting advice from Nayan, I went home, boiled some water and took back bottles and flasks of hot water and eventually managed to get in.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Bad Weather Forces Cancellations

I am very disappointed. I've just learned that the schools on the West Side of Shetland are closed tomorrow because there's more snow forecast for tonight. it means my visit to the Secondary 2 Art Class at Aith Junior High School is cancelled. We were going to make films to become part of our next (sixth) illumination at Reawick Church.

Monday, 4 January 2010

An Alien Hatchery

Last night I climbed over the fence to the neighbouring field so that I could get distance on the gable end of our illumination at the Glasshouses. The further I walked downhill, the more the building seemed to float in the sky. The light from the buildings behind the Glasshouses was blocked out so that the colours appeared more subtle and clear against the stars. It reminded me of one visitor's comment that this illumination reminded her of a hatchery for aliens!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Power Issues

The weather in Shetland has been so unusual with little wind, a fair bit of snow and colder than nomal temperatures. We've therefore had difficulty powering the wind turbines at the Glasshouses in Tingwall. Keith, who is heading up the installation team, kept the illumination going in the first days of insufficient wind by using our back-up generators, then finally an electrical fault a few days before Christmas forced us to shut it down for the sake of health and safety. We're grateful to Nayan and Duncan who came up specially to Shetland after Christmas to repair the fault. Happily on 29th December we turned the illumination on again. Huge apologies to anyone who didn't hear the announcement on Radio Shetland and went to see the illumination during the week it was shut down.

Snow and Light

The roof is largely covered by snow, so that the illumination doesn't appear as bright as when we first installed it in early December. This factor in combination with the light pollution surrounding the building means that it's now much more difficult to see it from a distance. However, if you drive into the parking lot you can get out to walk around the building for a good look. I've been lucky enough to be able to stand inside. The snow completely changes the illumination in the interior. The roof has colour now, whereas before the snow, it appeared black. I took this film inside the snow-covered Glasshouses with my mobile phone. You can see the difference between it and Austin's photo before the snow (below).

Despite the snow and cold weather, I've managed to negotiate slippery roads and wintry showers in order to get to the illumination at the Glasshouses each of the last five days. I've been checking the battery levels in the turbines while Keith is away and charging them with the generators nearly every day because there's hardly been any wind.

Getting going in 2010

The first few months of our illuminations have been pretty intense. Now that we are halfway through the illuminations, we're going to try to keep this Blog going. This photo was taken by Austin Taylor on 4th December, the night of the launch party for our fifth illumination at the Glasshouses in Tingwall. We were still working on the programme for the lights, so he was able to get inside for the picture.