Real Life vs. Nature
shown at Iain Irving projects, Greenwards, by Hatton, Aberdeenshire, September/October 1997.
Real Life vs. Nature involved the construction of indoor and outdoor wooden structures. Indoors the structure is too small to get into and is in a confined space meanwhile the outdoor structure is high on tall legs and can be climbed into to get a great view of the surrounding countryside.
I’m in a farmhouse in Aberdeenshire. Greenwards By Hatton, Peterhead, to be specific. Lured here – it’s a two-hour drive from my parents, place – by a paragraph and a photo in The List. ‘What’s On in Glasgow and Edinburgh’, indeed.
But the room I’,m standing in is a white cube all right, and the single piece of work installed is of the sort that I’d only associate with an urban contemporary art space. A wooden shed that’s too small to enter, raised on legs, with four pencil-shaped wooden posts penetrating and protruding from its sides; a cassette player held aloft – by rope tied to the pencil posts – playing traditional Scottish music backwards; the words ‘I’, and ‘MESSIAH AM JAlLER’, marked on adjacent gallery walls.
On the room’s window ledge is documentation relating to the gallery. A copy of Flash Art reviews an earlier show here at Iain Irving Projects. The review is written by Judith Findlay, Iain’s partner in this remote rural spot, but there is no mention of these facts in the review. ‘By all accounts there are some interesting things happening in…err… Greenwards By Hatton,’ says a reader in Milan or Paris or Berlin. Diaries are extracted, windows found and an intention pencilled in. In one sense the review is a joke that only a few art insiders will appreciate. Quite funny, though.
Iain enters and we chat. He is open and friendly, as I’d expected – it was his telephone manner that finally persuaded me to make this morning’s long drive. In his view, the journey to the space is an important element of the experience here. And his next show would seem to acknowledge this: ‘A Fast Moving Car’ relates to that moment, particularly when driving, when you are looking at something but are thinking about something completely different, says a leaflet handed to me.
The card for Dalziel and Scullion’s recent show here is on the window ledge. A photo taken from the driving seat of a car; a deer in the middle of the road, mesmerised by the headlights. Iain tells me that in setting up the picture, Louise and Matthew were stopped by a policeman who assumed they were poaching. It was pointed out that the deer was stuffed and that they were taking photographs for their work. But the policeman couldn’t reconcile his notions of art practice to what was happening and went ahead with the arrest.
The card for the present show is also on display. Ross Sinclair, trousers rolled up to the knees, standing in the shallows looking out to sea. He isn’t wearing a shirt so the REAL LIFE tattoo across the top of his back is to the fore. The artist faces a lighthouse. Peterhead? I ask lain. But the photo was taken a few miles further along the coast, at Rattray Head. If I’d come all the way from Milan or Prague or Berlin I might travel this extra distance – it would be interesting to see the full context in which this photo was taken. But as it is I won’t be driving any further.
Anyway, there’s more to see here. And when lain hands me a mug of coffee, I take it with me into the hedged garden.
Another Ross Sinclair hut on stilts. But this one is bigger, higher, and there’s a ladder leading up inside it. I step up and am soon sitting comfortably, back resting against a wooden panel, feet and elbows on handy ledges. The view is wide open to me, divided – by wooden poles supporting the pitched roof – into left, right and straight ahead sections.
Wide blue sky with rolling clouds over wide, rolling farmland. A few fields of green pasture, but mostly the land is arable. The large field straight ahead has been harvested recently and is studded with great rolls of straw. One large field to the right and in the distance has been ploughed again already; another far away to the left hasn’t been harvested yet, its light brown crop rippling in the breeze that l’m protected from by the wooden backboard, a breeze from the west.
It’s great here, I love it. There’s plenty to stimulate me without recourse to the nearly full bottle of whisky that’s balanced on a shelf under the eaves. Someone (the artist?) has written ‘drink me’ on the label, so I reach out for the bottle, unscrew the top and sniff the contents. The real thing. But I’ve got a coffee and a car and this view for Christ’s sake, so I return the bottle untasted.
Hard down to my right is the farm proper, run by a farmer lain was telling me about. He’s friendly enough, but is at a loss to understand why people travel all this way for a transaction that doesn’t seem to involve money changing hands. He is there now, standing in the farmyard beside a grain tower which is making a noise. Is he drying oats? I donI ignore him. That’s to say I look to my left for a solid minute. But when I glance down to the right again he’s still there, looking this way. Perhaps he thinks I’m a poacher or, more likely, a rustler: spying out the land in preparation for a night sortie; working out how to get three rolls of straw, two cows and a horse into my aunt’s Fiesta. Perhaps he wants me to tell him where his combine harvester is. That hulking great red thing? It’s by the gate in what newly done field, mate. Where you fucking well left it…
But I must cast off my brutish urban instincts. This is a tranquil place and lain’s told me the farmer is all right. He puts root vegetables in the middle of the rolls of straw (how does he do that?). These are cooked over the winter by the release of heat from the stalks of oats, so that when the animals get into the centre of their winter feeding they get a bonus, a special treat, a taste sensation.
In the narrow grass field directly in front of me, two cows and a horse are feeding on a relatively new roll of straw. All three are munching away to the one apparent end, but for all I know are at cross-purposes – the cows hoping for roast parsnips, the horse looking forward to potatoes baked in their jackets.
I lean back and rest my shoulder blades against the wooden backrest. REAL LIFE, certainly. But it doesn’t have to be real life versus nature. I must cast off my cynical urban perspective and open myself to the reality all around me.
In the distance, in the centre of my view, is the main road running north – south. Vehicles move from right to left (the way I came) before disappearing behind a roll of hill. Vehicles move from left to right (my way home) before disappearing likewise.
My way home. I suppose I’d better be going. No, not yet I’m still hoping to melt into the view…
Duncan McLaren, text extract from, ‘Personal Delivery’ by Duncan McLaren, pages 176 – 180, Quartet Books 1998.