Editorial – Summer 2019

The debut issue of Art North, looking back on it now, seems a long way off, but with hindsight one sees that the enduring theme that ran through that first issue concerned climate change and the environmental impact that our species is having on the planet. Across several key articles, artists and contributors alike documented the cultural initiatives that, in some way or other, referenced this impact. What is striking about our debut issue now, is just how much the Arctic was viewed through the lens of those who associate the far north with ice, tundra, and the many tropes that go with those features of The North as a ‘mindset’. 

As I write these words now, however, I sit in a room that looks out across the far northern coastline of Scotland, and what I see is not ice, nor snow, but the grey-yellow plumes of smoke drifting across the northern reaches of Sutherland from wildfires that are burning not more than twenty kilometres from here. Firefighters are still at the scene of a large wildfire for a fifth day, approximately nine square miles (25 sq km) of peatland has already been lost since the fire broke out, and 5,000 acres (2,023 ha) of rich habitat has been lost too, I am told. Yet this has set me to wonder not just about the species lost to the fire (both flora and fauna) but also the very subject matter that fire represents for artists. 

In issue one, how many were drawn to the Far North for its dramatic landscape of ice and snow, oceans and tides, and then how many artists are drawn to scorched earth and parched peatland as their chosen subject matter? Very few by comparison, I’m fairly sure of that.  

As I think about this, six Scottish Fire and Rescue Service units have now been assigned the task of suppressing the fire, and at one point the blaze affected electricity supplies to homes and businesses. A helicopter has also been deployed to water bomb the fire, but it still blazes out of control. Temperatures here are unusually high for northern Scotland in the late-spring, too, yesterday reaching 25°C. 

Among the businesses affected has been Art North magazine itself. The run up to taking a magazine to press is always stressful, but when the surrounding territory is ablaze, and flames are taking down power lines or burning underground conduits that carry power from the nearby wind farms, the reality is that that power is lost as the supply is switched off. Over four days we have had outages of up to 8 hours to secure the safety of crews, and emergency generators have now been trucked in to replace the grid supply.

How much we rely on electricity (renewable or not) to power the very tools required to bring this magazine to press? Without power we are not just without computers, but without WiFi signal, cellphone networks, and everything else that we have all come to rely on in some way or other, and frequently take for granted. It is a sobering thought as we contemplate the effects of climate change in summer as well as winter. Had we not already missed two rescheduled print deadlines to make this issue ‘happen’, I might even have time to give that some deeper thought.

If there is a theme that runs through this issue it is very much about taking a ‘wider look’ and broadening one’s perspective: Feature articles this time certainly have a common thread running through them, although their individual focus may otherwise be diverse. Almost half of this issue celebrates the work of women artists and decision makers, some of whom will be widely-known already, and others less so. Several articles deal with the reconfiguring of ideas about what it is to work as an artist in the north today and, comparatively, the work of those who have gone before (compare the work of David Cass and Joseph Calleja who respond to the work of the late artist Robert Callender, for example, and that with the feature article by Murdo Macdonald on the late modernist islander Donald Smith that immediately follows it). What does continuity mean in a world that is becoming increasingly uncertain? What would those who have now passed really think of the mess we are making of it? 

So many questions, but at the present time no answers; not least because I write this hurriedly before we lose power again here. I won’t hide the fact that this has been a difficult issue to bring to fruition, and for all the reasons mentioned above, but if we do indeed  succeed in getting this issue to press on time, it will be evidence of the really hard work put in by a very small team who found some ingenious workarounds for us to be able to do so.


Ian McKay
Art North, Summer 2019

Post Scriptum

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

OK, so tight deadlines go with the territory in publishing, and we’re cool with that. Nothing focuses the mind more than a printer waiting on a job that has been delayed due to power outages resulting from wildfires as referred to in my Editorial (page 7), but little did we know that, having caught our final print deadline by a whisker, another issue pertaining to working from the Far North Coast of Scotland would scupper our best efforts to deliver issue two on time. We are a week late, and such things matter. So what’s the deal here?

Anyone living in the Far North of Scotland will be ever-aware that there remains a problem when it comes to deliveries by road beyond a certain line north of Inverness. With a printer in Edinburgh chosen for their proven track record of lithographic printing of arts publications, transportation of each issue to our unit on the North Coast is another challenge that reflects the wider concerns of all those working in the North. While Moray MSP Richard Lochhead has spearheaded a campaign against the ‘postcode lottery’ affecting those who feel the direct impact of inflated courier and transportation costs in the Far North, what has surprised me is how even some Scots living in the urban centres often have little awareness of the geography here and delays that can occur (disregarding the over-inflated delivery costs that are a reality of life at this latitude).

In short, a great deal of what is shipped by courier from south of Inverness gets transferred onto smaller vehicles for the onward three-hour journey, but what happens when the guy with the white van, decides to... well... take a few days off between pick-up and delivery? Oh yes! As I write this, your original copy of Art North that I wrote about on page 7 is languishing in the back of a van somewhere, and not even the courier service that signed it out to White Van Man, can locate him. Is there an upside? Only in that it offers me the opportunity to explain why we are a week late. Hard as we’ve tried, nobody is able to track down the whereabouts of our first print run, and so, with this update (have you guessed yet?) we are going to press AGAIN! Having beaten wildfires and power outages to produce a quality arts publication from the North, the copy in your hand is from our second run. Where the first may be is anybody’s guess! 

Ian McKay