Art & Nature

Simone Kenyon – Into The Mountain

A unique new live artwork by Simone Kenyon, inspired by Scottish writer Nan Shepherd’s masterpiece The Living Mountain, will this summer bring together dance, song and a guided walk within Scotland’s dramatic Cairngorm mountains, for locals and international visitors. Nicola Jeffs explains all.

First written in the 1940s during the Second World War, the Aberdeen writer’s book remained unpublished until 1977, and has recently been championed by luminaries of nature writing, including Robert Macfarlane. Indeed, her most famous quote ‘It’s a grand thing to get leave to live’, appears on the Scottish £5 note – and another line ‘I have walked out of my body and into the mountain’ is evocative of the guiding principles in this special new project, which also marks the Scottish Sculpture Workshop’s 40th anniversary year.

Simone Kenyon, Quarry 2, Into The Mountain rehearsals, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Scottish Sculpture Workshop. Photo by Lucy Cash.

Each Into The Mountain performance is open to just 30 audience members, whom will be led in small walking groups (offering a short, mid and long-range route) through Glenfeshie (an area vividly described by Shepherd in The Living Mountain). The groups will converge within the landscape at which point they will witness a choreographed performance by five dancers (Jo Hellier, Claricia Parinussa, Caroline Reagh, Keren Smail and Petra Söör) moving in collaboration with the mountain ecology. Their performance will be accompanied by a vocal score composed by artist Hanna Tuulikki, which will be performed by the Into The Mountain choir, made up of women local to the Cairngorms and led by vocalist Lucy Duncombe.

Simone Kenyon, Line 22, Into The Mountain rehearsals, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Scottish Sculpture Workshop. Photo by Lucy Cash.

“Typically mountaineering is an adrenaline-fuelled activity that seeks to conquer heights and overcome the challenges of difficult terrain,” says Simone Kenyon. “Nan’s writing proposes an entirely different approach, attempting to collaborate with the changing conditions of the variable mountain landscape and offering ecstatic revelations about how being with the mountain alters her state of being. Within her writing, she took a more-than-human perspective and let the mountains teach her through close observation and listening. In her observations, Nan allows us to see the daily nature of the extraordinary, all things upon which this project draws upon.”

Simone Kenyon, Green and Blue 2, Into The Mountain rehearsals, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Scottish Sculpture Workshop. Photo by Lucy Cash.

As she meticulously developed the concept for Into The Mountain, Kenyon held numerous talks and workshops and collaborated closely with the many women who have personal relationships with the Cairngorms, to explore how they navigate, encounter, embody and exist within this unique landscape. From exploring the landscape with local Eco-psychologist, Margaret Kerr, site visits with Heather Morning, Mountain Safety Adviser with Mountaineering Scotland and embodied, attentive walks with Jean Langhorne; to leading movement workshops in Glenfeshie for dance practitioners (in partnership with Dance North), Simone’s collaborative approach uniquely brings together voices and experiences from varied disciplines and backgrounds. Through this project, Kenyon with collaborator Jo Hellier has also led 8 sensory workshops with schools local to the Cairngorms which will form an Education Pack to be distributed by the Cairngorms National Park Authority, geared at helping young people engage with their surrounding environments.

Simone Kenyon, Edge 2, Into The Mountain rehearsals, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Scottish Sculpture Workshop. Photo by Lucy Cash.

Sam Trotman, Director of the Scottish Sculpture Workshop, states: “Into The Mountain’ is a seminal project that is pioneering in its approach to performance making and format. In collaboration with women who live in the Cairngorms, Kenyon has spent years learning with and coming to know these mountain landscapes and this work rethinks modes of art making, to place the natural ecology as a central collaborator. We believe this poses new approaches and we are excited to now bring an audience directly to these sites of scientific and ecological interest, to experience this new approach to being in the landscape.”

Simone Kenyon, Into The Mountain research, 2017. Courtesy of the artist.

Into The Mountain

Lead Artist - Simone Kenyon
Producer - Scottish Sculpture Workshop
30 May – 2 June 2019
Cairngorms, Scotland
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The Living Mountain
Nan Shepherd

160 pages
Canongate Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-0857861832

In this masterpiece of nature writing, Nan Shepherd describes her journeys into the Cairngorm mountains of Scotland. There she encounters a world that can be breathtakingly beautiful at times and shockingly harsh at others. Her intense, poetic prose explores and records the rocks, rivers, creatures and hidden aspects of this remarkable landscape. Shepherd spent a lifetime in search of the 'essential nature' of the Cairngorms; her quest led her to write this classic meditation on the magnificence of mountains, and on our imaginative relationship with the wild world around us. Composed during the Second World War, the manuscript of The Living Mountain lay untouched for more than thirty years before it was finally published.

Arctic Arts Summit 2019

The Arctic Arts Summit 2019 (the second of its kind, under the theme The Arctic as a Laboratory for sustainable art and cultural policy) will take place in the city of Rovaniemi, Finland, 3 - 5 June 2019. 

Following the inaugural Arctic Arts Summit (held in Harstad, Norway, in 2017) this year’s Arctic Arts Summit focuses upon the Arctic as seen as a 'laboratory' in which sustainable art and cultural policy is developed in collaboration with all of the Arctic countries. The key aim of the Arctic Arts Summit 2019 is to support the arts and cultural sectors in a circumpolar collaboration. Artists and other participants from the arts and cultural policy sector will be in attendance from all of the member countries of the Arctic Council: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States. The indigenous art and cultural policy as well as interdisciplinary research on the impact of the art and culture are essential themes of the Summit.

The Arctic Arts Summit 2019 will be enriched with several exhibitions, concerts, performances and workshops, with the most significant one, the Young Arctic Artists Exhibition, being an international collaboration taking place for a third time in the city of Rovaniemi. This year’s edition presents young artists under the age of 35yrs old from Northern areas of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Canada and Russia. The exhibition brings emerging contemporary art to Gallery Napa and Studio Mustanapa (5 June until 31 July), 2019. The opening will take place on Tuesday 4 June at 7.30 pm, ending the second day of the Summit under the theme Policy Day, held at Lappia Hall. During this day, policymakers and stakeholders from cultural sectors throughout the Arctic region will present, analyse and discuss the role of arts and culture in the Arctic. Representatives from the ministries of Arctic countries and keynote speakers will share their vision for the development of Arctic art and culture.

Transmission of Knowledge is this year’s theme of the ‘Young Arctic Artists’ exhibition; the three year project dedicated to create networks between young artists, curators and art producers living in the northern Arctic region. The artists’ works address the common theme of Transmission of Knowledge in a variety of ways. Some of the works have a starting point located in the core knowledge of Northern peoples, and the selected works explore the questions of time; before and after us. What do we know about it? In what quantity does our family or inheritance store the memory, memories and knowledge?

Laura Heuberger, In Silico, 2017 (2-channel digital video, 11').

The exhibition is managed by the Artists' Association of Lapland and co-curated by media-artists Ninni Korkalo (Finland) and Panu Johansson (Finland). The project is funded by the Nordic Culture Fund, The Arts Promotion Centre Finland – The Regional Office of Lapland, and the Artists' Association of Lapland.

The selected artists for this year are: Jordan Bennet (Mi’kmaq- Stephenville Crossing Ktaqamkuk, Newfoundland, Canada), Laura Heuberger (Sweden), Oleg Khadartsev & Sergey Kislov (Russia), Sanna Korteniemi (Finland), Marjo Pernu (Finland), Guro Rex (Sweden), Elina Waage Mikalsen (Sápmi, Norway).

Before and after the Summit, significant academic and cultural events are also taking place; The Cumulus conference “Around the Campfire - Resilience and Intelligence" (27 May – 1 June 2019) invites visitors to discuss the themes of resilience and intelligence. Following the Summit, The Silence Festival gathers the most interesting performances and artists from the fields of contemporary circus and music to Kaukonen village (6 June – 9 June). The Midnight Sun Film Festival, meanwhile, is an annual five-day film festival in Sodankylä (12 June - 16 June). We look forward to welcoming you to Rovaniemi and to the networking event of the second Arctic Arts Summit 2019!

Maria Huhmarniemi (Arctic Arts Summit 2019 Project manager)
Moira Douranou (Communication Designer)




Morag Paterson: ”Having the opportunity to undertake an artists’ residency is a privilege and a luxury, being able to do it in our own backyard, a valley we’ve lived in for the best part of 25 years is a true blessing, a chance to take a fresh look at the surroundings and also indulge in some research that otherwise we’d be unlikely to make time for. Our project, run by Upland explores the past present and future of the Galloway Hydro Electric scheme, an ambitious engineering project fulfilled in the 1930s.”

Basking in a World of Waste

Visitors to the National Museum of Scotland this week will get a unique opportunity to meet ‘Betty’, a basking shark created from discarded keyboards, devised and built by Edinburgh-based artist Johnathan Elders for an installation titled Devouring Technology. Elders work is part of the Edinburgh Science Festival and will be on show at the museum until Sunday, 21 April.

Basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) are native to Scottish waters and though colossal in size are harmless creatures that feed on plankton sifted out of the water. As the second-largest living shark, they are constant consumers that intake their food through their characteristic large gaping mouth. The largest accurately measured specimen is believed to have been trapped in a herring net in Canada, in 1851. Its total length was 12.27 m, and it weighed an estimated 18 tonnes.

Johnathan Elders ,  Devouring Technology . (Image courtesy the National Museum of Scotland, by Chris Scott).

Johnathan Elders, Devouring Technology. (Image courtesy the National Museum of Scotland, by Chris Scott).

The installation at the National Museum of Scotland aims to highlight the issue of e-waste. Modern society ‘devours’ technology on a scale not dissimilar to the vast amounts of plankton ingested by basking sharks, but with our appetite for consuming the latest tech kit and devices, we produce a huge amount of ‘waste’ products as a result. Elders’ installation invites visitors to consider how we can “turn the tide on our hunger for tech in a more sustainable direction.” As the artist adds, “I wanted to try and capture the scale of the electronic waste problem and highlight some of the issues created when we ship off our eWaste to countries where its processing is not so well regulated.”

Johnathan Elders ,  Devouring Technology . (Image courtesy the National Museum of Scotland, by Chris Scott).

Johnathan Elders, Devouring Technology. (Image courtesy the National Museum of Scotland, by Chris Scott).

“The basking shark is the embodiment of the scale and nature of our electronic waste problem,” Elders explains. “A colossal creature made up of a tiny part of the vast ocean of e-waste that we produce. Swimming along, mouth wide open, endlessly consuming without any consideration. This is how I feel about our own attitude to the electronic goods, always hungry for the newest technology, but not stopping to consider the impact of our throwaway culture.”

Johnathan Elders ,  Devouring Technology . (Image courtesy the National Museum of Scotland, by Chris Scott).

Johnathan Elders, Devouring Technology. (Image courtesy the National Museum of Scotland, by Chris Scott).

The installation was created from donations of unwanted electronics from CCL North, HomeSpring and Hacklab. Johnathan Elders is best-known for The Laser Garden, a technology influenced art project that explores the idea of evolution through technology, using a combination of lasers and smoke to create ethereal, wearable art. The Edinburgh Science Festival was founded in 1989, and is an educational charity that aims to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds to discover the world around them. Each year it delivers the UK’s largest Science Festival with almost 270 events for families and adults over the course of two weeks. To browse the programme, visit

Making Room for Birds

Jane MacNeill was raised in Aviemore and educated at Edinburgh College of Art. The recipient of several notable awards for painting and draughtsmanship, her standing as an artist is now well-established with a consistent body of work that attracts a loyal following, I’m told. A regular draw when shown at the Kilmorack Gallery in Beauly, her landscape work is subtle and easy on the eye – tranquil to the point of stilling the maelstrom of life even – and in person she carries herself with a gentle demeanour, too. There are times when one meets an artist, sees their work, and feels a mismatch between the two, a disjuncture of some kind between creator and that created, but not so in MacNeill’s case. Talking to her about the current installation of her work in the project space known as The Room; a discrete curated area set up as an adjunct to An Talla Solais’s main gallery space in Ullapool, her tone is thoughtful and reverential. Appropriate really, because the work we are talking about is a series of icon-like pictures of birds; subtle, compositionally grounded, and powerful despite their diminutive size.

Jane MacNeill , Installation view of works at The Room, An Talla Solais Gallery, Ullapool. (L-R:  Herring Gull ,  Jackdaw, Rook II ,  Oystercatcher ,  Lapwing ,  Herring Gull II , and  Robin ). (Photo: Ian McKay)

Jane MacNeill, Installation view of works at The Room, An Talla Solais Gallery, Ullapool. (L-R: Herring Gull, Jackdaw, Rook II, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Herring Gull II, and Robin). (Photo: Ian McKay)

Jane draws her inspiration from the landscape, and the birds and insects that she encounters in it, spending a lot of time walking, drawing and taking photographs in the countryside around her home and studio on Culloden Moor, near Inverness. The work that we are talking about is born of what she refers to as ‘encounters’ rather than observation, indicating that she feels herself to be far less a mere observer, and much more a part of the landscape in which she meets with the wildlife that she paints. “There is often an intensity to these meetings that makes me want to present each bird almost as if it has posed for a formal portrait,” she has written of her work; that is, presenting it as icon-like, and “separate from the surroundings in which I have seen it.”

Though she doesn’t say so on my first meeting with her, from her writing I later learn that the paintings we are looking at together are arrived at from a feeling of intensity in the eye contact that she makes with the wildlife she encounters and later paints. The personality of the fauna she meets with can, at that moment of eye-contact, become “large enough to fill an entire landscape,” she says, and to condense that vastness of experience in the natural world and present it within such modest dimensions (typically as oil on gesso panel, or board, and sympathetically framed in a way that enhances what she alludes to) is no mean achievement – the intensity referred to becomes all the stronger for it.

Jane MacNeill , Herring Gull. (Oil on Board, image courtesy the artist/An Talla Solais Gallery).

Jane MacNeill, Herring Gull. (Oil on Board, image courtesy the artist/An Talla Solais Gallery).

The backstory to all of this she has appropriately documented with few words: “As a young artist I was deeply affected by the symbolic use of colour and gold leaf in religious and devotional art which I encountered on travels to Spain and Italy. This had a profound and lasting effect on my work and combines with my continuing fondness for minimalism. I compulsively simplify, smooth surfaces, economise on detail, and allow only one shape or subject to emerge in each painting, striving for a visual simplicity.” This, of course, is common to devotional work such as the painting of religious icons, and I have felt a similar intensity that I find in Jane MacNeill’s work when viewing icons in Orthodox churches in the Balkans, too; but a herring gull?

Frequently seen as a scavenger with a rapacious appetite, although the herring gull has been the subject of rigid protection, latterly it has been exposed to measures taken to regulate its numbers due to the damage it is said to be doing to the habitats and nesting sites of other species. A bird about which there are mixed feelings, clearly, MacNeill’s painting of the herring gull cuts through human interventions of this kind to see the herring gull in a new light, allowing us to discern the individuality of a single bird, rather than view it according to its scientific classification that dissuades such ways of seeing.

Jane MacNeill ,  Jackdaw , (Oil on Board, image courtesy the artist/An Talla Solais Gallery).

Jane MacNeill, Jackdaw, (Oil on Board, image courtesy the artist/An Talla Solais Gallery).

As our brief conversation progresses onward to the exchange of business cards (hers subtle and soft to the touch, mine brashly informative and bullish by comparison) I declare that “I particularly like your hoodie,” referring to the hooded crow that I think I see. Only after MacNeill moves on does artist Peter White tell me in a whisper, “that’s a jackdaw, not a hooded crow.” I like to think I know this (in fact I know I do) so why did I refer to it by another name? Obviously a jackdaw, one of the most intelligent of the Corvidae and capable of identifying individual people on sight, I fail to identify MacNell’s fine specimen and my embarrassment kicks in. Then I recall a conversation had recently with somebody close to home, about the shooting of ‘hoodies’ on the gaming estates, and realise that I’m rather preoccupied with their plight at present and they are very much in my mind. My faux pas set to one side, I go back for another look while the artist is absent, and on second viewing I have the space to myself.

Jane MacNeill , Installation view of works at The Room, Antalla Solais Gallery, Ullapool. (L-R  Lapwing ,  Herring Gull II , and  Robin ). (Photo: Ian McKay)

Jane MacNeill, Installation view of works at The Room, Antalla Solais Gallery, Ullapool. (L-R Lapwing, Herring Gull II, and Robin). (Photo: Ian McKay)

I’m not sure who came up with the idea for this ‘project space’ as I refer to it, but The Room is a wonderful concept, lending itself well to the viewing of such intimate work as this. While at present the main gallery is given over to the Royal Scottish Academy’s ‘Winter Flowers-redux’, an exhibition reformatted as a spring exhibition that I have already written about, The Room works like a magnet, or as if it possesses its own gravitational force, drawing visitors into a more personable space that is wholly sympathetic to MacNeill’s discrete icons. There’s another herring gull here and a lapwing, also, along with an oystercatcher, a robin, and a rook that holds its own in the space very well. Each of these (and there are others) are demanding of our attention in their own right, and with works hung in such close proximity, it occurs to me that the real success of what MacNeill is showing currently is that, on viewing each of these paintings, one finds oneself focussing on just one picture at a time, not viewing them all as a single body of work as is often the case: it’s a moment of clarity for me – to realise, that is, that each painting commands a similar intensity of meeting that MacNeill says she experiences in the field.

Jane MacNeill ,  Herring Gull II , (Oil on Board, image courtesy the artist/An Talla Solais Gallery).

Jane MacNeill, Herring Gull II, (Oil on Board, image courtesy the artist/An Talla Solais Gallery).

Spring is, of course, a time when many of these birds show themselves at their very best. The lapwing’s characteristically giddy and winding flight is much in evidence in late-March and early-April, and spring is the time of the oystercatcher’s loud piping trills as they perform their courtship displays, running beside or behind each other for hours on end before breeding takes place and they stake out their territory for the season to come.

Jane MacNeill ,  Lapwing , (Oil on Board, image courtesy the artist/An Talla Solais Gallery).

Jane MacNeill, Lapwing, (Oil on Board, image courtesy the artist/An Talla Solais Gallery).

Rooks, too, have their own behaviours that are unique to spring, but the rook that MacNeil has on display here is one which we see not so much as the rook-of-the-field, with its rolling gait and baggy britches that distinguish it most from the crow, but a rook-of-the-studio, posing for its portrait. It is as elegant and as refined as any renaissance sitter, and probably a lot better looking than some human specimens that have sat for their portrait over the centuries. And yet, all of these birds that MacNeill has on show seem to also have what might be considered as some human qualities, too – imbued upon them by the artist perhaps? Or is it the other way round? As I leave The Room to rejoin the exhibition in the main gallery space, I observe my own rolling gait as I move among a modest throng of visitors, and recognise myself as one of a species no more or less social than rooks themselves. A loud rasping squawk goes up, and fills the room. Are we a parliament of rooks here? Is that a parcel of oystercatchers I can hear trilling away at the far end of the gallery? Credit to MacNeil that she has me questioning my own species after viewing those she has observed.

Jane MacNeill ,  Rook II , (Oil on Board, image courtesy the artist/An Talla Solais Gallery).

Jane MacNeill, Rook II, (Oil on Board, image courtesy the artist/An Talla Solais Gallery).

Jane MacNeill | The Room

An Talla Solais
1 West Argyle Street,
IV26 2UG

Tel: 01854 612310

Other Artists currently exhibiting in The Room, are: Joan Doerr, Simon Rivett, and Keith Salmon. Jane MacNeill’s work can also be viewed at the Kilmorack Gallery.