I parked beside an intensely blue Stroan Loch, and went in search of ‘Things That Befell Us in those Strange Years’. It’s the inaugural Environmental Art Festival Scotland, aka EAFS, and I was there both to read from my pamphlet, ‘The Dark Farms‘, and to enjoy this exciting new festival.
For Gavin Macgregor and Ingrid Shearer, creators of ‘Things That Befell Us in those Strange Years’, the Stroan Viaduct represents a junction of past places, stories, possibilities. The appealing title turned out to be from 19th century writer S. R. Crockett, who is always a haunting presence in the Galloway Forest. As I climbed up to the Viaduct I found small boards printed with Crockett’s words dangling from trees and bushes.
Stroan Viaduct is diminutive, as they go, but its dressed capstones truly are all different. The visitor was invited to muse on these tiny landscapes, looking for recognition, for other places depicted there – the ones we carry with us. A lightfoot installation of considerable imagination, and involving for the audience.
‘The Rise and Fall of Grey Mare’s Tail’, created by James Winnett, provided audiences with an art that was both immediately, uncontroversially beautiful, and which could be grasped in a glance. It was giving huge pleasure to young and old (while the assembled humans were giving pleasure to the midges). But it also had about it the darker Gothic shades of the Romantics too, a real spur to imagination. Perfectly in sympathy with this was The Archivist, performance art that was witty, warm, and gave a voice to some fascinating ideas submitted but not chosen for this year’s EAFS.
A grandly striped tent turned out to be the venue for the Dark Star Lounge, offering an evening of mysterious music transmitted from a hilltop in the Forest, and what I’ve come to think of as the Cosmos ‘n Magic Show delivered with terrific aplomb by Scotland’s Astronomer Royal, John Brown. The packed tent was lit only by dots of starry light, and the audience asked question after question. We quaffed tiny cocktails handed out by Dark Star Lounge staff in fabulous paper dresses made from origami maps.
Next morning I found ‘Gimme Shelter’ at Anwoth Old Kirk. This interactive, multimedia art project by Pat van Boeckel and Karin van der Molen was universally enthused over by audiences and once I’d been I could only join in. The roofless and ruined Old Kirk was brilliantly interposed on by – most noticeably – the ghost of a tree, created in cellophane, hollow and floating within a greenhouse neatly appended to the gable wall of the kirk. Inside, a tall, lichened stone wall, where no wall should be, turned out to be a disguise for a tiny film theatre. And in that, you watched a film screened above your head, a temporary roof of the imagination. A postcard beside a huge wooden bowl full of acorns suggested that the Kirk roof could be restored for May 2513 if we all took away an acorn and planted it, to become a tree. A neat and elegant parable, offered with great grace and warmth.
The Rosnes Bench Workshop with Matthew Dalziel, of Dalziel & Scullion, took me out into the fresh air at Dromore Farm above Gatehouse of Fleet. With infectious sincerity and enthusiasm, Matthew explained the purpose of the Benches and then we set off to lie in the open. Clouds passed slowly above our upturned faces; the burn sang on in our ears. When they are installed, the Rosnes Benches will stop us in our haste, and create the moment of attention that 21st century Western lifestyles tend to lack.
Environmental Art Festival Scotland contained many more excellent events than I managed to attend – or even write about – but what has stayed most strongly with me was its inclusivity, and its adventuresome generosity of spirit. There was so much serious talking, and joyful laughing. Here was a programme of quality and ambition, available almost entirely for free, and inventing across a dynamic range of landscapes in South West Scotland many marvellous opportunities to engage.