A new exhibition ‘For the Journey and Return with the Orkney Boat’ by Beatrice Searle opens on Saturday 4h November at the Orkney Museum in Kirkwall.
As part of the Magnus 900 commemorations, Beatrice carved a replica of the Lady Kirk stone from Burwick, South Ronaldsay, which legend has it contains the footprints of St Magnus.
Finding no boat to bring him over the Pentland Firth, Magnus commanded a sea creature to bear him over on its back.
When he stepped off onto the Orkney shore the creature was turned to stone, but still showed the saint’s footprints.
The stone is actually a Pictish coronation stone. At the coronation cremony, a new ruler would step into the footprints of his ancestors.
Beatrice travelled through Orkney and Norway, pulling the stone behind her. Her story is told in this exhibition.
“Throughout human history, people and cultures have been on the move, often taking with them the objects that define and strengthen them. The world is currently witnessing one of the greatest mass migrations it has ever known, with some people driven by choice or impulse, others forced by famine and war. Moving with a pebble or a handful of earth, taken from a beloved homeland, is commonly reported.
“But who can move with their landscape in tow, truly? Even for those cultures in which people are defined by land and their relationship to it, this is a nearly impossible action.
“What happens when these people are dispossessed of their land, when they leave it behind? Do they lose their strength, their meaning and identity? In some cases the land is their law, their ethics, their reason for existence. They are not separate from it. When they lose it, they lose themselves.
“So I wondered: what if I could raise the very piece of land that grounds me and make a journey with it?”
The Orkney Boat is carved from a 390 million-year old siltstone, from Marwick Bay.
“Over 82 consecutive days, harnessed to a trailer on which the stone was secured, I made a journey from Orkney, through Norway and eventually back to Orkney.
“The journey involved two North Sea crossings and 650 kilometres on foot. Daily, I carried the piece of land that grounded me, setting the stone down often to stand in it and inviting others to do the same – to draw strength from their connection with it and add to its on-going narrative.
“These moments of stillness and stability, and the solidity of the stone, allowed me to be anchored and in constant contact with Orkney. The impetus of my journey kept me moving forward, whilst the weight of the stone slowed me down and required me to be hyper-aware of the terrain and further connected to my surroundings.
“This exhibition documents my spiritual and physical journey, with the stone and with those who encountered it, through photographic prints, audio recordings from my journals, and the Orkney boat itself.”
The exhibition runs from Saturday 4 to Saturday 25h November.
The Orkney Museum is open Monday–Saturday, 10.30am-12.30pm, 1.30pm-5.00pm. Admission is free.