Playing with Scale, Shapes and Nightswimming in Stromness

By Bernie Bell

MacPhail exhibition B BellI was spoilt for choice, but made a decision, and started at the bottom of town, at the Pier Arts Centre, where there is a joint exhibition of work by Paul MacPhail and Tam MacPhail.

I’ll begin with Paul MacPhail’s photographs, some of which  echo Father Ted’s explanation to Father Dougal, that “These are small: those are far away.”

 I love it when things aren’t to scale – when nature, or man, plays with distance and placement, so that the impossible appears possible.  I don’t know why this delights  – but it does, so the exhibition by Paul MacPhail at The Pier Arts Centre, Stromness, pleased me greatly.

A rock, balanced on a feather………

Or on up-ended spoot shells, with a tiny person underneath – or is he far away?………..

Stones balanced among twigs. With another pixie, in a pixie hat!…………..

A…wishbone? dowsing rod? arch, by the sea, with a wee strolling man………………….

Bed springs? or submarine defences?  She can’t decide……………………

A tower of leaves, which don’t blow away?

I will mention that Paul MacPhail is the son of photographer and woman with her own vision, Gunnie Moberg. I’m never sure about the relevance of saying that someone is the child of someone who is already well-known, especially in the same ‘field’.  Some extra-ordinary people, have very dull off-spring, and some very dull people, produce extra-ordinary children.  Every now and then, extra-ordinary people, produce extra-ordinary children.  Is it genetics? Or is it being in a home environment surrounded by awareness?  Or is it something in them which means that what a person produces, is very much their own?

Gunnie was/is a photographer, Paul has had the vision to produce these photographs.  Paul McPhail is Gunnie Moberg’s son, but Paul MacPhail’s work is Paul MacPhail’s work. And it delights.

The other part of the Pier Arts Centre Exhibition, is of sculptures by Tam MacPhail – father of Paul and husband of Gunnie.  A man who provided Stromness with that wonderful thing – an independent bookshop.  He’s now retired, but we still have the bookshop.  As ‘Indies’ disappear at a worrying rate, Tam’s bookshop – as it’s still known – is A GOOD THING!

Tam’s sculptures are mainly pieces of metal, which , for some reason, lined up as they are, looked, to me, like some form of script.  The kind of thing which might be found carved in an ancient building, which no-one can decipher, but which could be telling us of wonders.

Or giant keys to un-lock??????????

Equally, they are like those great bits of rusty metal you can find on the beaches here on Orkney, and do things with in your garden – or house!

They appeal to me, as one who like shapes – in metal, or wood , or stone, or…………….

The idea of the mysterious script, just adds a bit of wonder, which is another thing which I like, and like to encounter.

And, in the glass cases, images of wood and metal, with notes for  possible titles – as a Patsy Cline fan, I chose “We go to pieces”, as the words of one of her songs are “I fall to pieces”, which is what has happened in the sculpture – wood and metal, giving way to gravity.

The joint exhibition,  runs until the 8th September 2018. 

And then on to Northlight for an exhibition of photographs by Anna Charlotta Gardiner.  Though, to simply call it an exhibition of photographs, hardly does it justice. Night Swimming an Exhibition of Photographs by Anna Gardiner

Just outside, by the door, leaning on the wall, was one of those little stones to be found around Stromness, and other places too. This one has the number 40 painted on it, with wiggly lines

stone with wiggily lines B Bell

Is Northlight number 40?  Was the stone painted to mark someone’s 40th birthday?  Who knows.

And so, into the room full of wonders.

This exhibition is entitled ‘Nightswimming’ which caught my attention, as an R.E.M fan, who particularly likes their song of that name.  Anna is also a fan, and named this exhibition of her concrete life-cast sculptures, after the song.

She prepares the pieces, by making life-cast models

Which remind me strongly of Antony Gormley’s figures, made in a similar way, based on the casts of the people from Pompeii, and of his work entitled ’Critical Mass.’

Anna’s figures were then  installed in the garden of ‘Stromness by Carriage’ in Outertown, Stromness .

poster Night Swimming B BellThe poster for the exhibition includes an image of the horses, Tom & Jerry, who pull the carriages, with Anna, actually standing on the sculptures of the  ’Night swimming figures, knocking a couple of noses and toeses off – part of the ‘life’ of the piece.

The poster also includes an image which put me in mind or a death-mask – not a bad thing – it’s all part of Life.  And Anna did recently create the severed head and masks for the Stromness Drama Club’s production of – The Scottish Play.

This is beginning to sound a bit grim, but Anna’s work is anything but grim – it’s full of LIFE. The fact is, I’m finding it a bit hard to even know what to say about her images. Each one, is so full of life, and links, and ideas, and connections, and….ever’thing. So full, full to the brim. I should let the images speak for themselves, which they will, when you go to visit them.

The images of the work, when first installed,  spoke to me of archaeology – of the people who are under the ground, waiting to be un-earthed. Poetry Corner: Otago Peninsula

Anna’s sculptures can be seen in this way, or….as rising from the earth. Can be seen in many ways.

Rising B Bell

She has an image of the sculptures, in/on the grass by her friend’s house in Outertown

Hoy Hills and figure B Bell

Then we see the same sculpture under snow.  The shape of the figure echoing the shape of the hoy hills in the background – a woman’s body, laid out along the Neolithic Heart of Orkney.

April Hoy Snow B Bell

The close up of the face of one of these …I was going to say ‘pieces,’ but it seems rude – of these people, looks like stones in snow, then it resolves itself into a face – depends on how you look at it –  the shapes still look like stone – but it’s a human face. In fact – it’s Anna’s face.

Anna NightSwimming B BellNight swimming runs until the 2nd of August, and I very much recommend that you go to see Anna’s work, and say ‘hello’ to Anna, too

And I’ll add, that Cary is filling that room, with wonders, and with the work of people who see, feel, connect, engage, interact, express. In other words ….LIVE.  It does me good to see it.

4 replies »

  1. Hey Anna – do you have a website, so folk can see your work after the exhibition closes? I tried to find one, but couldn’t – I’m not very good with t’Internet!

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