‘Signs of Uncertain Times’

By Bernie Bell

It started last February,  with Ian (Collins) emailing me a poster asking folk if they had any  artefacts, ephemera, pictures – anything associated with Second World War military sites on Orkney – which they would be prepared to lend for an exhibition in Northlight Gallery, Stromness.  I did  think the barrage balloon, looked like the rabbit in Wallace & Gromit’s  ‘The Curse of the Were-Rabbit’

I’d heard of silk from parachutes being re-used – in fact, much prized as underwear.   I should imagine the barrage balloon material was made of tougher stuff?  But – there was a war on, and it was very much a case of ‘make do and mend’. Folk re-used anything – barrage balloons, parachutes, anything which meant getting your hands on some free material.

Uncertain times very much lead to ‘necessity being the mother of invention.’

This got me remembering the clothes we could buy in jumble sales when I was young, in the 70’s – a lot of people clearing out their attics and sending lovely dresses from the war-time, to the jumble. I liked them, I was a hippie – they suited my style – so I bought them, and wore them – and shoes, too – really well made, leather shoes, with such style to them!

An old chap I knew, had a ‘British Warm’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Warm    which he was wearing, well into the 90’s!  They made things to last, then.

I remember the label sown into clothes, like two  capital ‘C’s – known as the ’double cheese’ at the time, which showed that the garment adhered to clothing control regulations.  And – clothes had to be paid for with clothing coupons.

That was austerity.

And so, I was looking out for the exhibition actually happening, as you have possibly been looking out for me to start actually writing about it! But, as with many things, Covid intervened, and the exhibition didn’t happen, but………  today I received an email from Ian, telling of his exhibition in the windows of Northlight Gallery in Stromness from the 20th of September to the 3rd of October, in which Ian moves forward in time from the war years, to present his take on how Covid has affected our lives, and the signs of these uncertain times.


Cary Welling, owner of Northlight, is using this strategy of exhibitions in the windows, to circumvent Covid and give artists a chance to show their work.  To ‘borrow’ Cary’s own words…..

“Continuing the programme of work visible from the street, Northlight is showing photographs by Ian Collins.

He says that he is interested by the way in which everyday objects or marks seem to take on a significance  perhaps not  intended by those who made them. His work has also examined the ways in which interest or beauty can be found in abandoned structures, notably the remains of wartime installations that have marked the Orcadian landscape. These interests have been reflected in solo exhibitions in Alloa, Stirling University, the Northlight Gallery, the Orkney Museum and group shows in Glasgow. Copies of Ian’s work are held by the Orkney Library & Archive.

Related article: ‘Signs of Uncertainty’ in the Windows at Northlight

2 replies »

  1. That’s a really nice connection between war-time uncertainties and those caused by the current ‘situation’, between Ian’s planned exhibition on WW2 artefacts and his one that’s happening now ‘In the Windows’. Your snapshots and memories of WW2 connections chime with the atmosphere of Ian’s pictures, the ‘Signs of Uncertainty’ (https://theorkneynews.scot/2020/09/23/signs-of-uncertainty-in-the-windows-at-northlight/) – very clever and subtle Bernie!

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