The Scottish Weekend: One Account (Dee Heddon)

[I’m posting this on Dee’s behalf, since she keeps losing the instructions about how to do it herself. (Could this be a willed forgetting?) SB]

1. An Introduction

In our original conception of our network our intention was to migrate north, as some of the animal and bird species are predicted to do in response to climate change. We would have kicked off the network in London, then moved on to Yorkshire, and finally arrived in Scotland.

In the event, more quotidian factors intervened, making it impossible for us to be in Scotland in the summer. Well, that’s not wholly true. It would have been possible to be in Scotland in summer, but not possible to be at our chosen site – Cove Park. Cove Park, an artist’s retreat about an hour from Glasgow on the Rosneath Peninsula, is filled with artists in the summer. In the winter months, it is available for hire. Cove Park is perched high above the shores of Loch Long, looking over to the mountains of the Cowal Peninsula, the Stronchullin Hill and Creachan Mor. The landscape windows of Cove Park frame a picture-postcard concept of ‘Scotland’.  According to one website, the name of the Rosneath Peninsula derives from the Gaelic ‘Rosneimhidh’, meaning ‘a sanctuary’.

Taut Wires

Just out of eyesight of Cove Park is Coulport – home to Royal Navy’s Trident Missiles. And on the other side of the hill lies Faslane. The topography of this land makes it prime site for naval operations – narrow loch mouths performing as natural defence barriers.

It was not just the rich contradictions of Cove Park that proposed it as an ideal site for our network though. Those picture windows do frame an iconic landscape. It is pleasurable to sit and watch the picture change second by second, as rain tips down in sheets, as rays of sun puncture white clouds and glance of the still loch, as the hills disappear in mist and then reappear in their majestic glory. And Cove Park has its own layers of history; a 50 acre site that was used as an ammunition store during WWII (one Nissen hut remains intact, but the concrete foundations of others punctuate the landscape); then it was a conservation park; and now it is an artists’ retreat that still has a place for the resident Highland cows, sheep and ducks.

A witty sign in the main building of Cove Park, made by some Glasgow School of Art students, offers a further clue to the fit between our network and this site: ‘Conversation Park’. On the in-side of those large picture windows, a large table, and behind this large table a large wood burning stove, and behind this large wood burning stove, a large kitchen. Cove park is a place that holds conversation; a cove for conversation.

2. Initiating

As the co-organisers of this leg, Sally Mackey and I wanted to start out in Glasgow and invite others into the network, as well as open the network out to others. One of our shared interests – or questions – concerns communication. How can site-based art ‘communicate’ environmentalism, or questions relating to climate crisis? How might it engage with different audiences, children and adults? To address this very large issue of ‘communication’, we deliberately invited a diverse range of speakers: geographer Chris Philo, artistic director of nva Angus Farquhar, environmental educationalist Alan Reid, artistic director of Fevered Sleep David Harradine, and network member Wallace Heim.

The 3 hour ‘symposium’ proved richer than Sally or I could have imagined: thoughtful, challenging, contradictory and generative.  It is impossible to do those 3 hours justice here and I offer here only fleeting insights that will communicate or not (and any mis-hearings or mis-representations are wholly my own):

AF: – How you make the work is as important as why

– Don’t pretend, as an artist, that you are doing more than raising ideas of best practice

– You cannot beat people into changing their behaviour; you can prompt an act of inspiration. Making work to raise issues that leads to more complex debates (not offering solutions).

– The movement of the work becomes an issue – how do you transport people to the work (and the work itself is always perambulatory); there were contradictions in form and content.

– Confronting issues of land ownership – who owns the land?

– Distance between national and local ownership

– The environmental agencies are self-protecting – serving to cover their own backs rather than protect the environment

– Audience responses cannot be controlled

– Creating a piece in a managed forest plantation created a type of value for it – works have been left there

– The work is the iceberg – there’s more going on beneath the surface

– an idea can usefully outlive the action

– So often the roots of what we have are born out of the radical (e.g. shared bikes in cities)


– rational outlines begin to flicker

– the child’s world – magical realism – the factual real and the imaginary imaginary

– inattentive musings – inattention

– the child’s habitual, repeating writing of her everyday story in her jotter is like an idle daydream, an environmental reverie

– the child as social actor is the dominant model in children’s geography

– how do/can researcher’s access children’s worlds?

– does the process, the method, of accessing it change it?

– problematic of the representationalist agenda – that words are a window on the internal world

– but the words provided by children can often be very banal (academics expect everyone to be mini-academics)

– necessity of finding different methods for disclosing thoughts worlds and life worlds (children’s thoughts, values, hopes and fears)

– The problem of asking children to do things is that you control/prompt the research data

the poetics of childhood lies in inattention

– delicate reveries

– how to access the inattentive as a researcher?

– archives of children’s reveries


– investment of time and effort into place

– problem of translating exterior into a performance-based event inside

– rain evidencing moss

– room full of fog, room full of sky, room full of heat and light

– and moss (damp)

– visual archive of environmental change (pictures of same site taken daily over many years)

– attentive to the landscape

– prompting people to look again, look askance at where they live

– generic landscapes rather than specific ones (e.g. the forest)

The Forest – 5-8 year olds; taking inner city kids to Epping Forest. Learning about the forest from the kids, as they learnt to play in it, to be in it. The kids spoke of the forest as a mythical place, rather than one they might encounter.

– The questions they asked included ‘Will we get back home?’ ‘Do you know where the path is?’


– “Nobody ever rioted for austerity”

– Debate becomes monologue (‘we’ve got the knowledge, we’ve just got to get people to act on it’

– proposition of only being able to act in one way

– Is there a plurality possible to the knowledges?

– when is social learning conservative and when is it transformative?

– social learning towards a sustainable future

– learning as social practice – situative perspective

– “climate change is an ethical issue because it involves the distribution of resource”

– slow pedagogies

– critical pedagogies of place

– place-based learning as rooted in empathic experience (Chet Bowers)

– residents or dwellers in a place/space

– the technics of education

– An Inuit child talking to his father about the trip’s his father would take him on: “I didn’t realise it was ‘educational’”

– Pedagogies of terror

– What is the learning which goes on here? Are there other ways of doing this?


– relational philosophies

– what drops off in art and ecology is ‘nature’

– separation of nature and human

– vortexes of power and aggregates of care

– The sensing human and the world

– What relates me to this?

– Agency – sources of action

– The non-human are quasi-agents, not merely instruments

– matter influences the action of things

– materialities of environment

– human agency and material agency = the dance of agency

– Have a care. Here is something that matters.

– Don’t put environmentalism on stage

– Dilemmas of representation are not going away

– How change happens

– Change can happen through trial and error

– Can a site learn? Not just an adaptation but an improvisatory process- surprise, negotiation, novelty

– The site as a field of learning as well as a relational field

– Is what is being learned toxic?

– The capabilities of the environment

– Can they/we learn to survive?

– How do I relate to this site? How does this site relate to me?

– If you find conflict and dissent interesting, then empathy is less interesting.

3. The site.

The brief: create a piece at Cove Park that picks up on threads from Fountains Abbey, or from Friday’s symposium. This can be a piece that you perform at Cove, might perform at Cove, or might perform somewhere else.

We tour the site, we walk the site, we watch the site, we find places:

Steve: The Bridge

Tim: Relocating the sounds from Fountains Abbey to here

Paula: Water

David: The cube in which he is staying

Me: The Bird Hide

Alison: The sound of the site

Sally: The outside lights that are on during the day time

JD: The place as a retreat; how this space rewires thought and thinking; how this space impacts on people’s practices

Wallace: materials as agency; smell of sewage

Phil: Tree and Model of Site in main space

Baz: The old bomb store; the fact that underneath the building in which we sit is a rubbish dump

Helen: What I’ve brought and what I’m going to leave and what I’m going to take away; inside/outside

Someone mentions – is it Wallace – that it is already interesting to note the different places people have chosen.

Someone mentions – is it Tim – that we are different here. That how we move, how we are, is different here.

Someone mentions – is it Phil – that we are policed here.

I am surprised to discover that I feel protective of here, that this is my retreat, that the site feels overwhelmed with people and busyness and critiques and I wonder, worry, how I will be and it will be when I return again, in the future, these events now written over my previous experiences of this site.

The Bird Box

4. Site-based performance.

The Bird Hide

Start on the path outside the two pods. Walk up the gravel path that leads to Taransay. Pick up the plastic Owl that perches on the wooden railing outside Taransay. Hold the Owl close. Walk back down the gravel path, that becomes, at about half way point, more like a stream. At the end of the path, turn around and walk back. Repeat a number of times. Enjoy the sound of the gravel underfoot, followed by the swish of the water that is now submerging the path.

After at least three journeys, begin to drop bits of broken white crockery onto the path – like bits of crockery discovered down on the beach. Drop a shard of crockery each time you walk towards Taransay. Drop 5 bits in total.

Once you have dropped the final piece, walk on to the decking and lie down on it, still holding Owl. Look through the taut wires that run between the posts. You and Owl. Look at the people looking at you. You and Owl. Look through each of the wires – each gap offers a different viewpoint, a different perspective, a different way of framing, seeing the view. Look for the birds. You and Owl.

Return to the lowest gap, You and Owl:

I spy

Then the next gap, You and Owl:

I am spying

Then the final gap, You and Owl:

I am spied

Return to the lowest gap, You and Owl:

I spy – water, reeds, moss, mud

Move up to  the next gap, You and Owl:

I spy – paddle steamers, day trippers, Queen Victoria

Move up to the next gap, You and Owl:

I spy – submarines. Duck. Hide. Duck hide.

Move up above the railing entirely, look up towards the sky, You and Owl:

I spy – a small, wooden bird box, attached to a tree. A small, wooden bird box, attached to a tree.

Place Owl on the wooden railing, and put woolly hat on her head. Wait – then pull hat down over Owl’s eyes.

Once upon a time there were steps leading down

Once upon a time there was a wooden floor

Once upon a time there were four wooden walls

Once upon a time there was blue tarpaulin sheeting

Once upon a time there was a grass roof

Once upon a time there was an inside and an outside

Once upon a time there were no steps leading down

Once upon a time there was no wooden floor

Once upon a time there were no wooden walls

Once upon a time there was no blue tarpaulin sheeting

Once upon a time there was no grass roof

Once upon a time there was no inside or outside

Once upon a time there were steps leading down

Once upon a time there was a wooden floor

Once upon a time there were four wooden walls

Once upon a time there was blue tarpaulin sheeting

Once upon a time there was a grass roof

Once upon a time there was an inside and an outside

Once upon a time there were no steps leading down

Once upon a time there was no wooden floor

Once upon a time there were no wooden walls

Once upon a time there was no blue tarpaulin sheeting

Once upon a time there was no grass roof

Once upon a time there was no inside or outside

Once upon a time there were steps leading down

Once upon a time there was a wooden floor

Once upon a time there were four wooden walls

Once upon a time there was blue tarpaulin sheeting

Once upon a time there was a grass roof

Once upon a time there was an inside and an outside

Once upon a time there were no steps leading down

Once upon a time there was no wooden floor

Once upon a time there were no wooden walls

Once upon a time there was no blue tarpaulin sheeting

Once upon a time there was no grass roof

Once upon a time there was no inside or outside

Repeat as often as feels right. Then stop. Take a small piece of blue tarpaulin sheeting from coat packet. Then a small piece of wooden floor. Then a small piece of wooden wall. Then a small piece of grass roof. Then a small twig. Place all in a heap. Place in the centre of the heap a tiny model of a woman.

Remove the hat from Owl and put it on Your head. Turn Owl to look down on miniature scene. Pick up steaming drink – served in a white china mug – and walk towards the pod: the pod with the steps leading up, the wooden floor, the wooden walls, the blue tarpaulin sheeting, the grass roof, the inside and outside…

The Bird Hide

5. Some Reflections

Sally captured beautifully the sheer waste of a light that burns during daytime. As dusk and then night descend, the energy that is being used becomes palpable, tangible, but so too is the purpose of the light revealed. A light is only a light when it is dark, when something needs to be lit. A light in daytime disappears; it is functionless, its energy wasted.

Alison: Being and being about rather than being about environmental change. That’s something to take on board, something to think about, something to aspire to? A way of being and being about.

Phil: A place of ‘nothingness’ seems, nevertheless, to generate a place of ‘fullness’, an exuberant, mad, magnificent performance of speed, action, repetition, myth, unfolding; Owl Women, Eternal Tree, Boy and Girl, Men in White Suits Running With White Suitcases,  a Communal Dinner That I Follow Hungrily As It Slides Down The Hill, cycle by cycle. This is an encounter with the place; what an encounter this is with this place, nothing transformed into invaluable.

Baz: Father playing son playing father, sideways look at a life lived foolishly, foolhardily, to do something. Hurrah for that life, for that youthful sprint and hurdle jump and all those hurdles held precariously and overcome or not, and it doesn’t matter, and hurrah for the skills and craft and creativity and speaking into the wind and rain, the fruit of labour perched atop a broken gate, a submarine and atop it another smaller submarine signalling through the wind and rain too, but not as loudly, not as lively, not as alive as you.

Tim: Pitter patter rain on hood, birds, echoes, stone masonry, simultaneous placing, emplacing, layering, transporting, time travel, but my feet remain rooted here, to this spot, my eyes to these sites, ears and mind and eyes and feet topsy turvy. Rain, pitter patter, crickets, summer, seasonal disorder? Climate change? Crickets in winter? Crickets but no more summers?

Steve: White cubes, landscape windows, perspectives, clean edges. Reframing the torrid burn as a landscaped garden feature – a way to render that landscaping, any landscaping, an act of nonsense. Water feature? Agency of the burns – improvising, negotiating? You trying to speak over it, your paper getting wet, sodden, us getting wet, sodden, ears cocked, listening intently, to the burn’s roar, to your nearly eclipsed, strained voice, to the two stories, the two pitches, the two rhythms, water/voice bursting its banks/landscaping its banks. Then you negotiating the water as it negotiates its environment, we look down, seeing but not hearing, watching your efforts, jumping the streams, counting the tributaries.


Paula: Tree not tree, becoming tree, tree becoming, becoming me, becoming tree. Who is holding who – up, in place? Who is growing? What is tree teaching? What is tree learning? How did tree/me grow (here)? Limbs, moss, green, shapes, spaces, light, movement, flow, balance, root, roots, rooting.

Helen: Consumption, greed, rushing, stuffing. The sheer quantity of things left over was startling – but left in the hope that it is not wasted. Yet it is wasted. Yet it is reused, at least, here. Cove Park’s Food Reserve. In case of a food shortage, nuclear attack, things running low, running out? When we leave something, who do we imagine will use it? Do we ever imagine it not being used? What to do with all this stuff? Risk not bringing it in the first place? A cereal moratorium. A cereal mausoleum. Testimony to things left over, left behind, left.

David: Silence – not quite – please breathe more quietly, stop rustling your water proof jacket. It’s difficult to command silence in a room of 12 people, standing close together. My glasses have steamed up. Then, startling figure breaking up the still landscape, but uncannily, no noise, no sound, just the movement, disconnected from us by the pane of glass between there and here. He gestures, gesticulates, speaks, communicates – what? We can’t hear. Closer, closer, braving freezing pond to reach us – to have his voice reach us. The distance between there and here, though, is significant, takes persistence, effort, focus. We did not move. We waited till he came close enough for us to hear him. Till his voice came into view, broke through this barrier. I know that swallows fly straight into this sheet of glass.

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