I am based in Dublin and currently finishing my MA with the University of the West of Scotland. I have been spending time with Margaret Salmon’s beautiful film Eglantine while invigilating its installation at Dunvegan Castle since mid-May with ATLAS Arts.
The position and my accommodation on the castle grounds have given me an invaluable opportunity to explore Dunvegan Loch in the context of Salmon’s imagery. It has become something of a nature residency for me. I have been spending my days at the installation, looking in on my favourite sequences, the intimate soundscape of forest and marine life making me feel I’m on the edge of these landscapes. I walk and cycle between the castle and the coral beaches, a beautiful changing landscape that reflects some of the film’s locations. When I am staring at a caterpillar or piece of seaweed or the spot in the water where a seal’s head has just been bobbing, I consider my perceptions of the film and its atmosphere. I find myself thinking about early excursions around the Irish coasts and forests with my family.
At the installation, children are mesmerised by the lingering shots and gentle activity. Visitors remember what creatures they’ve seen in the wild, what natural environments they’ve been to themselves. Adults say over and over that the film is showing us how children look at nature – in meditative appreciation and wonder. It sounds like there is a part of everyone’s identity that awakens in their early encounters with nature. I wonder to what degree this appreciation could be instinctive or universal. We talk about the empowerment of Eglantine, as she experiences a joyful, personal adventure, and how the film seems to challenge us to reject the gothic notions of forests as dangerous territories for malevolent forces, and to accept that these natural worlds are neutral spaces. Eglantine looks at the frog, the deer looks at the camera, the caterpillar looks at the leaf, the fish look at each other, the ferns look up to the sky, the badger comes out when we are not looking, and the forest exists whether Eglantine is there or not. But she may be changed by her time spent looking.