To conclude ATLAS’ year-long project A Work for the North Atlantic, ATLAS commissioned artist Richard Skelton, to respond to Bethan Huws’ film Singing for the Sea, and the landscape that formed its temporary backcloth when we screened it in Skye Sailing Club in 2016.
Huws’ film documents a group of eight female Bulgarian singers performing traditional songs on Sugar Sands, Northumberland, on the coast of the North Sea.
As Siôn Parkinson, artist, singer and producer wrote in an essay exploring the links between Huws’ work and Skye:
In its re-orientated presentation in a boathouse overlooking Portree harbour in the Isle of Skye, Huws’ artwork speaks to a contemporary context of displacement, as well as to an historical one specific to the Highlands. For it echoes the migrants’ call of the tens of thousands of men, women and children who sailed from the Isle of Skye across the ocean to America during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In turning its attention from the east to west, from the North Sea to the Atlantic, Huws’ film presents us with a question concerning the mutability of our own sense of belonging and nationhood. And so from a village south of Sofia to a shore on the edge of England to an island on the northwestern extremity of Europe, here the work finds new resonance.
Skelton’s work is informed by landscape, evolving from sustained immersion in specific environments and deep, wide-ranging research incorporating toponymy and language, ecology and geology, folklore and myth. The title Eilean Fuinn, is derived from the term fonn, which Skelton discovered in Edward Dwelly’s Classic Scottish Gaelic dictionary, Skelton writes:
“Its meanings include both ‘land, earth, plain’, as well as ‘air, tune, music’ – such that landscape and music are homonymically connected. Dwelly also adds one further definition to fonn, the ‘drone of the bagpipe’.”
Undertaking two research trips to Skye, Skelton has explored archive material, recorded a plethora of sounds including a Gaelic mass, and worked with a variety of musicians. Specifically, in the creation of this new composition, Skelton worked with the following pieces of music and musicians: Cumha na Cloinne (Lament for the Children) played by Decker Forrest, Highland bagpipes; Oran Manitoba played by Hector MacInnes, accordion, Em Tog orm mo Phìob (Bring Me My Pipes) and Am Iomramh Eadar Il’ A’s Uist (Rowing From Islay To Uist) played by Ronan Martin, fiddle; and Braes of Lochiel played by Frances Wilkins, concertina.