Arts & Special People | Tracy Morgan | Fertile Ground
It’s ok having ideas but making things happen takes some special people who could make the idea WHAT IF….., come to life, to bring artists and communities together.
North Light Arts have been fortunate to work with so many talented artists starting with the ‘Taking a Line’ project when we were so delighted that the artist Ross Combe stepped forward to coordinate ‘Knitting the Harbour’, two weeks of knitting, weaving and lots of cups of tea: Over the years others have stepped forward – Lucy Dunce hung exhibitions, Linda Greig worked with older people in ‘Grey Matters’, Justine and Chris Watt hung recent exhibitions, Carey Douglass-Carnegie coordinated the ‘Natural Magic’ project and Felicity Bristow who helped to co-ordinate the year of ‘Knitting the Rainbow Garden’ and the ‘Floers’ John Muir Residency Hannah Imlach and Alec Finlay .
However nobody has had such a lasting influenced on NLA more than the Project Manager Tracy Morgan, who spreads a little magic over all that she does – she helped to develop our continuing vision and the processes that guide us. She stepped in to manage the ‘Walking a Line’ project in 2013 right up to the celebrated residency ‘Homing’ by Dalziel+Scullion .
Go Outside and Appreciate Nature
North Light Arts has taught me to ‘go outside and appreciate nature’.
‘Taking a Line’, was my first taste of North Light Arts (NLA) creative programme. In the summer of 2010 I remember meeting Susie Goodwin, NLA Creative Director, in McArthur’s Store, the home to Dunbar Harbour Trust (an ancient stone building situated on the eastern edge of Dunbar’s Cromwell Harbour, the building dates back to the 17th century). I followed my nose to the salty sea and as I entered McArthur’s Store I was met with a hub of creative activity, a loom with a community tapestry in progress, people spinning wool and knitting and lots of chatter. I was inspired.
North Light Arts inspired me again 2013. I was invited to an artist’s gathering at the Bleachingfield Community Centre, Dunbar. A group of twenty artists presented their ideas for their North Light Arts commissions including: Karen Gabbitas, Emma Herman-Smith, Alistair Cooke, Sheree Mack, Steve Ronnie and Hannah Imlach. We visited White Sands Beach and the geologist Fiona McGibbon demonstrated how to use a magnifying glass to examine fossils. We talked and walked through the remains of a 320 million year old fossil forest. I remember that summer fondly, sitting outside the NLA wooden beach hut at Dunbar Harbour, welcoming each artist in residence.
The ‘Fertile Ground Conference’, a two-day event held in 2014, was a turning point for NLA and placed the organisation on the artistic map. The conference aimed to evaluate the power of environmental arts and its place in raising issues and questions of global concern. Drawing delegates from across Scotland, the first day of presentations was held at the Bleachingfield Community Centre and in the evening we were presented with a memorable supper created with foraged and locally source ingredients, made by Mark Williams of Galloway Wild Foods.
‘The Alchemy of Soil Exhibition’ by Natalie Taylor was held in 2015, as part of the John Muir Festival at Dunbar Town House. The United Nations proclaimed 2015 International Year of Soils, which offered an opportunity to address the crisis in soil sustainability. Soils are essential to our ecosystems, playing a key role in the carbon cycle, storing and filtering water, and improving resilience to floods and droughts and providing our edible plants with nutrition. Natalie was commissioned to create a large mandala painting on paper using pigments made from soils collected from East Lothian.
Dunbar is a remarkable place, local community organisations such as Sustaining Dunbar and The Ridge, have long been active in exploring sustainability, carbon reduction, composting initiatives and the circular economy and Dunbar was named Scotland’s first ‘Zero Waste Town’ in 2014, piloting a then new initiative in Scotland to dramatically reduce waste and encourage the reuse of waste products.
Dalziel+ Scullion created ‘Homing’, a publication they describe as a ‘field guide for reconnecting with nature’, inspired by their NLA, John Muir Residency in 2018. This beautiful book is a fitting legacy that has inspired me to make more of my environment.
I have watched North Light Arts grow and develop over the past ten years, welcoming artists to Dunbar and developing creative conversations between specialists and the community. NLA now has an artist studio, which overlooks the Backlands Community Garden, built by local volunteers working with The Ridge. The Pavilion is a workshop space and an artist’s residency venue, providing an opportunity for creatives to get outside and appreciate nature. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic it is perhaps more important than ever for people to re-connect with nature. I have enjoyed my connections with North Light Arts over the years and I hope they have continued success in the future developing more innovative and thought provoking projects.
by Tracy Morgan
Tracy’s vibrant personality and easy way with people combined with her experience and professionalism allowed her to manage a number of successful projects such as Growing Arts Seeds, and working with emerging and established artists. She also worked with us to develop our very successful two-day conference ‘Fertile Ground’ in 2015.
This project brought over 100 people together: Artists, specialists and environmentalist from across the country gathering in Dunbar. Chaired by the reader at Aberdeen University Chris Freemantle, speakers and specialist came from across Scotland, also from Wakefield came the Education Officer from the Hepworth Gallery. Fertile Ground didn’t shy away from the urgent environmental issues of our time: giving people the opportunity to share the potential of the arts to raise questions – questions about the way we live here in Dunbar, but also about how we can be greener and more sustainable in this world given the climate crisis we are all facing.
Our collaboration with Sustaining Dunbar and their ‘Gathering In’ event, held in a marquee outside the Bleachingfield Centre:, allowed delegates to experience the activities of local groups some of the green initiatives in action. We then enjoyed a foraged evening meal prepared by Galloway Wild Foods and the Ridge Café, the diners being welcomed by song, harp and spoken word.
The second day saw the delegates exploring our SSI coastline of ancient fossilised rocks guided by the local Geologist Fiona McGibbon, and along the beach we saw Hannah Imlach and her the sight specific artwork. We then visited Belhaven Community Garden where we took part in a Slow Sensory Walk led by artist Karen Gabbitas – followed by Sue Guy of Sustaining Dunbar who helped to identify some local environmental issues and to see some potential solutions in action in the garden.
Tracy also organised a lively and fruitful plenary session at Dunbar Town House where people could share their impressions of the event and get to the heart of the subject and it’s relevance to us. The whole conference still influences our work and was filmed and carefully edited by Summerhall TV in Edinburgh.
NLA shared some really exciting times with Tracy so we were really sad on her return to the Fruitmarket Gallery where she is their Education Officer.
Films by Summerhall TV
Photography by Mike Bolam taken at ‘Fertile Ground’
Tracy Morgan | Fertile Ground
Anna has been a regular artist and participant in our North Light Arts activities over the years.
We create many opportunities for people to participate in the arts, often within our landscape so that the local community, but also the artists can engage and inspire through meaningful workshops and education initiatives that promote participatory practice while focusing on the environmental themes we generate. Anna is a local artist who has been involved in many projects with us, mainly using her printing skills, but especially in her valuable contribution to the schools project ‘Plankton’ developed by Linda Greig in 2016.
This community engagement project was commissioned by artist Donald Urquhart who had been commission by the Harbour Trust to develop a site-specific installation for the Battery on Victoria Harbour: our project was designed to respond to his theme which had inspired the etchings on his polished steel cubes.
Anna worked worked with the artist and teacher Linda Greig and bringing their individual skills to a series of workshops with all five streams of Dunbar Primary School – that’s a lot of students!: Linda helped the children explore the science behind the plankton to be found in the harbour and the plankton found in deeper waters out at sea – their importance in the food chain, how plankton were to be found in various patterns and how they could also light up.
Anna then took the stencils that Linda had developed with the children from their own design. She taught them how to make their own two colour screen print, choosing to have their plankton floating around in light blue sea as if lit by the sun or a black ground to demonstrate the sea in the deep ocean.
Dozens of flags were created from the printed fabric and were displayed in the Community Room above Donald exhibition ‘Coast’, held at Dunbar Town House. The colourful flags would later be exhibited in the town and were then returned to the school and their original creators.
Anna wrote recently:
‘Fantastic article in the Scotsman and how wonderful for you to look back at all the interesting and collaborative projects that you have generated with North Light Arts, a great achievement.
Personally I have enjoyed many of the projects and events, in walking a line, I found the walks informative and inspirational crossing the boundaries of art practice, science and archeology
with a shared awareness of the environment and how we understand it and our place in it. Also enjoyed taking part in the first Hub exhibitions and adding to the collaborative books, by leaves we live?
It was fun to be involved in the plankton project and creating a series of screen print flags, working with Linda in the schools and seeing how the children responded with such enthusiasm to the project of our seas and plankton and how much they learnt and absorbed by learning through a creative medium, drawing, printing.
I also greatly enjoyed the film poem event which was a wonderful platform of film art poetry spoken word ,from Scotland and beyond, a brilliant weekend and also inspiring. I have also enjoyed the many talks and exhibitions, and the harbour art hut, and once you start thinking about it there has been so much, it has all added to my enjoyment of and awareness of the East Lothian landscape/environment.
amazing and well done
Carl was the first artist to inhabit our beach Hut on Victoria Harbour and travelled from the south of England to take part in ‘Taking A Line’. He was camping in atrocious weather and walked the coast down to Siccar point just south of Dunbar in search of his inspiration.
‘So good to hear from you and wonderful to see the What If exhibition.
I was thinking about my times at Dunbar only the other week. Lockdown has given me the opportunity to properly tidy my studio and my papers. My two summers in Dunbar were vitally important personally, as the last art I made before starting my masters. The work started in the Beach Hut looking at James Hutton’s work with Siccar Point was the starting point for my work at Goldsmiths, which, roughly put, was all focused on how to make explicitly ecological work. Looking back at it, the memories of camping by the nuclear power station, drinking red wine by the North Sea and getting kind of annoyed at the noise of the kittiwakes (sacrilege I know!) was such a turning point.
Strangely the work that ended up coming out of it (in a roundabout way) were these mezzotints I started making of movie studio logos: https://www.carlgent.com/desperate-calligraphy which remain the only work I ever sell (haha). There were some earlier versions that more explicitly referenced Hutton. I’ll see if I can capture them when I’m back in the studio. I also ended up making a more full photographic series of the confetti-cannon launcher works I started in Dunbar and Thorntonloch and a slideshow-performance about it all called Tongue of the Preinoculated that I exhibited in Bath at some point. Will try and dig up the photos of these at some point too.
But yes, just to be more specific. This sculptural practice of heading into the literal stuff of the world (in North Light’s instance, the ocean) and making some kind of offering unto it, trying to encode it in a more literal sense – putting words into a body of liquid. In many ways it started at Dunbar and remains a consistent working method that I trust more and more.’
By Carl Gent
Below are some reflections on my own involvement, eight (!) years ago now. I took part in Northlight in 2012
‘I remember the little beach hut at the harbour that served as a temporary gallery, but I’d forgotten the work I’d made for it until I looked it up: photos of objects arranged in ‘sixteens’, made on trips that summer to Orkney and Moray as well as along the coast of East Lothian.
The images strike me now as both impersonal and poignant, of that past summer as well as vivid still in their present-ness. They show ordinary things, found in quantity, none of them very special; their focus is narrow, shutting out the wider scene, yet they have their own power of recall, of evocation, perhaps all the more powerful for not fixing that wider scene as a single image. Walking through Elgin with a friend and arranging those willow leaves on the parapet of a bridge; my then-partner on a warm but overcast Orkney beach absorbed by collecting those (and many more) coral fragments. The paradox of each piece’s individuality being highlighted when placed next to one similar but not quite the same.
I’m a poet rather than a visual artist, so this was something of a departure from me, though as I noted in the blog, it grew out of an earlier project. One day I bought a copy of John Muir’s autobiography, and was struck by a line about his childhood in Dunbar; he wrote, ‘we loved to watch the passing ships and make guesses as to the ports they had come from’. I grew up in Kirkcaldy, and had watched the same stretch of sea from the other shore, similarly imagining connections to far-flung lands beyond the horizon. From that line, and walks along the East Lothian coast that summer, came this poem, lke the ‘sixteens’ another exploration of similarity and difference.’
a coracle of willow and skins beneath a changeable sky
a Roman flotilla edging north to Ultima Thule
a Viking longship breaking open the honied south
a Genoese galley blockading the castle
the Great Michael floating the woods of Fife
Sir Patrick Spens sailing the king’s guid schip
the widowed queen’s fleet arriving in thick mist
the brig Covenant of Dysart bound for the Carolinas
the clipper Isabella bringing tea into Leith
a herring-laden zulu tacking for Fisherrow
a U-boat periscope scanning the waves
the crude oil tanker Seadancer flying a flag of convenience
By Ken Cockburn
‘What If ?’ Taking a Line Project 2010
The first in our Retrospective on-line Exhibition June to December 2020
‘What if‘ saw lots of sharing of skills and experience in the project ‘Taking a Line’ in 2010 – by artists, specialists such as Fiona McGibbon and historian Maggie Struckmeier together with our Community in a year long journey. From Hill to shore, to the community woodland and then to exhibitions at John Muir’s Birthplace and the Harbour Trust offices in McArthurs Store – works inspired by the journey.
It culminated in the celebrated knitted harbour where Ross Combe helped Susie Goodwin to organise around 20 artists and over 100 people who dropped in to collaborate on a representation of Victoria Harbour in locally spun and dyed wool: boats, cottages, kittiwakes, the yellow burger van, the fisherman and the lifeboatman as well as the chair of the Harbour Trust – spot him in the dark glasses. The completed harbour was later to be curated by Malcolm Innes and Susie Goodwin with and displayed at John Muir’s Birthplace and the Peter Potter Gallery in Haddington.
Watch out for more in the coming weeks!
Follow some images of our shared journey across our landscape in 2010 in this short video: