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‘Inverness is Pants’, Sarah Barnes, from Imaging the Centre, Inverness, 2006


Lannathai restaurant. Killing time with Jeep Solid (think Ivor Cutler for the dance generation). Our last resort as Jeep is barred from most places in town. The staff smile that beatific Thai smile as Jeep explores the phonetic cadences of Thai and Gaelic. We finally accept the inevitable and leave.

No sleep. Project manager Susan Christie and I take possession of Church Street, armed with traffic cones and hazard tape. Rust bright and hard against blue sky as Sam Barlow’s six-metre steel sea eagle swings from a hoist and months of delicate negotiations with engineers vanish into irrelevance. Our options are now defined by the crane’s path around an overhead cable—it brings to mind the pair of eagle owls nesting on Church Street when first I came here. We begin.

Most of the artists are on site. Rosie Newman and Caroline Dear prowl around a heap of heather and timber. Kath, a helper from Skye, arrives with a bag of island soil to add to the assorted earth from around Scotland that will make up the floor of Rosie and Caroline’s installation, ‘Lorg’.

The Foundry Bar, Church Street. A pile of Dayglo yellow newspaper sacks bearing the legend ‘I built this city’ sit beside a circle of 15 volunteers who will walk the street all day speaking with people and recording the way this ‘imagined centre’ affects the way they think about and use their city.

Ramada Jarvis Hotel, Church Street. Zero hour. We have a crowd! Two abseilers unfurl a 20-metre red banner bearing the legend ‘09.09.06’ down the façade announcing the ‘One Day Revolution’, a multi-faceted work by street-artists DUFI and playwright Sophie McCook.

Church Street bursts into life. There is a blur of energy, people, art and yellow bags; an urgency to the conversations like a dam bursting. Fin Macrae cries a populist text from the 18th century while, behind him, Al McInnes spraywrites ‘The Voice’ on a pedestal that is home to three chalk white figures. The Three Graces (lost to the town in the 1980s) speak texts, collected from the archives of local historian and signwriter Hector MacDonald.

We are never going to last the day if this keeps up. The Invernesians, it seems, have decided to prove to the world that theirs is a cultural city by devouring their new centre. The crowd of youth with revolutionary placards is swelling as you watch, Pavel’s drum beats in time with people enacting their last five seconds on Earth before being eaten by the steel eagle (peformances are caught by a hidden camera to be remixed later on in a live projection, ‘Prey–Pray’).Old people stroke the heather sheath of ‘Lorg’ and tread its earth floor nostalgically.

Market Close. At last the street is finding a level, one of our ‘yellow bag people’ reports a marked contrast between the manic shopping fervour of the nearby mall and the gentle strolling and chatting that has become the norm on Church Street. I run into film producer James Mackay. He is working on one of the jigsaws that accompany historian Gordon Urquhart’s sound installation, ‘Soft City’. Is it just me, or is Inverness just a wee bit cosmopolitan all of a sudden?

The Pancake Place shuts its doors for the third time. It cannot cope with the demand. The chef suggests that the vacant office in the upper floors of Church Street be converted into low cost housing for artists.

Sarah Barnes emerges from the scrum that has engulfed ‘Inverness is Pants’ all day, adjusts her pink sunglasses and announces to a TV crew that she will be moving on to doughnuts next. The smokers outside Lauder’s Bar accost me, intent on explaining the identities of ‘Hidden Heroes’,a photo installation by Dean Melville and Evelyn Pottie.

Our street moves into evening mode. The ‘Prey–Pray’ projection is the hippest place in town—a new public space is born. John McGeoch sits, slightly incongruous, in his fully watertight projection hide, secure in the knowledge that the two days he spent weatherproofing guaranteed all-day sunshine for everyone.

Jeep is due on stage in the multimedia work ‘Cape Reality’—made in collaboration with artist Graeme Roger. Why then is he walking the wrong way up the street? I find him a pint of water and a toilet.

‘Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Cape Reality …’ Graeme’s images from the patent ‘Jeepcam’ sweep colour and new life over the Old High Church graveyard. Liz wanders from the crowd with a tambourine. Her friends from the local mental illness centre take this as a cue to join the dance. Church elders watch with a wary eye. The rest of the audience are lost in their own sense of place.