In Scotland, the historic ‘right to roam’ means people can freely access land and some inland water, but settling on land rarely results in ownership rights. In England, until recently, ‘squatting’ non-residential properties, or indeed just using a piece of land for 12 years or more, represents an ‘interest’ that could transform into ‘title’, could make it yours. Perhaps the impossibility of possession without sale has made land owners in Scotland happy to provide free shelter for people walking around their wider expanses of private property.
These simple shelters are often small (stone) houses known as Bothies. As the Mountain Bothy Association affirms, ‘it’s important to assume there will be no facilities. No tap, no sink, no beds, no lights, and, even if there is a fireplace, perhaps nothing to burn.’ There is no guarantee of running water or a water source nearby, no certainty of a functioning toilet. An art project is the last thing you’d expect in such survivalist conditions. Shelter Stone: The Artist and the Mountain, public art in the form of a newspaper, has been delivered by hand by Association Members to each of the 102 bothies, shelters and mountain huts in the UK (83 of which are in Scotland) together with other locations in Iceland and the Alps. The project was launched midsummer 2017 at the Shelter Stone, an iconic Cairngorms boulder with space beneath for sleeping.
To have presence in so many remote locations the art had to be transportable. Eddie Summerton, who selected the artists, says it ‘couldn’t be some shiny art thing’. The newspaper acknowledges its practicality, including being ‘a fire lighter, boot drier, draught excluder or toilet paper’. Coming across artwork in a bothy differs from picking up ephemera at an exhibition that infiltrates homes and can be purposefully archived: Walkers can talk about the work, photograph the pages, pages make their way into backpacks, either as a deliberate act of preservation, or wrapped around a knife.
Shelter Stone doesn’t exist in full form online, and many of the works are ‘unique to the project’. Thankfully, those who can’t get to a bothy can still see, but not experience the materiality of, the newspaper. Coinciding with the Mountain film festival, 23-25 November 2017, the pages line the walls of the high ceilinged Visual Research Centre in Dundee Contemporary Arts. If you’ve missed this, it’s viewable in the Octagonal Rooms of the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, July 2018.
Walking, using a map for navigation, imagining links between different places, different points: superimposing (fictive) lines, routes subtly changing as we make our way.
In Dundee, the expanded presentation allows the tracing of paths between some of the 46 contributors. Lots of them teach, have taught at, or, at some stage attended Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee. Names I know from studying there in the 1990s: Eddie Summerton himself, Arthur Watson, Kevin Henderson, Mark Hunter, Euan McArthur, Will Maclean. McArthur’s charcoal drawing ‘The Round Head’ conditions my memory of this art historian who introduced me, under duress, to Postmodernity by David Lyon.
Likewise, some of the collaborations have links to the school, such as The Museum of Loss and Renewal, a project by Tracy Mackenna and Edwin Janssen. Still others came after my tenure: Mick Peter, Norman Shaw. A recent alumni, Alan Grieve’s ‘Landscape Collage’ has some instructions labelled ‘Giving a Grid Reference’ augmented with the words ‘GPS YA FANNy. X’. Methods of navigation change with technology, altering our relationships to the mountain. Literature also informs our understanding, the collage features Nan Shepherd, known for her experiential account of the Cairngorms The Living Mountain (1977), pondering her romance with the mythical grey or ‘big hairy wildman’ Am Fear Liath Mór. In the Cairngorms, and other remote areas, limited reception can make offline usage, or maps, necessary.
Beyond kith, there’s also familial links, ‘kin’—interest in the mountain inherited and reformed. John Maclean, son of Will, for instance, with a screen grab showing unlikely aliens at the top of Stac Pollaidh from the Beta Band’s ‘Inner Meet Me’ (1998). Eddie Summerton’s documentation of ‘The Inaccessible Pinnacle’ a boxed set of 282 hand painted postcards of molehills (2016-17). These almost life size renderings mimic images of mountain conquests; by making a mountain out of a molehill Summerton satirises the capacity to ‘do’ or ‘bag’ large hills. His daughter Jasmine Summerton’s work ‘Cardinal and Ordinal’ is composed of photographs from a portable camera obscura in nine locations across Cairngorms National Park. Works differ in form but maintain a commitment to representing and reinterpreting landscapes.
Many contributions feature the Cairngorms; as legendary blind climber Sydney Scroggie observes in The Cairngorms Scene and Unseen (1989, p.31) this mountain range provides a necessary escape from ‘civilisation’: ‘down there in Dundee you lived in a world crammed with insoluble problems, political, economic, industrial and sociological… Every expedition, in its inception, struggles, successes, by this argument is a triumphant solving for a time of the problems of the world and the baffling of the soul.’ However, John Glenday, who chose the writers featured in Shelter Stone, transforms the urban and day-to-day in eighteen of the ‘Thirty Six Views of the Dundee Law’, drawing from Japanese geography and poetry styles ‘after Hokusai’:
end of the Arctic Bar,
dreamed me last night.
Elsewhere, Maris’ images of ‘N. Observatory Camp’ suggest shelter and protection from the elements, but their appearance echoes Hannah Imlach’s ‘Icosahedron Kite at Eaval, North Uist’ (2012). Sculpture of another type—remnants of plants and animals—are gathered, sorted and composed by Chris Drury into ‘Four Spheres’. Mysticism and the occult permeate the pages—the ‘big hairy wild man’, Georgia Rose Murray’s magical painting ‘Ouroboros Golden Artic Oneness’, a nineteen-year-old Aleister Crowley’s climbing route to ‘Beachy Head from the sea’ from the Scottish Mountaineering Club journal, 1895. The illustration is devoid of explanation: did Crowley choose this location for the challenging route or because these chalk cliffs are a notorious suicide spot?
The newspaper itself reinforces the power of the Shelter Stones already present in many bothies: Fergus Walker’s ‘Airson Iomairt cleibe For affections of the chest’ identifies them as ‘a stone that, with its unique powers, would bring blessing and protection to the house whose stonework it was incorporated into, preventing evil influence.’ Beyond occultism, there’s also a reverence for being on or with the mountain, how this makes us feel, either alone or collectively. The intimate encounter in Phoebe Smith’s ‘Bothy Magic’ perhaps an encouragement for those out of the hills.
This text, the one you read now, summons, then crystallises, links through my memory. The works prompt sensations, emotions, acting as a motivator for future visits—planning a trip to the Shelter Stone, wanting to feel what it means to reach then rest there after day’s walk. What does this spark in others? In you? Out on the hills, maybe happening upon the newspaper more than once? In the gallery? The newspaper as gateway, a map made of specific and personal recollections that triggers routes into many new terrains.
Shelter Stone: The Artist and the Mountain, a year-long art project launched at the Shelter Stone, Cairngorms, midsummer 2017.
Anna McLauchlan is a teacher and learner who currently lectures in critical human geography at the University of Leeds.
Thanks to Eddie Summerton for discussing the project and Barry Burns for commenting on an earlier draft of this text.
Shelter Stone features contributions from: Alec Finlay, Bill Duncan, Helen Mort, Jen Cooper, Jen Hadfield, John Glenday, Kenneth White, Linda Cracknell, Lindsay Macgregor, Phoebe Smith, Aleister Crowley, Sebastian Pöllmann, Alan Grieve, Andy Goldsworthy, Andy Rice, Arthur Watson, Calum Wallis ,Chris Drury, Craig Coulthard, Eddie Summerton, Euan MacArthur, Gabriela Fridriksdottir, Georgia Rose Murray, Graeme Todd, Hanna Tuulikki, Hannah Imlach, Ilana Halperin, Jasmine Summerton, Jessica Ramm, John Maclean, Julius Koller, Kevin Henderson, Lara Orman Maris, Mark Hunter, Mick Peter, Museum of Loss and Renewal, Norman Shaw, Paul Fleming, Rabiya Choudhry, Seton and Audrey Gordon, The Armchair Mountaineering Club, Tim Knowles, Timothy Neat, Will Maclean, Fergus Walker