Into the Desert

Center of Makhtesh Gadol, Negev, Israel.
Image via Wikipedia

I previewed the Eight Cuts Gallery Exhibition  into the desert  a few posts back. The exhibition opened yesterday – and is only a mouse click away. I urge you to visit – there’s art visual and literary – poetry, short fiction, novel extracts… Here’s how my visit went:

Visiting any exhibition at any gallery has the potential to be exhausting. The senses are assaulted, the brain challenged, the body disorientated, time stands still and the feet and back get sore. And in the case of the Eight Cuts exhibition all but the last one apply – at least you can visit this one sitting down. I started by clicking ‘on the edge of something’ and then on each category listed in turn, after that on the website’s header. You can flit around, clicking on links within the exhibits – but I’m a linear sort of girl –and tried not to be distracted by glimpses into other rooms or to get too lost in the desert.

I began my visit yesterday evening. Fortified by a glass of wine and my husband’s excellent Friday night curry, I set off.  First I downloaded and read through the programme – so that I could be, at least a little bit, familiar with the contributors. Then for the next two and half hours, while a force 7 blew along the loch and the rain battered against the windows, I became oblivious to everything – except this most amazing, joyous, original, jaw-dropping gallery space. I’ve visited galleries all over the world – Barcelona, Edinburgh, London, Glasgow, Boston, Cape Town, Sydney, Verona, Hobart, Prague, Jerusalem,  Singapore and, oh yes, Portree! And this virtual example is up there with them all.

Then this morning, the necessary household chores completed to keep the cottage sanitary, I returned to continue my exploration of the treasures on offer. Fortified this time by a cup of Taylor’s rich Italian blend coffee, I set off. I was very glad not to have to go further than my desk as, the south-westerly gale continued to howl and whistle and the white-crested waves bashed against the cliffs at the foot of the croft.

Pausing only for lunch and another, mid-afternoon, dose of caffeine I completed my tour. And, yes, it was an amazing journey. What talent is on display!  Artists – literary and visual –of great integrity, honesty and depth are all on show. Your philosophy, politics and preconceptions will all be challenged. Your brain will hurt – but at least your feet won’t.

Wow – just – wow! Glé mha! My preview didn’t do it justice. Dan Holloway, the curator-creator of this truly wonderful space, has done an incredible job putting this lot together.  As for the exhibitors and their exhibits – a few thoughts from me below.

But don’t take my word for it. Go visit!


Andy Harrod’s ‘Repeat till Fade’ – a picture = a 1000 words -a nightmare in a handful of words.

Allyson Armistead’s ‘Oasis’ – what a beautiful story – not a wasted word. Warmth, humour, pathos, love and that all-consuming fear of mortality all conveyed in a deceptively simple story. Wonderful!


Andy Harrod’s ‘At the Edge of Something’ – moving- in my case to tears. A very close family member committed suicide ten years ago. Those of us he left behind will forever wonder if we could have listened and helped more. The photos and the words – I can’t think of a more intense example of human heart to heart communication.

Andy Harrods’s ‘Alice’ – DISTURBING! Chilling, menacing, ambiguous – it’s brevity makes it all the more sinister – and leaves the barriers in tact. Masterly writing.


Sarah Melville’s– ‘French Lesson’ – three cheers for the child – in the story, and in us all. Acquiescence doesn’t necessarily mean compliance. The feisty, wee narrator says a lot – about adult/child relationships, power/vulnerability, and respect/disrespect in  a very few words. Clever, economical, powerful, story telling.

Oli Johns’ –  ‘The Things They Let Into the Classroom’ – VERY dark. We’re inside the head of a burnt out, exhausted, stressed, depressed, paranoid teacher. A narrator provoked beyond endurance and tolerance by a difficult pupil. Boundaries – between reality and dreaming, between characters and between right and wrong blur and bleed into each other. Horrible and sinister double standards surface – loving fathers are also potential child molesters. Reading this will affect the reader deeply. It’s gripping, horribly fascinating and unsettling. Oli is an original and uncompromising writer and he presents the more unsavoury truths about human nature and our capacity for destruction – of ourselves and of others.


Penny Goring’s‘Temporary Passport’ – this recollection of a long gone love – a busking, poverty laden, peripatetic, partnership is raw and haunting. There are no regrets over the fact of the relationship but the loss of the narrator’s drawings of her former partner’s ‘fantastic face’ is deeply felt. The language and the imagery give this short story the feeling of a novel.

Kathryn Megan Stark’s ‘Touchdown Toward Midnight on the Potomac River’ – is a story of a plane ditching in a freezing river. The passengers’ stories are told with such depth that they made this reader gasp. Wonderful writing. I was especially impressed by the assault victim’s take.


Cendrine Marrouat’s ‘Grains of Sand’– the photo is striking – are the structures nothing more than sand sculptures – vulnerable and frail like life? The poem is a liberation from concerns over life’s fleetingness. Cendrine takes an eternity-embracing view in this deeply philosophical musing on time and life. The desert she presents here is anything but barren. An incredibly talented poet at work here.

Joyce Chng’s ‘Desert Mother’– this is a reverential and touching poem – the tone is both respectful and sad. The desert mother could be both literal and metaphorical. is the ‘heat and grit’ symbolic of a late mother’s personality. This is a poem to ponder upon, and to revisit.


Marc Nash’s –‘Feed Tube’   This poem is surreal – I hope I’ve ‘got’ it – it’s one hell of a drug-induced trip. It’s a stream of yearning consciousness; at least it is on the surface. I don’t mean it’s gone straight from the poet’s brain to the page – there’s real craftsmanship present here and I think Marc’s poem demands re-reading – in a good way.


Stacy Ericson’s ‘Sole’s Rest’ – this is awesome – a waltzing rhythm of arresting imagery – depicting day’s (life’s?) end – a fading to black of sky and hills and being called home by the desert dogs.

Quenntis Ashby’s ‘Into the desert of breaking things without pause for concern’ – post-apocalyptic prayer and warning message for those haunted and taunted by their casual disregard of our beautiful, wee, blue planet, of its structures – physical, natural, political and economical – i.e a call to all of us. This is reminiscent of P.D.James’s ‘Children of Men’  (I loved that book and the movie) – it’s ‘Children of Men’ on the moon, if you like, and what might come next. Clever and entertaining.

Alexander McNabb’s ‘The Salamander’– Fuelled by ‘power and passion made molten and pure’ the Salamander – or is it really a rather sick and discarded old tramp in a heat induced nightmare stupor – roams the streets – looking for the One. Delusion, illusion, drunken dream – whatever it’s powerful, it’s shocking – you’ll stop and, in a weird way, you’ll enjoy.

Sabina England’s ‘Brown Trash’– it’s a hymn, a war cry for inclusiveness, for the right to be yourself, to embrace your beliefs. Go girl! Here’s to all who dare to be different just by being themselves. Nobody has a monopoly on truth – Sabina’s shout needs to be heard.


SabinaEngland’s –‘Self-Portrait’ video – GASP! LOL! GASP! OMG! love it! Just remember the little old lady might not want to cross the road or indeed the young woamn may not need you to holler ‘Stop!’ She might actually be able to manage just fine by herself!

Chris Graham’s ‘What’s Going On?’– dark! I laughed, then felt I shouldn’t; hands covering mouth, I watched the narrator drop his bomb on his parents and then applauded him for doing so. Being true to yourself has its price – but it’s worth every penny.


Thomas Stolperer’s ‘The Desert’ – Stick with this one and come back. It’ll repay a revisit or six. The characters reflect on the many aspects of a/our desert life. There’s self-justification, self-deprecation, cynicism, subversion, regret, humour and resignation. It’s life as we know it.


Grace Andreacchi and Natasha Guy – are the contributors here.  Theirs is  stark, bleakly beautiful poetry.

Grace’s ‘On the U-Bahn’ and ‘Dream’ are laden with menace and (self) destruction and Natasha’s ‘Barren Determination’ sings out with perseverance.

Thank you, Dan and all the exhibitors for a wonderful day out (of myself).

Oh and for anyone in or around Oxford on November 18th there’s a LIVE SHOW with presentations by many of the above artists and authors – at the O3 gallery.I wish I could go – yes, there are times when I wish I didn’t live in the Hebrides.

7 thoughts on “Into the Desert

  1. Thank you so much for your many accolades on the exhibit as a whole, as well as the individual ones. I’m so very glad that you enjoyed your visit to the gallery and took the time to write this edifying review!

  2. Anne I am so sorry it has taken me until now to find this wonderful wonderful piece. Thank you so much, especially for the attention you’ve given the wonderful exhibitors – it’s been an honour to put this together. Now it’s live (and I’m over the flu!) I will do my utmost to ensure they get the attention they deserve. And look forward hugely to the next – “Once Upon a Time in a Gallery”, looking at various things to do with fairytales…

    • Dan, Don’t be sorry – no need! Sorry to hear you’ve been poorly.

      I meant what I said – it was a great day (and a half) out. You’ve done an amazing job pulling it all together and should be very proud.

      The next exhibition sounds fab – great theme – the possibilities with fairytales are endless. Me and some of my pupils had a great time updating lots of traditional stories recently.

      All the best for the remainder of ‘Into the Desert’s’ run.


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