Memory Maps

English: The North Cuillin ridge from Portree.
English: The North Cuillin ridge from Portree. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is such a neat idea. I read about the concept of the memory map in our local weekly newspaper, the ‘West Highland Free Press’, last week.

West Highland Free Press logo
West Highland Free Press logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have never heard of anything like it before. I’m so taken with the idea that I wanted to share it with you and then I thought I’d give it a try – but using only words rather than words and drawing.

So what is a memory map? It’s a work of art primarily, but it can also be used to find your way around a place. Artist J Maizlish Mole recently produced one for Portree, the town where I live. To produce such a map, Mole spends time walking around a place such as a village or town. He’ll do it for hours and on several occasions. He’ll speak to locals and respond to landmarks and the landscape at a personal level. Then from memory he produces a, to scale, personally annotated map of his walks.  For example on the harbour section of the map of Portree, he has the note ‘helluva place for oil tanks’.

Portree
Portree (Photo credit: stevecadman)

Beside the main road into the town from the south he has noted at one point ‘many rabbits’. Other labels include, ‘extreme danger of sudden and violent death’ this is beside the cliffs; ‘grassy knoll’, scrubby knoll,’ huge supermarket,’ ‘graveyard spend eternity,’  ‘ghost trail’, ‘marvellous walk’, ‘scrubby clearing’, ‘boats to Raasay, Rona and round the bay’.

Skye coast
Skye coast (Photo credit: Paul Albertella)

Initially Mole had done only the map of Portree, Skye’s main town. But then Atlas Arts and Portree Area Community Trust commissioned another map – this time of the whole of Skye and its neighbouring island of Raasay. The maps will be displayed in the centre of Portree as public art – and print copies will be available from April. They will be Mole’s personal response to the experience of driving and walking round the islands. Emma Nicolson, director of Atlas Arts, was quoted in the West Highland free Press as saying that what Mole has created is a ‘love song to Skye’.

By coincidence, while I was out walking last Saturday, my mind wandered back nearly fifty years to my childhood street. As I walked I made a metal map of the area where I played, got shopping for my mum – or ‘got the messages’ as it was described in the local vernacular, and rode my bike.

Tenement in Marchmont, Edinburgh built in 1882.
Tenement in Marchmont, Edinburgh built in 1882. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I grew up in a typical Edinburgh tenement flat. There was me and my five wee sisters. It was a two bedroomed flat.  So we were outside a lot. There was no garden – but instead there was the drying green – where all the residents shared clothes drying space. Strictly speaking children weren’t allowed to play there. But of course we did. There were the ‘peever stones’ – that is a slabbed path where we played hopscotch. There was the ‘big wall’ which looked down to the ‘deep garden’ and from where, if you were brave enough to sit on top, you could see into Armstrong’s (the butcher) back shop and take in the gruesome sight of animal carcasses hanging on hooks. Then there was ‘over-the-wall’. This was a lower boundary wall that separated the drying green from the gardens at the back of the big Victorian houses in the next street. We would hop over ‘over-the-wall’ and play with the friendly – but definitely posher – private school kids.

English: Angel sculpture, Morningside Cemetery
English: Angel sculpture, Morningside Cemetery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Out front was a busy street. Across the road was the local cemetery. Or ‘hide- and- seek land’. Its gates were directly opposite our front door and we were small enough to slip through the bars. We knew all the paths, headstones and statues and it was the perfect place for hiding. Up from the cemetery was the swing park which contained ‘the tree where John fell and broke his arm’ and the ‘swing which hit wee Lizzie on the head’. On the route from park to home was the spot where ‘the collie dog bit me as I cycled past’.

On the same side of the street as our flat were – ‘the ivy wall’, the newsagent, from where I did my paper round, Armstrong the butcher’s and the mysterious Masonic hall. Down from there was the cobbler’s – this was the ‘place I cleared my throat loudly to get the attention of the cobbler when I went to collect my dad’s shoes and he couldn’t see me over the high counter because I was so wee’. And then it was the hairdresser – where I had my first hairdo for the primary school ‘qualie’ (leavers) dance. On the corner was the bakers shop and across from that the grocer and greengrocer, the sweetshop – ‘the place whose existence means I have a mouth full of fillings’ – and ‘where the dead people go’  i.e.the undertaker.

Edinburgh City Hospital, Feb 1996
Edinburgh City Hospital, Feb 1996 (Photo credit: alljengi)

At the top of the street was the lunatic asylum – yes it was still called that in the sixties – and this was the only forbidden territory where we actually respected our parents instructions and never ventured near. And close by to there was the city’s fever hospital – which I would label on my memory map as the ‘place where my wee sister nearly died of bronchitis and where me and my granny sat outside on a bench while my parents kept vigil at the bedside’.

One day I might try to draw all that childhood street stuff out on a map. Maybe it’s something you could try and/or blog about. What would be the labels on your memory map? And where would be its location in time and space?

 

Atlas Arts exists to facilitate innovative arts projects in Skye and Lochalsh. It offers a platform for projects that are not fixed by or to a gallery.

Portree Area Community Trust aims to stimulate the economic, cultural and environmental regeneration of the Portree area in response to community-identified priorities.

I’m indebted to the report in February 1st 2013 edition of the West Highland Free Press for the information provided there that I have used in this post.

A technicolour life in a dark November day

Darkest before dawn

It was quite a day today. A visit to the doctor, workplace stress, family strains, worries about the health of a loved one… This was combined with enough rain to make Noah take notice and enough cloud that it never got fully light. And I’m in the grip of one of my periods of insomnia.

The insomnia may explain the quirkiness of my thought processes – but for some reason it occured to me as I trudged on through this gloomy day that it could be summed up in a series of photos – black and white photos at that.

The photo thing is most likely to have been sparked as a result of the talk I attended on Saturday afternoon. The talk was by artist, *Nicky Bird and was arranged by  local arts organisation, Atlas Arts. Nicky is a photographic artist and she works with ‘found’ photographs. The black and white photos might have been taken  long ago and are no longer in the possession of their original owners – so the people in them are no longer identifiable. Or, the photos, although taken some time ago, are still in the ownership of the photographer, the subjects or their descendants. Either way these photos have their own very personal stories to tell – and, along with the landscape in which they’re set, are self-contained historical records. In their own way these photos are every bit as important as official portraits of ‘important’ people and events.

So what small personal history would the still, black and white shots of my day today tell?

Picture 1: Small figure – a woman –  swathed in waterproof trousers, jacket and under large umbrella walking in the rain under a dark sky.

Picture 2: Same woman in doctor’s surgery, sleeve rolled up, doctor taking blood sample. Both doctor and patient look serious.

Picture 3:  The woman – no longer in waterproofs – but in smart white blouse and navy trousers stands at a whiteboard in front of a class of primary school children.

Picture 4:  The woman now sits at a table in a classroom – no children are present. Several other adults also seated round the table. The expressions on the faces of the people tell a story of worry, pressure and stress.

Picture 5: The woman is with a man. They are sitting in a living-room. They are discussing a letter from a hospital. Their expressions are serious.

But this would not be the whole story. Because, later in the day, I was re-reading some inspirational quotes from Rumi, the thirteenth century Persian poet and I was reminded me of the importance of our attitude to events. We can’t control what happens in a day but we do at least have a measure of control over our reactions. The quote that jumped out at me was:

‘Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.’

So let’s revisit the day – but this time we’ll pick out different scenes and they’ll be in full colour.

Picture 1: The woman is seated at a table in a classroom. Five eleven-year-old children are also seated around the table. The children seem to be listening to the woman talking. She looks relaxed. She is pointing to something in a book and is smiling.

Picture 2: The woman is a corridor in a school. She is talking to another woman – a parent of a pupil. The parent is smiling at the woman and is shaking her hand.

Picture 3: Now the woman is in the living room of a house. She is sitting on the floor and playing with a baby girl who looks about a year old. A young woman sitting on the sofa looks on. The woman’s smile is that of a besotted grandparent.

Picture 4: The woman sits on a sofa beside a man. The couple are looking at an email confirmation for a hotel booking for a trip they are planning to the city at the weekend. They both look happy.

Picture 5: The woman is sitting at a desk. She is typing on a laptop. She is obviously enjoying the act of writing.

I have so much to be grateful for. Awaiting important blood test results, the worry of the other half’s imminent heart surgery, a job with a lot of stress and responsibility, a dreich November day – all formed part of the day. But, so did a bit of a breakthrough in the learning of a group of my pupils, a conversation with the grateful parent of one of my other pupils, playing with my lovely wee granddaughter and planning a shopping trip to Inverness at the weekend combined with going to see ‘Skyfall’ and a stay in our favourite hotel in the Highland capital. And then of course, there was an evening of writing.

Life is good and it sure beats the alternative…

Be happy.

* Nicky’s website  is http://www.nickybird.com

Once Upon A Time In A Gallery

The cruelty in fairytales such as Little Red R...
Image via Wikipedia

Some readers may remember my review from last year of the Eight Cuts online gallery’s exhibition – ‘Into the Desert’.  Indeed you may have visited for yourself. Well,  Eight Cuts  has a new exhibition. It opened yesterday. Below is a copy of the press release for the show. This will set the exhibition in context for you. I have visited and have written a review, which will be my next post here on the blog.

I should also come clean and tell you that I have two of my stories in the exhibition – I haven’t reviewed them. 🙂

 Once Upon a Time in a Gallery Live

 International writers, artists, filmmakers and musicians join in a new kind of online exhibition, using the oldest form of storytelling to offer a unique perspective on the foundation myths of the digital age’s new societies.

 Once Upon a Time in a Gallery is an online literary exhibition offering a new way of presenting a modern book of fairytales that combines technology with work from some of the world’s most exciting writers and artists to cast a fresh light on some of our oldest stories. Running through February and March, this is the second exhibition from eight cuts gallery, a project designed to blur the boundaries between literature and other art forms, and make the public think about what literature is, as well as about a series of important cultural questions.

Curated by Dan Holloway, who runs eight cuts gallery, the show creates possibilities that aren’t possible with a traditional anthology or storybook. Like the first exhibition, Into the Desert (http://eightcuts.com/eight-cuts-gallery/into-the-desert/welcome-to-the-desert/), which featured stories, poetry, photography, art, music and film by 19 writers from around the world, the virtual exhibition will guide readers through the pieces using hyperlinks. “Once inside, people can click on pictures, or words and phrases within a piece, and by choosing where those links take them, I can make people question their presuppositions about the nature not only of fairytales but of literature,” Holloway explains. “I can also create an experience that’s different every time someone visits. It’ll be like being lost in a forest and trying to find your way out – what could be more perfect for a fairytale experience.”

 Fairytales are our foundation myths, reflections not just the manifestation of our own Freudian psychosexual neuroses but of the fears and aspirations of our communities. For diasporas everywhere they provide roots that creep back in time and place to a utopian or dystopian ancestral home. As the digital age pulls us increasingly into communities not just geographically dispersed but born in diaspora (and often, ironically, subsequently drawn together physically), fairytales will inevitably be recycled and refreshed to form the foundation myths of these new societies – ones that have no physical homeland, whose communal roots lie lodged in the internal, not the external, lives of their members. What better time to re-examine the way fairytales relate our individual psyches to our social networks, and ask: Have we reached a tipping point in the evolution of collective cultural consciousness, where we can opt freely in and out of communities, picking up and leaving behind their roots as we go? Are there any universal archetypes left?

The hyperlinked, flitting, rootless style of curation of this exhibition invites the audience to reflect on this rootlessness, and whether, when they find themselves lost in today’s dark forest, there is any gingerbread trail to lead them to safety.

 The exhibition has a live launch in the fairytale setting of the O3 Gallery, located in a turret of Oxford Castle on January 27th. The show features writing by local and international authors, artwork from the UK and United States, and music from acclaimed Oxford-based artists Christi Warner, Dylan Gwalia, and Kevin Jenkins.

“Storytelling began as something spoken and communal,” says the show’s organiser, Oxford-based writer Dan Holloway, who runs eight cuts gallery, the experimental literary gallery hosting the online exhibition and the live show. “Fairytales reflect our collective subconscious, and form the foundation myths for our communities. So many of our modern social groups exist online, but we also exist in the physical, geographically limited world, so combining an online event with a real-life show, bringing together writers, artists, and musicians from all over the world, and those from a specific place, Oxford, is the perfect way to reflect on, and maybe start to build, the foundation myths for our new societies.”

 Full details can be found at http://www.eightcuts.com

Contact eightcutsgallery@googlemail.com for more information

 N.B. from Anne and the Write Enough Blog – Some of the content is adult in nature so if you’re offended by sexual references, nudity or erotica, the exhibition is probably not for you. But there is also material that is suitable for children and adults alike.