show guide


* 'south west by south': taigh chearsabhagh 4 sep-23 oct 2021    

* sound of harris   * sea lore   * tributrees   * lost ships   * tidal streams   show guide

South West by South

An t-Eilean Fada, The Long Island: A Poetic Cartography

Gill Russell is interested in how places signify and resonate. Her recent focus is the dynamic relationship between sea and land. Along the extent of the liminal shore the interplay of tidal currents and weather is complex and, from a human perspective, fickle, authoring dramatic, sometimes destructive, events. In ‘South West by South ’ these are expressed through poetic cartography, in an installation of large-scale prints, vinyl wall drawings, audio recordings, and maps.

Sound of Harris

The Sound of Harris is notoriously treacherous as numerous skerries and shoals make for challenging navigation. Donald MacKillop’s classic study, ‘Sea-names of Berneray’, documents these rock features, along with their stories and folklore. The convoluted journey of the modern day ferry crossing, Loch Portain, is mapped, as it weaves between the many buoys and navigation aids. Donald Maclean, a native of Berneray who has worked on boats all his life, talks about his experiences.

Sea Lore

Oral history interviews (Tobar an Dualchais / School of Scottish Studies) give first-hand accounts of the lore of these waters – including ‘South West by South’, in which an apparition changes the course of a ship. In another tale, a seer spies a full-rigged ship approaching from the direction of St Kilda, years before the vessel was wrecked on rocks between Heisker and North Uist. The dense imagery of the prints suggests the enthralling and unpredictable surge of the sea which haunts these tales.


There are few trees on the Long Island. Though Atlantic winds and sea spray are especially hostile, the climate was once moderate. Vinyl drawings of burns and rivers flowing to the windswept coasts around the Butt of Lewis are arranged in the form of trees – ‘tributrees’– suggesting the arterial life force that runs through this spartan landscape. In North Uist the land and water seem to merge together in a collage of lochans connected by burns. At Taigh Cearsabhagh these wee burns are arranged as 'tributrees' on the stairwell wall.

Lost Ships

Hundreds of ships were wrecked around the coasts of the Long Island. A map and poems represent the loss of cargo and human life – to the sea and weather, war, or navigational error. Many notable wrecks happened in the vicinity of Heisker (Monach Islands). A map of the island was created using Mary Laing’s research into oral history, with firsthand accounts of shipwrecks and place-names not previously recorded.

Tidal Streams

A tidal stream drawing  (shown at An Lanntair only) communicates the potent force of the turbulent waters of the Pentland Firth, between Orkney and the north coast of Scotland, which has one of the most powerful tidal currents in the world.

Donald MacKillop: ‘Sea-names of Berneray’
Tobar an Dualchais / School of Scottish Studies
Canmore Mapping: maritime archaeological records
Donald Maclean: Sound of Harris interview
Mary Laing: ‘Heisker’ (dissertation)
Alec Finlay: ‘tributree’ form and concept

Thanks to:
Alec Finlay, for valuable input
Chris Tauber, for mapping help
Catherine and Alastair Laing, for Heisker lore
Dougie MacDonald, for translation of Gaelic stories
Neil Corall (Peacock Printmakers), technical help with vinyl