On the Mull Archipelago, Alice Stillman and Rhona Dougall have been developing Feàrna (Gaelic for Alder), working with Alasdair Whyte on the first phase of the project. Feàrna takes trees as a starting point, exploring human connections with them through counter-mapping and conversation. Importantly symbolic in Gaelic culture, trees also, with their long life span, remind us of the past and link us with the future. and using a counter-mapping process as the basis for focused place-based conversations.
“We will collectively explore questions important to us. In communities where Gaelic language has suffered rapid decline but where Gaelic culture remains all around us, how can we work meaningfully with and within Gaelic culture? … This project is a serious attempt by us to grapple creatively with some uncomfortable issues and to find pathways towards more inclusive and representative cultural practices. As artists and long-term residents of the region, we are committed to taking this work forward beyond the life of the project.”
During September, five gatherings were held in different locations around Mull. Each gathering was an invited group of people with local roots in each area of Mull and/or Gaelic speakers. Using the traditional ‘house cèilidh’ as a template for the format of these events, tea, coffee, home baking, place names, stories and songs were shared with maps of specific areas and place names as a focus.
From October onwards, the Feàrna collective will develop further gatherings, events and activities around the islands, shaped by those collaborators who join the project as it moves forward. In the final months of the project, they will document and evaluate the project work and create materials to disseminate project outputs online for sharing. They will also create resources on the processes they have undertaken during the project around issues of decolonishing and re-indigenising art practices in the Gàidhealtachd, from the point of view of both Gaelic and non-Gaelic artists.
Feàrna collective - links to individual practice and projects:
Since 2021, Alice Stillman has led the slow, participatory art projects ‘The Tree Archive’ and ‘Tree + Cake’ in different locations on Mull.
Rhona Dougall has been involved in socially engaged work for nearly 20 years. Her recent independent socially engaged arts projects, such as Fàgail Hiort (2020) and SeanairTown (2022), have explored local history and Gaelic identity in a post-vernacular community context.
Alasdair Whyte is a singer, writer, and performer from the island of Muile~Mull. He currently holds a Research Fellowship in Celtic Name Studies at the University of Glasgow. His research focuses predominantly on the placenames and wider Gaelic heritage of Muile~Mull and its surrounds.
Coastal Cultures - Islands is funded by Creative Scotland and supported by The Scottish Government, Argyll and Bute Council and Bòrd na Gàidhlig. Coastal Cultures, Islands, supports the aims of the Argyll and Bute Economic Strategy, the National Plan for Scotland’s Islands and the Scottish Government's Gaelic Language Plan.