The first stage of the award offered Andrea the chance to take up a sponsored week-long residency with the Bothy Project. Located on the Isle of Eigg, Sweeney's Bothy was designed by architect Iain MacLeod & artist Bobby Niven in collaboration with artist Alec Finlay as part of Creative Scotland’s Year of Natural Scotland 2013. Here, we catch up with Andrea to hear how a week in splendid isolation influenced her work.
My week on Eigg has been an extraordinary experience that I will cherish forever, especially so because I moved from Edinburgh to London two days after my return from Eigg. Writing this blog from London makes the feeling of my experience on the island even more poignant. The natural beauty and wilderness of the Scottish islands is what I remember most fondly from my trip and I can’t stop comparing it to life in the big city of London.
My life recently has been highlighted from big changes. Finishing university, moving from Edinburgh to London and starting my masters program, all within the space of four months.
Going to Eigg for a week in between was something fresh and different and for once I found myself not worrying about my life but about simple everyday things like the weather, food supplies, cooking, having hot water for showering and generally surviving.
Even though the Bothy has everything one needs to survive, I am ashamed to admit that I am rather a person of comforts, therefore getting accustomed to life in the Bothy required considerable effort on my part. Martin, my boyfriend, accompanied me there, which made things much easier. Simple acts, like showering and cooking are so embedded in our everyday lives that we almost never think of them. Water is always warm and food is always accessible. At the Bothy, we had to warm up the water by burning wood. To have a shower outside in 10oC, the water temperature had to be at least 35oCTherefore, we had to keep burning wood for around 2-3 hours depending on the weather outside. Only one day during my weeklong residency the sun was strong enough to heat the water up to 29oC. To cook, we had to walk to the Pier, which is 1.5 hours away (each way), to get food supplies and then either cook on the single stove or in the fire heated oven.
Everything took more time than it usually takes in “real life” but then there was nothing else to worry about in the island, which really slowed me down and made me relax.
Each day we explored a different part of the island. One day was the south side of the island, the pier and the caves, another excursion was An Sgurr and another the Singing Sands Bay. My favourite place on Eigg proved to be the latter. As I wrote in my diary, “At first I was perplexed as to why the beach was called the Singing Sands. I could hear the song of the waves but it wasn’t of the sand. Just when we were about to leave, I started cleaning my shoes on the sand, and then we heard the song. The beautiful song.” The colour of the sand was so white and crystal-like and the silhouette of Rum was just like an apparition, a dreamy land just across the water.
Before the trip to Eigg, I was stressing and debating in my head about how a place can actually influence my work. This is because of the nature of my work, which relies primarily on imagination and on subjective interpretation of reality.
As it fortunately turned out, the residency and Eigg itself proved to be positively influential. I made some works I recognize as successful and I also feel that what I’ve experienced and seen I am taking with me and I haven’t even for a bit exhausted their potential.
Usually my canvas works like the theatre stage, a defined space in which a series of open and closed narratives are enacted and my characters function like actors in a play. I consider the relationship of director versus actor and the relationship of characters versus real people. My characters are inspired from prehistoric Greek and Cypriot artifacts, Cycladic figurines, puppets from nineteenth century Greek shadow theatre and fashion photography.
This time, instead of a theatre stage or my own country Cyprus as a platform for my imaginary stories, my characters occupied Eigg. What influenced me the most was the fact that the island is away from real life and different from everything defining our daily routine. Nature is enchanting and the isle of Eigg can definitely host otherworldly characters and tell otherworldly stories.
The cliffs surrounding the Bothy were my first inspiration. They seemed so substantial and grand and we were just two small figurines in a small hut at the very bottom, looking up at them in awe. The image of the cliffs immediately stirred my emotions and evoked my imagination. What if those cliffs could wake up? I could see them shifting and altering their faces as the light was varying and the clouds were moving.
Eigg influenced not only the setting of my drawings but also the characters involved in the story. The way the weather conditions kept changing in front of my eyes with such speed made me imagine powerful female creatures hovering ever so gracefully on top of the island and constantly changing the set of the play in accordance to their whims. They are powerful, omnipresent and god-like creatures that are responsible for the extreme weather conditions and natural formations of Eigg. Just a single, seemingly tiny but eloquent, move of them caused a huge and unforgiving impact on both the island and us.
I later stumbled upon the myth of the big women warriors, giving the name to the island in Gaelic, ‘Eilean nam Ban Mora’. I couldn't find a clear depiction of the story but I have faith in my imagination, which created these creatures that hover over the island and rule it.