Farquhar Angus (2006) “the Storr: Unfolding Landscape”, Luath Press, Edinburgh
I first heard rumblings of a project to turn ‘the Storr’ (a finger of basalt at the base of the Trotternish peninsula on Skye) into an ‘environmental art installation’ in 2002. Angus Farquhar responded promptly to my answer phone request for information. We had a long chat about the iconography of landscape and about visual arts in the Highlands, a chat that left me wondering just how ‘the truth’ of Bodach Storr could/would be extracted from the myth.
In August 2005 I stood in the Storr car park waiting to find out. I was impressed by; the repair of the footpath, the light ecological touch, and the contribution to the local economy – but not the artwork. The poetry of Sorley MacLean and songs of Mairi Mhor nan Oran were confined to the non-native forestry block, while silent 70s disco dancing and the ‘Romantic’ poetry of Rilke were settled in the midst of the ridge. Invoking ‘German Romanticism’ does not disrupt the mythology of Highland landscape. It re-inscribes the Highland landscape with the ideologies that saw clearance landlords de-politicise their actions, and rewrites the area as a wilderness playground.
If the intention of the work was to highlight the role of ‘Romanticism’ in reimagining the Highland landscape (through the absent presence of any critique) then it is to be commended. If this was the project agenda, then the knowledge required to decode the message is too exclusive. Essays by people from Skye temper that sense somewhat – Rilke would have approved. Rilke (like Heidegger) saw that ‘being’ and ‘authenticity’ were dependent on dwelling. However, many of the essays deal with ‘the Storr’ at a distance, this, coupled with the relative lack of post project comment and reflection, occlude the desire to dwell authentically.
The majority of the material in this volume was handed out free at the end of the £25 trip up to ‘the Storr’. This reprint has a glossier cover, but really features no notable additions. That said, I think this is still worth a look. Spot the rehashing of the argument that heritage quangos are the new landlords, except this time clearance landlordism is cast as being a democratic shaper of landscape (sorry no book token for the first correct entry). You will find plenty of other arguments of interest and ire in this volume.
This article appeared in Issue 5 of Northwords Now, March 20007