Friday 5 November 2010

(34) Outlandia

‘How can one square longing
for distance with settledness.’

– Friederike Mayrocker, tr. by Richard Dove

Could you think and write your way past Romanticism and if so where would you get to?

– Tracey Warr

Our mountain temple, Ryushakuji is the mountain hut, Outlandia

Ken Cockburn, 2010

In the desmesne of Lochaber the mountain platform called Outlandia. Founded by London Fieldworks, unusually spruce quiet place. "You must go and see it," Malcolm urged; from here off past The Fort a mile or so. Sun not yet out. Reserved space at chalet nearby, then climbed to platform on slope. This mountain one of rocky slopes, larch plantations and birch, brown needles and stone and smooth moss, and at the end of the boardwalk hut doors locked, no sound. Unlocked the door, opened the window catch with the key and sat down, composing the view, sublime scene, profound quietness, heart/mind open clear.

silence itself is
in the rock absorbing

cicada sounds

silence is inside

before we arrive

after we leave

Basho, Oku no hosomichi, May 27 (July 13) 1689, Ryushakuki Temple Alec Finlay, Ken Cockburn, the road north, August 22, 2010, Outlandia

(‘Silence is inside / before we arrive / after we go’, AF)

Ken Cockburn, 2010 ]

34circle poem (silence)

Alec Finlay, 2010

Lime Tree

Before we go to the mountain hut we’ve a reading to do at the Lime Tree in Fort William, hosted by Tracey, Bruce & Jo. I have in my head it’s a café but the hotel receptionist is quick to point out they’ve a Michelin-starred chef. And its own gallery, where we read. Here we meet our first Outlandians: Jo and Bruce of London Fieldworks and their toddler son Jetson, Tracey Warr – artist, writer, mentor – who's been walk-commuting to the hut for the past week, Alex and Margaret who've lived their lives on and around the Ben, and Norman, ex-champ downhill skier, who built the hut.

The reading's a review of the road so far, with verses criss-crossing our many places. Eck reads his mesostics ‘F-O-R-E-D-W-I-N-M-O-R-G-A-N, i.m. ‘Yeddie’, who died two days previously, and whose toast we continue to declaim, ‘Schiehallion! Schiehallion! Schiehallion!’.


What is Outlandia?

Ken and I read the station, Ryushakuki | Outlandia. For Basho’s journey this was the pivot of enligtenment: profound quietness, heart/mind open clear. Could this guide Jo & Bruce in their need to determine the purpose of their hut: what is Outlandia? What is its silence?

Bruce and I chat about the renga platforms I’d made in the 90s, which share with Outlandia the fundamentals of inscape and outlook. All I can advise is wait, don’t worry you don’t yet know what you’ve made; use determines meaning; walls and windows gather patina over time.

Let use-less-ness be this hut’s Outlandish virtue. Allow each resident – for by definition anyone who visits has been an ‘artist-in-residence’ – to answer the question why am I here on the walk up the steep path, to answer in their own way on the walk down. Word spreads composite definition(s).

Listening, the people at the reading are welcomed into that process of definition.


Apache Ranch

Next morning we head for the Fort, Outlandia bound, playing Neil Young’s Jukebox, as we pass by one of Eck’s iconic memory-buildings, from bus trips of yore.

34 Great Glen Cattle Ranch

Ken Cockburn, 2010

We mosey around, then Eck goes back to the car, opens the doors and turns up the volume, nerr-now nerr-nerr-now nerr-nerr-nooow – Apache!

34 audio, Apache
Alec Finlay, 2010

34 hokku-label
('ranch-hands & stockmen & cowboys / & steers & cattle & collies / all lost in the clouds', KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010


Braveheart to Boardwalk

Jo & Bruce imagined Outlandia; Malc and Niall of Malcolm Fraser Architects – we stayed with Malcolm at Lochailort – designed it; but Norman had the task of construction on this remote hillside. From Braveheart car park we take the steep peat track up – Up! – to Cow Hill . There are other routes in, one by Dun Dearsail, via the West Highland Way.

These verses are our Outlandian word-map, intermixed with words of Li Qi, Friedericke Mayrocker, Norman Clark and Tracey Warr. (The ‘angels’ wings’ are secular, being funghi).


bright rowanberries
show the way –

the path’s ditch’s
edged with alders

scarlet rowans

and the last late wet

wild rasps of summer

seasons change

raspberry darkens

to bramble

life’s path’s

light and shade

a raindrop

about to fall

Norman says imagine this walk up

with a plank of wood

heavy on your back

how can one square longing
for distance with settledness?

could you think and write
your way past Romanticism

if so
where would you get to?

drifting to the end

of the boardwalk

we'll be havin’ some fun

clouds come and go

like a carousel

walks come and go to

it’s all “making-up”
and “making real”’

the most dangerous thing

was the dropping of the bags

of concrete from the sky

clearing a stand of spruce

to make a hut of larch

made from the trees cleared

(though they’d to be helicoptered
back up the slope)

this hut has a mast
this is a crow’s nest
a woodshed

this building

is a window
with walls wrapped around

this is an Odd Pod
an A-dream

a toadstool

this shoogle-shack
will give you vertigo

its floor is
a frottage cottage
its roof
an angel’s wing

this is Larch View

along Mushroom Lane

this mountain home

used to belong to Han Shan

to all those who come here

what’s before you is silence

and what comes after you
is silence

so leave something behind

but nothing on the ground

ridges & peaks lean over

desk and chair

the log’s rings
a silent record

out of the window

down the hill

into the world

mist rising up from the dim lush glen

people walking up into mist

people & gods

linked by the view before us

in these Highlands

angels’ wings

thrive at altitude

walk at the foot of Mount Fuji

gaze up at the snowy peak

play our new game

cloud obscures mountain

paper absorbs cloud

mountain pulps paper

34 hokku-label, Outlandia

('our new game is / paper cloud mountain / cloud obscures mountain / paper absorbs cloud / mountain pulps paper', AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 hokku-label, Outlandia
('the last / late wet / wild rasp / of summer', AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 hokku-label, Outlandia

('life is a path / of light and shade / a raindrop / about to fall', AF)

Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 hokku-label, Outlandia

('it’s carbon dioxide / attracts the midges / all you need do / to keep them off / is stop breathing', KC)

Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 hokku-label, Outlandia
('Norman says imagine / the walk with a plank / of wood heavy / on your back', AF)

Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 hokku-label, Outlandia

('drifting to the end / of the boardwalk / we'll be having fun', AF)

Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 ('Morning glory', AF)

Ken Cockburn, 2010

Outlandia (arr.)

As the drifters we are, we walk the boardwalk, pine-sheltered, mushroom-flanked. Approaching the aspect is 2D – just as Jo said it would be – primed for a Keatonish fall through an open door into the forest –but no, inside’s a deck which, like a ship, or a suspension bridge, or a tree in the wind, shifts around with us. Crude wooden seat/table, block of wood, broom. The first rite’s the key-trick, enlightenment opens the window/view to mountains through larches. Purpose settles around well-made things. The guard over the window’s a poem-rail, so we leave our poems a-flutter for the next visitor.

34 Outlandia interior

Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 Barno, temple dog

Alec Finlay, 2010

34 Ben Nevis double vision

Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 A libation

Ken Cockburn, 2010

Clouds come and go, sometimes clearing from Carn Dearg, never from Ben Nevis. We open our Dew and libate on the block before drinking in view of its source. Ken wantonly nibbles on Jo’s angels’ wings, raw for lunch – not a strong taste, but pleasant, moist, good with oatcakes.

34 Angels' wings
Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 Outlandia exterior

Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 hokku-label, Outlandia

('from Shakey Toun / with Skakey's juke-box / to this shoogley hut', KC)

Ken Cockburn, 2010

Standing on the slope looking back up at the hut, it seems to float in its own space supported by two metal anchor chains and a tree-trunk mast which doesn't reach the ground. A second look shows the metal pole that’s run through the trunk and sunk into concrete ground.

34 hokku-label, Outlandia
('HAN / SHAN', AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 hokku-label, Outlandia
('R-O-C-K', AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 Sora’s Reflection
Alec Finlay, 2010

(AF, KC)

Outlandia (dep.)

If the key-trick’s one rite, sweeping the hut out when you leave’s another. Locking the door behind us, sun’s out.

34 Basho, Outlandia

Alec Finlay, 2010

34 Sora, Outlandia

Ken Cockburn, 2010

On the way down we collect angels' wings for Annie, and Ken leaves a wish for his sister on a rowan in the car-park.

34 Angels wings

Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 Braveheart rowan wish

Ken Cockburn, 2010

Eck makes a promise to donate a letterbox (WWLB 082) for Outlandia, poem as passport stamp, summarising its making. (Which he does at Loch Ruthven, handing it over to Bruce on the bus to the opening of Outlandia).

34 circle poem (of a hut)
for Niall & Malc
Alec Finlay, 2010

And a set of pencils, for use. Temples attract gifts and myths.

Another gift for the hut was Adam Dant’s map which sees the hut as it’s seen, upside-down, from the roots of the Great Glen mntns.


Outlandia (meso.)



The Glen of…?

34 hokku-label
('Terror or Paradise glen / depending on the root / and derivation', AF)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Further up the glen’s more characterful than the W face of Brute Nevis. We stop by the falls at Achriabhrach, eating brambles, arranging fourteens.

34 fourteens (ash-keys for Isobel)

Ken Cockburn, 2010

34 hokku-label
('so many keys / so few locks')
Ken Cockburn, 2010

The bridge’s metal handrail is well grafittoed but the upstream side is almost blanked by the river-spray; the downstream side's clearer.

34 Bridgepage
Ken Cockburn, 2010

At the end of the road we sit below the white spout of An Steall Ban, imagine Lushan.

34 An Steall Ban

Ken Cockburn, 2010

Watching the Lushan Waterfall

the sun shining on the Incense Burner raises the purple mists
from far away the waterfall can be seen hanging from the Front Stream
down it comes rushing, for three thousand feet
you’d think it was the Milky Way, falling from the ninefold heavens

Li Bai, trans. Brian Holton


34 hokku-label
('these are some / of the lines / we didn't include / in the poem', KC)
Ken Cockburn, 2010


The coda for Outlandia is an extract from an essay by its first resident, Tracey Warr, composed August 2010; and builder extraordinaire Norman Clark’s Outlandian Ode.


Approaching Outlandia … I think of my childhood treehouse in a holly tree from where I squirted the annoying boy next door with a water pistol, ate jam sandwiches, read Enid Blyton and Swallows and Amazons. Damp seeps into my clothes after a while of sitting. The completely waterproof swim-hike bag would be useful here to keep your papers and dry clothes dry. I want to design a writer’s toolbelt to walk with – customised clinches for pens, pencils, pencil sharpener, small notepad, spare ink cartridges, map, reading glasses, camera. Outlandia makes me think of other dramatic writers’ shacks like Dylan Thomas’ shed at Laugharne overlooking the stupendous blues and birds of the estuary. I like the discipline of coming up here each day. When I walk across the room the structure sways with me and the metal window-hook hanging on the wall knocks against the wood shadowing my footsteps, so that momentarily I think I am not alone. The wooden space is empty except for a log to sit on, a makeshift table and the astonishing view out the window across to Meall-an-t and the tourists’ path up to the Ben Nevis summit. Outlandia is a concentration space, a no distraction space, a get on with it space.

Even when there is the urge to be ascetic and minimal, to abstain from the stuff of consumer culture, how we need things. At Outlandia we are already needing a key, a chair, a table, a ladder to clean the pine cones from the skylight, a kettle powered by battery, sun, wind or water. But, writes Elaine Scarry (whose book I have carried up here with me), ‘the general phenomenon of invention could not possibly originate in the perception of need, for the vast and unanticipatable benefits of the object bear no resemblance to anything conjured up by the narrow word “need”’. In Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe ‘his reconstruction of civilization, is from a very early moment characterized by surfeit. [He] wilfully “makes” merely to make.’

Outlandia is the new echo of the ruined, rimed, Victorian weather observatory on the summit of Ben Nevis. The speed of weather coming up the Glen and moving fast across the face of Meall-an-t. Wispy white clouds love the mountain, flow into its gullies. They are like slow smoke on the hill. Now they swirl grey, clothing the mountain, draping it, shrouding it. Rain comes down hard. Suddenly the black clouds lift like a striptease, like a theatre-curtain, revealing a green mountainside streaked with white boulders, a veiny network of burns, brown heather, sun-lit circles. The colour of everything is subtly altered after its rain-washing, the green refreshed, the white more vivid. Now the cloud is horizontal, skirting the tops, scudding.

Looking through treetops, across and below to moss and fern. Immersed in a green world. Earth’s colour swatch. Emerald, lime, grass green, bottle green, lizard green, grasshopper green, jade, verdant, greenwood, viridescent, malachite, beryl, jungle green, Lincoln green, pea green, sea green, sage, celadon, viridian, bice, chlorophyll, leaf green, olive, chartreuse, jealous green, salad-days, greenhorn, apple green, green fingers, greengrocer, Green Man. Green is the colour that the human eye is most acutely tuned to because of our heritage as hunter-gatherers, woodlanders.

Scarry writes of ‘the tyranny of green things’. She says that the natural world is immune, inanimate, inhuman, indifferent, dispassionate, and that we build cities shutting out the green world to soothe our distress at the reminder of mortality visible in greenness – the process of organic growth and decay which we are also, irretrievably, implicated in. She writes that the objects we make are compassion-bearing. ‘Objects exist to remake human beings to be warm, healthy, rested, acutely conscious, large-minded’. Yes the rotting brown mush of old mushrooms, the fallen trees, the age of the rocks and the landscape compared to me, are a memento mori, but being here is also Joy. Some things you don’t want to write about or photograph, just look, just be. A month-long residency in Outlandia as a journal of continuous thought. Could you think and write your way past Romanticism and if so where would you get to?

Tracey Warr from ‘Beginning a Residency in Outlandia, Glen Nevis’

Outlandia, Glen Nevis

My Work is near done here
You may thank the lord,

My back is well bent

From carrying board.

But my spirit is lifted

As high as the Ben

And I'd think very carefully
If you asked me again
To build a POD up in the trees

A task that has brought Me to my knees

As the Buzzards fly around me ears,
A woodpecker hammers somewhere near,

A squirrel red runs around my feet,
The Roe deer and Red deer we also did meet,

To work in these woods
To work with these woods,

Oh what a delight

It's just the humans

That causes the blight

Leave nothing behind

We are told,

Well I leave here now

Refreshed to the sole

Now record in your way,

What you see, hear and feel

Pass it onto some others

For that is the deal

To all those who come here
Leave something behind

Just don't leave it lying

On this beautiful ground.

Norman Clark


Outlandia: the website

London Fieldworks was formed in 2000 by artists Bruce Gilchrist and Jo Joelson as an umbrella organisation for creative research and collaboration at the art, science and technology intersection. Typically, their projects engage with the notion of ecology as a complex inter-working of social, natural, and technological worlds.

The Arts Catalyst commissions contemporary art that experimentally and critically engages with science, producing provocative, playful, risk-taking artists' projects to spark dynamic conversations about the changing world.

Malcolm Fraser architects find simple solutions to complex problems. Their work aims to be open, inclusive and collaborative, fostering rich human relationships with the natural and built environment.

Tracey Warr is a writer, curator and teacher. Her publications include The Artist’s Body (Phaidon, 2000) and essays in Panic Attack!: Art in the Punk Years (Merrell, 2007), Art, Lies and Videotape (Tate, 2002), London Fieldworks: Syzygy/Polaria (Black Dog, 2002) and a film interview with Marcus Coates for The Dawn Chorus (Bristol: Picture This DVD Publication Series, 2007).

1 comment:

  1. How utterly wonderful these words, observance,witness. How I would love to find somewhere like this hut to sit in while looking out and travelling deep within,its a place the soul would be happy. I feel some unseemly envy and your ability to write so beautifully what I sometimes see but dont not have the skills to pass on.