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The Importance of Place

published by Luminate, 2022

Excerpts from the article

I was born in the United States, then lived and worked in London for many years before discovering Shetland. I fell in love with Shetland for its sense of community and extraordinary relationship with the land and sea.   During my annual visits to Shetland, I would walk every day to a particular hilltop burial cairn to draw (if it wasn’t raining). I found a deep empathy with the elements there and finally decided to move to Shetland in 2000.   Living in Shetland has positively affected my ways of working which have changed over the years in response to world events, evolving practices in contemporary art and my personal situation.  


I work in response to places, contexts, and situations, so I’ve never had one way of working nor used a singular medium.  

Much of my work is full of challenge. I have in the past been involved with collaborative work that has become so controversial it was impossible for those of us involved to carry on.  I’ve learned that friendships and people are more important than the artwork.  Equally, it can be crucial to complete projects despite challenging circumstances. 

I’ve also learned over time not to rush things. I suppose being older has given me patience to let things take their course and to not necessarily force them.  I try to share this experience with my students, stressing that socially engaged art is slow, and building genuine collaborative relationships can take years.  

Over time the way that I work with people has changed. In early participatory works I designed a strong visual aesthetic and invited participants to create elements which became part of a larger installation.  In recent work my ways of working with people have expanded in response to the collaborative processes we create together, as in Cold War Projects, my ongoing collaboration with the artist Susan Timmins.  

Recent projects involve work that is very different from what I would have ever done or thought to do on my own, e.g., the short pilot project, Nordic Connections: learning from the past to shape the future (2021-22), with partners from Norway and Unst – the most northerly island in Shetland.  It includes teachers and secondary pupils from Baltasound Junior High School in Unst and Onøy/Lurøy school in Norway; researchers from UHI and Nord University Nesna Campus as well as members of the Unst community.  

My field of social art practice is dynamic, responsive, and open to change. It is full of uncertainty and ambiguity.  

You can read the full article here.


Luminate is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation, number SC044652

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