Saturday, 21 March 2020

Tour Update

Sadly our tour of the installation scheduled for 2020 has now had to be postponed due to the COVID -19 virus. 

We are planning to reschedule and tour in 2021 at all the venues in Scotland and Shetland. Creative Scotland have said that they will honour all funded projects. 

Meanwhile there is an excellent article about the installation in the new Spring edition of Art North Issue 5 

Saturday, 29 July 2017

That which is gone, that which remains and that which drifts between

The installation will be on show at Da Gadderie, Shetland Museum & Archives, Lerwick, until August 27th 2017. 

We hope that we will be able to take it and show this part of Shetland to audiences elsewhere - depending on funding of course.

In the course of researching Stenness and the haaf fishing we have consulted many sources. We would like to acknowledge and thank the following people for their help and support:

Rob Gawthrop - sound recording/technical support and chef extraordinaire

Shetland Museum: John Hunter, Ian Tait, Trevor Jamieson, Yvonne Reynolds (for loan of bell)

Shetland Archives: Brian Smith, Angus Johnson, and Blair Bruce

Tangwick Haa Museum: Ruby Brown and Nanette

The Vaila May crew: Brian Wishart, Jim Tait, Gilbert (Gibbie) Fraser, Andrew Cooper, Ewen Balfour, Robert Wishart, Trevor Jamieson (particularly for valiant ludder horn blowing) 

Gary and Andrew from LHD and Guardian Angell skipper for organsing and supplying Ling

Steve Anderson for gutting ling received, and Lynn McCormack for arranging this

Catriona Macdonald for superlative fiddle playing of ‘Shingly Beach’, written by Tom Anderson

Tom Williamson for creel boat journeys at Stenness

Readers of 19thC texts: Ewan Balfour, John N Hunter, Nancy Hunter, Ruth Fisher, Wilma Stewart, Valerie Watt, Jim Tait, Gilbert Fraser, Margaret Anderson, Peter Sinclair 

Tommy Isbister for talking about the fishing

Jonathan Rich (Shetland Arts) - sound installation

Finally Alistair Goodlad, who’s authoritative book Shetland Fishing Saga set us on course.

These are some of the documents and images we have used in the course of making our film and sound installation. 19thC texts have been taken from archival documents in Shetland Museum & Archives.

Ling Shipped off at Stenness,1817
(facsimile) D1/24/1 Small Gifts and Deposits

This fragile piece of paper records the names of fishermen and the number of ling caught by each sixareen team. They would have received payment accordingly.


We the Undersigned, October 1861, Book of Agreements (facsimile)

Agreements signed by fishermen binding themselves to prosecute the fishing for the Laird. D1/36/2 Small Gifts and Deposits
Each group of fishermen would sign their names agreeing to carry out fishing for the summer season for the laird. This bound them to the laird, who often owned the boats and line the men used.

Indebtedness, Book of Agreements, December 1862 (facsimile)
D1/36/2 Small Gifts and Deposits
Within this book are pages where the men write that they despite having spent the season fishing they find themselves still in debt to the laird.  They are forced to pay these debt by giving, in this case, their livestock in lieu of money.

Tangwick Haa Museum has a wonderful 19thC Day Book which was kept during the summer fishing season. It lists items bought and prices paid by the men occupying the lodges on the beach, even giving where they were from - places around Northmavine. The names of many of the fishermen relate to families who still live in the area. It gives some insight into their lives. The book will be on show in Da Gadderie during the exhibition.

Day Book, Stenness (page shows entry for Saturday, 4th July 1891)

Ledger documenting items bought in the shop during the summer fishing season, May - August, 1890 –1895. Lent with kind permission of Tangwick Haa Museum
The lodges that the men lived in during the summer fishing season were pretty rudimentary - rough stone with poan roofs, that were re-roofed each season. They were occupied by each sixareen team. A hand-written booklet in the archives describes these and who owned and who occupied them. We're not sure when this was written. Some of the booths seem to have been shops, some were owned and lived in by the laird's factor, some seem to have required the payment of rent or "no rent at all".

Stennis – all the Booths and lodges within the town of Stennis

Description of the lodges at Stenness beach, 1800’s (facsimile),

D6/40/6 2 Reid Tait Collection

This booklet also describes lodges in other fishing stations on Shetland (again this booklet is on display as part of our exhibition).

The more we studied the old 19thC photographs of Stenness, the more we became aware of the men on the beach - sitting outside the lodges, mending nets, washing items in the sea, spreading their nets on the grass above the lodges. 
1890's Stenness beach. Copyright Shetland Museum
Here were the faces of men who lived such a hard life on that beach, some who may have been taken by the sea. 
1890's Stenness beach. Copyright Shetland Museum
These were also the men whose names were read out by our readers on the beach, names that appear in the documents describing the catch and in the Day Book listing items such as tea, line, hooks, coffee, and even sweeties, bought in the shop. 

We have put all this together with contemporary images filmed and sounds recorded at Stenness Beach - the ruined lodges, views out from shore to sea and the horizon, views looking back at the beach and the Böd from the sea that the men would have seen as they returned from the Far Haaf, and of course the sea itself. 

Confusing Shadow with Substance is not a documentary, neither is it a work of fiction. It examines the relationship between past and present and the interplay of land, sea and human activity at the site of one of Shetland's busiest former fishing stations. The material remains of the station are elusive today, yet the more we explore the landscape, the more its traces are revealed. Poised between land and far haaf, the shoreline draws us to the sea, a constant presence in a world of embedded memory. 
Images from 3 screen and sound installation
Weaving together contemporary and historical images, Shetland voices merge with the sea, drawing breath on the tide. Our work is concerned  with the interplay between that which is gone, that which remains and that which drifts between the two.
Screen and sound installation, Da Gadderie, Shetland Museum & Archives. Lerwick.
Thank you to Creative Scotland for funding this project, to Shetland Museum & Archives for supporting and giving us Da Gadderie in which to show the installation, and to Shetland Arts for their support with the sound.
Janette Kerr and Jo Millett 

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Installing at Da Gadderie

Having spent a hectic few weeks since sometime in early June traveling from Sheffield to collect Jo and Rob, loading cameras, microphones, tripods, Wellington Boots, etc.,into the car, and on to Shetland.... to film, record, organise people, research for more information, and source equipment....

Traveling back to Sheffield on a rough sea crossing with no sleep to be had, to sit and edit sound and film with intensive discussions and notes being taken, anxiously await 16mm film to be processed and delivered ... Then buying projectors and procuring various bits of equipment...from Bristol and Sheffield... and doing a fair bit of even more traveling about.... 

Finally, having spent an unscheduled night and a day in Aberdeen  with a bit of sight-seeing thrown in (because I messed up the ferry booking)...


we boarded our NorthLink ferry, arriving back on Shetland by the skin of our teeth to high-tail it to Shetland Museum in Lerwick.

We've spent the last 5 days installing... returning home each night to fall asleep exhausted.

It's got to be 18% grey

Today - Saturday July 22nd - we've finally got there... it's up and running and open to the public. I think we're quite pleased with it.

3 screen and sound installation

You'll have to come to Da Gadderie to get the full immersive experience - to hear sounds and see more images. You've got until August 27th to get here.

Thanks to Creative Scotland for funding the project and to Shetland Museum & Archives and Shetland Arts for all their support

Monday, 10 July 2017

The one that got away and infestations of hoe

While Jo and Rob filmed on the beach I took to the water with Tom Williamson again and attempted to film hooks and line under water. Not only was it difficult to actually see what I was filming with a GoPro on a stick underwater, I now realise how tricky it is to keep one's hooks and lines in order..
And why the fishermen kept theirs carefully organised laid out in rows before setting them out in the sea.
19thC line and hooks laid out on a board
I really would have made a rubbish fisherman.

However when I reviewed the footage later I realised that I'd managed to film the one that got away - from Tom's hook...

So close... it then turns tail and swims off.

It is still an experience to see the land from the sea and to watch it appearing and disappearing as we head out 

Back on shore Jo and Rob were still busy doing the far more serious business of recording sounds and filming the sea.

In between filming and recording we have been collecting information about the lodges and shops that were used by the men during the fishing season. The beautiful Day Book, which is part of the collection at Tangwick Haa Museum, is a testament to the coming and goings from one of the shop at Stenness during the fishing season.
Documenting the names of fishermen occupying the lodges we can find out what they were buying, and the price of rope, tea, hooks, counterpanes and sweeties and, on occasions, even cigars were purchased.
Pages in the Day Book
The book will be on display during our installation. 
From reading 19thC newspaper reports from Northmavine it is clear that fish were not always plentiful during the season as articles in the local newspapers in the 1890's indicate. In addition to light loads, the fishermen are plagued by 'swarms of hoes' (which I think are dog fish) which prevent them catching the white fish.
June 17th 1893
Then there are other problems..

24 June 1876
What the diet of the men consisted of and whether they were well nourished or not, living in such close proximity in pretty rudimentary conditions meant that illnesses spread pretty fast. It seems that, as usual, the unsettled Shetland weather - thick fog and gales - also put paid to successful fishing trips. 
At the end of the season in August 1877 Laurence Anderson is noted as having taken the highest yield at 315cwt. But chief topic of conversation was the ordinance survey that was going on that year, with complaints of wheat fields being trampled in the process of mapping and threats of giving the boys a dipping in the sea if they were seen in the corn again.
Newspaper 18 August 1877
Another long day - home for our own tea.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Light in the lum and light below the Vaila Mae

Tuesday - Sixareen launch day. 

A sixareen (photo from Shetland Photographic Archive)

Mustering at the museum the excellent Brian Wishart assembled our fine rowing crew from various parts of Shetland – all well qualified and skippers in their own right, so how they all work as a team - who gives and takes orders to and from whom is a mystery.
(photo by J Kerr)
Sorting the sail (photo by J Kerr)
The boat made ready we spent the morning filming the beautiful Vaila Mae.
Under the oars (photo by J Kerr)
The sounds of the oars rising and dipping, and with square sail up to catch the wind she just flies along through the water...
Sail up on the Vaila May (photo J Kerr)
.... it's a wonderful boat to experience (and it will be available for trips around Lerwick Harbour during Boat Week - see website for more detail:  
You can begin to understand how such boats were able to travel so far out to the far Haaf, although the fishermen must have had a cold, wet and cramped time living in the boat, often sleeping under the sheet for several nights until they had a full catch and could return to the fishing station
Old sail from the Boat Haven, Unst, and sections of oars from Shetland Museum (photos by J Kerr)
The sixareen was best suited for the prosecution of the white fishing. With a keel about two thirds of the overall length, flaring outwards to the gunnels, like the Viking ships, inside it was divided into compartments by gratings under the benches where the men sat to row. With working sections to hold the fish, the bottom of the boat would be filled with ballast of beach boulders until ready to be replaced by the caught fish. Sitting on top of a run of fish secured down by netting made the boat more stable and less likely to take on water. In the owse room the flooring was higher so the shovel might have a smooth sweep from one side to the other when bailing. The mid room was for shooting and hauling lines, which could be 6 miles in length. 
Rowing on the Vaila May (photo by J Kerr)

When the first fish showed 'light in the lum', then 'light below that', followed by 'white below white', hauling a line laden with struggling fish weighing 30 - 40 lbs per cod and ling, plus Halibut weighing 2 cwt and gigantic skate, all hauled from depths of 30 to 90 fathoms must have been a supreme test of strength, even with the boat being pulled by a couple of oars in the direction of the line. 
The foreroom held ballast, fire kettle and pot, plus peat fuel, the head room and bow-space were culinary areas holding a sea chest for knives and utensils and food, along with water breakers, sail, six miles of line, 5000 baited hooks, buoys, sinkers, spare rope, boat hooks, oars, oilskins etc etc.. All of which, with a mast lying somewhere in the mix, didn't leave much room for manoeuvre in a boat containing six large fishermen rowing, a skipper at the stern trying his best to avoid the breaking sea that could flood in and the bailer trying to keep the sea at bay, all at some points, hauling and gutting fish, at snatched times in between, eating and sleeping.
Action on the Vaila May, (photo by J Kerr)
Shetland fishermen were unsurpassed in their handling of these open boats, rowing the 30-40 miles to the fishing grounds. But very few fishermen would have owned their own boats, most being owned by the landowners who hired them out for the fishing season, which of course meant if the boat was lost it had to be paid for, often by a grieving widow and children, who, not being able to pay, would be evicted from the croft. In 1774 a six-oared boat complete with mast, square sail and oars cost about £6 and measured 18ft on the keel, 24-25ft overall. 
A break from rowing  (photo by J Kerr)

Thank you to Brian et al. for all your work in planing our trip, and for all the rowing we made the crew do. 
Brian Wishart, Sandwick, Gilbert Fraser, West Burrafirth, Robert Wishart, Lerwick, Jim Tait Mowbray, Walls, Andrew Cooper, Walls, Trevor Jamieson, Cunningsburgh, Ewen Balfour, Brae, Trevor Jamieson (and for blowing of Ludder Horn)
Luder Horn (photo by J Kerr)

Vaila May (photo by J Kerr)
Sixareens on Stenness beach 1890's (photo from Shetland Photographic Archive)
'.....out at the Haaf, before the compass came into general use - with the fog and tidal currents prevailing..... here the men of old had means of finding their way to land.... an underswell - the moder dye - the surge or physical protest the Ocean makes when her cosmic motion is restricted by the proximity of land. Unnoticeable in deep water, the wave-like motion or swell becomes clearly discernible to trained eyes on soundings, and can be best observed in foggy weather. ... No matter how fierce the gale, how wind-driven and uncertain the billow, the methodical undulations of the 'moder dye' could be seen across the hills of a wind-torn sea, always setting four-square towards the land'. (extracts taken from 'The Sail Fishermen of Shetland', A Halcrow, pub. The Shetland Times, 1994, 1st published T & J Manson, Lerwick, 1950).
Other information taken from 'Shetland Fishing Saga', C A Goodlad, pub. The Shetland Times Ltd. 1971, and 'Inshore Craft of Britain: In the Days of Sail and Oar' vol 1, Edgar J March, pub.david & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1970, and information gleaned in conversation with Tommy Isbister, Trondra, Shetland: 

Tour Update

Sadly our tour of the installation scheduled for 2020 has now had to be postponed due to the COVID -19  virus.  We are planning to resched...