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 


Popular Posts