Writer in Residence • July 2018 • Depth of Field

July 30, 2018

We are delighted to share Rebecca Sharp's fifth piece of writing for our exhibition Depth of Field

Please take time to read Rebecca's work, while enjoying the work of the artists

View the exhibition here

5.  July 2018:  Rain-goose

 Depth of Field

23 June – 18 August 2018

Helen Glassford, Kate Downie, Paul Furneaux, Tanya Gomez

  

Rain-goose

 

Close your eyes –

the rain’s coming.

 

Not by some angelic herald

or polished gauge –

 

but my own red throat,

sounding in the mist.

 

Red to be seen, for sure

and more beyond –

 

mine is a red to be heard.

My neck deserves its redness.

 

I call out

across the Sound –

 

in hope or warning,

for drought or drowning –

 

water, water, water,

rain, rain, rain.

 

My feathers fret,

air thickens my gullet –

 

my keening, unseen

currents gaining force,

 

and something must fall.

The ship,

 

the ship –                                                                                                                                            

 

the ship also comes.

                                                                                                                                                           

Perched on the finest artery                                          

of water and sky,

 

the lightest wing-tip lifting it

neither here nor there, but certainly

 

somewhere

in between.

 

An outlier

adrift on the long call,

 

where airs collide.

I cry –

 

rain, rain, rain,

for sound to carry where eyes

 

can’t reach, until –

a hard landing;

 

and silence falls in winter.

The only thing I see that speaks of edges

 

is a shape on your horizon.

Distances estranged

 

by what is hidden

from sight.

 

This sea could go on

forever –

 

and my red bell playing

second fiddle to your light.

 

Close your eyes,

listen –

 

the rain will come.

 

 

I was struck by the red foghorn in two works by Kate Downie: The Sound, Ardnamurchan and The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter.  The foghorn’s shape, outline and bold colour are designed to stand out: an object intended to be at odds with its surroundings, never allowed to settle or blend in.  Red for danger, as in nature: a reminder to stay on-edge, keep away, be ready for action.  Although the Ardnamurchan foghorn no longer functions, it remains a signal of boundaries – between natural and built environments; humans and the elements; where weather systems collide to make fog and rain, and where water meets land. 

 

In The Sound, Ardnamurchan – the foghorn points out to sea, but we can’t see where; as its gaze reaches beyond the edge of the painting.  In The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, however, the eye is drawn to the ship on the horizon, that the foghorn seems to be calling to (or wanting to) with such a sense of longing.  Juxtaposed with the almost tragic solidity of the foghorn in the foreground, with its metal fixtures and railings; the ship is all speed and distance – full of potential for movement and adventure that the foghorn (or viewer) can never know.  Perspective is everything: they’re made of similar materials, but their experiences differ greatly.  We can imagine that this foghorn’s call isn’t a warning at all, but a cry to join with figures in the distance.  (It could be the story from a Ballad, a lovelorn lament – the painting’s title seems to suggest this...)

 

In both paintings, the foghorn’s bell and neck reminded me of a bird’s bill and throat – and the phrase ‘red-throated warbler’ sprang to mind.  A little research provided instead the red-throated diver, a sea-bird found in Shetland, Orkney, the Outer Hebrides and the West coast of Scotland.  Also known as the ‘rain-goose’, for its haunting call is believed to provide warnings of rain.  I borrowed a refrain from Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica:

 

            ‘giadh gaob, rain goose… is in reference to the belief that certain peculiarities in the cry and flight of the bird indicate rain… Should drought occur, and the water subside below her reach, the bird flies about hither and thither uttering cries of concern.  The people have rendered these utterances of the bird in human language:

            […]

            Rain! Rain! Rain!

The loch is drying!

 

            […]

            Water! Water! Water!

My strength is failing me!’

 

The silent foghorns of the paintings are released from their fittings and given new voice in the poem – that of the rain-goose.

 

The foghorn is so red and definite, so apparently sure of itself – while its purpose is to convey fear of the unknown, or at least the unseen (or unseeable).  The poem explores this dichotomy.  When we become so fixed in our beliefs, fears and boundaries, it prevents us from seeing the true and full picture; perhaps paralysing us from changing course, even when we know there is danger ahead.  In the poem, when vision becomes unreliable, we’re invited to try our other senses (Close your eyes) – and our instincts; as the bird does. 

 

It’s a poem about identity, ambiguity and shifting perception – like trying to see a sea-bird in the water through the mist and rain.  Meaning becomes as changeable as the weather, so that we can’t rely on our usual instruments, and are asked to listen instead.  Is the bird calling the ship home, or warning it to stay away?   Is this ‘outlier’ friend or foe, does it matter (it doesn’t to the bird)? Ship becomes shape.  Nothing here is on steady ground – indeed, it’s in the water (the element of emotion and instinct). 

 

These paintings depict the absence of sound, through objects divorced from their primary purpose.  Perhaps we’re being invited to loosen our grip on our definitions for things, to find new meaning.  (In the dual meaning of sound, also referring to the body of water.)  Identity becomes fluid, when the foghorn becomes the rain-goose of the poem.  (In Kate Downie’s foghorns I also saw another creature, with a giant red bill and red tail – hybrid, fantastical, uncomfortable in its surroundings.  Like a confused mythical Siren, not so sure of itself after all.)

 

Finally, in the poem, it comes down to this: if things are not as they seem or appear, or are not the way they used to be, what can we really be sure of?  What signals and measures do we trust?  And what about our own voices, what’s our message?  The poem does contain a warning, in the end (perhaps an accusation) – the rain will come.  Are we ready?  What will we do or say when it does?  What do we stand for?

 

Rebecca Sharp