22nd February 2018
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Hayes’ stress-busting exhibition

Island Sound, an exhibition of world by Alison Hayes at Bonhoga Gallery, Weisdale Mill.

Focusing on one thing is becoming harder to do as our culture rapidly adopts new and ever-changing technologies.

Our society speeds ahead using mobile phones, interactive games, thousands of music tracks at our disposal in tiny plastic boxes, plasma TVs with a myriad of channels and their images hurtling at us in ever-increasing speeds.

Just taking a bit of time out is not only necessary but should be positively prescribed for some folk I know glued to all forms of screen day and night (and I’m just as guilty sometimes).

I have a book about “stress-busting” and it outlines a whole raft of measures to take when things get too much. Meditation is a recognisable method; focusing on one thing. Music and painting are other ways. And some can find it by going out into the natural world, getting away from it all. But I’m going to recommend some films.

Alison Hayes’ new show at the Bonhoga Gallery ironically won’t take you away from the screen but it will introduce you to another way of seeing the world around you, particularly the coast of Shetland. Only her work is not about Shetland. Based on Skomer off the Pembrokeshire coast, the video and sound works she makes focus on nature in the raw. These are also raw images in that they are unedited and in “real time”. And perversely for an exhibition in the almost constant light of midsummer the main gallery is totally blacked out and the videos run in sequence on two large screens. What we see are a collection of recordings from an extended number of visits to Skomer Island with its myriad wildlife.

One film, Shearwaters I and II, features the Manx shearwater, a bird not unlike the storm petrel which regularly nests on Mousa, and we see a multi-faceted, constantly moving collection of images. It’s hypnotic and stimulating and the dynamics in the movement of birds and rain from both monitors contrasts sharply with what follows.

Skomer Blue & Skomer Pink are two related images shown simultaneously of bluebells and red campion against a misty distance. We watch but nothing happens; we hear the cries of seabirds but see none. It’s slightly disturbing.

Having these films in real time mean that you watch them as you would a real landscape whereas usually in “nature” programmes on TV the slow bits are cut and you get to the action. But Hayes wants you to slow down and see the real subtle changes taking place around you. It does mean you have to give in to it.

You’ll see what I mean by watching WickWall I & II with the mist slowly rolling in across the sea cliffs, spread this time across the two screens, and slowly obliterate the view. Plenty in Shetland will relate to this one. You can actually watch clips from these films on the artist’s excellent website, www.alisonhayes.net But as I say it’s not all meditative. Certainly not Seal Hole (outside) & The Lantern. The left hand screen is static while the right hand one pans around with a hand held camera in a sea cave with its echoing sounds of the sea, the birds and most disturbingly the cry of a newborn seal pup. We seem to get close enough to see then further away. It could be the Blair Witch Project as viewed from coastal Wales and the result is just as disorientating.

This imagery, at once removed from nature for us the viewer, allows us to focus on the artist’s experience and immerse ourselves in that record of time. It’s like art in four dimensions, the fourth being time. The inexorable movement of tides and waves feature in another film capturing the colour of the sea at the base of a cliff. It’s again hypnotic and while nothing else happens we see new patterns and movement emerging as we watch.

Seal Cove shown on a small screen may demand much more of our time that many will give it. The seals will splash about occasionally and the light changes.

But Kayak Skomer down the stairs by the cafe is worth watching throughout as it charts in real time the crossing by kayak form mainland Wales to Skomer complete with swirling seas and the inherent dangers.

And acknowledging danger and the brutal reality of nature is another aspect of Hayes’ work. The still photographs on the stairs are images of life and death among the bird population and the manmade pollution that helps to kill them. It’s as relevant to Shetland as anywhere and the images are so identifiable.

So I recommend you take some time out to visit this show as it takes us out of our busy lives and into a natural world of beauty, danger, of familiar images and sounds. Then you need to go out and find the same experience for yourself in Shetland. You may well look at caves, cliffs and seabirds in a new light. The exhibition runs at the Bonhoga Gallery until 26th July.

Peter Davis

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