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When Achaphubuil Primary School was mothballed in 2008, few could have imagined its future.
In 2014, musician Ziggy Campbell and designer Susie Brown moved into the building – which was still full of abandoned school desks and blackboards – and began to transform it.
Seven years later, this modern and creative space is being opened up for micro-residencies to allow other artists to make use of The Lengths.
Sitting by the shore at the narrows between Loch Eil and Loch Linnhe, tucked under Meall an t-Slamain, the building demonstrates what can happen when creativity and determination are combined.
The school was built in 1966 using the modular Derwent system, popular with local councils as a quick and cost-effective method of building.
Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland in 2018, Ziggy said: ‘They’re kind of architecturally frowned upon, but if you look at them, there’s the total backbone of a really interesting post-second world war modernist bit of architecture.’
Speaking to the Lochaber Times, Susie said: ‘It just needed a helping hand to show off the beautiful modernist architecture lurking behind the awkward details.’
That helping hand equated to a tremendous amount of work – ‘a crash course in groundwork, architecture, building, electrics, plumbing, carpentry and endurance’.
Both graduates of Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, Ziggy’s early work was in performance and sonic art, making music and sound installations in a collective called FOUND and winning a Scottish BAFTA in 2009. He released his debut solo album in 2017 as Lomond Campbell and it contains the song The Lengths after which the building was named. The album, Black River Promise, was written and recorded in Achaphubuil and Ziggy said: ‘It completely grew with the building.’
Susie’s earlier work was installation based, building immersive spaces for people to experience, before she moved into designing and making textile-based lifestyle products. For the last few years, The Lengths was her creative practice.
‘If practising art has taught me anything, it is tenacity, optimism and problem solving,’ she added.
‘It was a real pleasure to have a reason to learn about and use so many different materials during the build. I am still really excited by where we can take the project next.’
That next step is a micro-residency project called TRADE. They are offering the use of a self-contained studio apartment in an experimental series of residencies, starting in 2022.
In return for the use of the space, participating artists are being asked to trade a piece of their work. This will eventually become part of a collection housed in the building, creating a legacy of artwork to surround and inspire future resident artists.
‘The building has so much potential,’ continued Susie.
‘We had loads of different ideas about how we could use it creatively while we were working on it. We did always have it in our minds that we wanted to offer artists the opportunity to spend time here in some form or another, but we weren’t sure how we were going to be able to fund it as a project.
‘Over the last year, artists have been hit hard. The many platforms they use to showcase their work have closed and many have lost the other work they rely on to pay the bills.
‘The pandemic has given us time to work through ideas and we realised others could get a lot out of the space we have made. Exchanges between artists are something that can fuel creativity so we’re hoping TRADE forms a culturally supportive environment that visiting artists can benefit from.’
Artists of any discipline wishing to take part in this initiative can register their interest through The Lengths’ Instagram page.