Five strangers. five senses, five works of art

Lochaber-based creatives, Watercolour Music – musician and broadcaster Mary Ann Kennedy and producer-musician Nick Turner. Photograph by Seán Purser.

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As Scotland took its first tentative steps out of lockdown on Monday, Highland Whispers, a unique interactive multi-media exhibition, launched online and in the real world at An Talla Solais gallery in Ullapool.

Echo by Victoria Caine.

At the beginning of lockdown last spring, the working worlds of visual and performing artists closed down completely overnight – depriving them of the joy and energy that fed them through connecting with audiences and other artists.

Lochaber-based Watercolour Music producer-musician Nick Turner was among the artists cut off and, supported by Creative Scotland, he and his colleague – musician and broadcaster Mary Ann Kennedy – helped set about creating a unique project that would connect artists from very different parts of their world, and turn the separation of lockdown to good.

‘The Highland Whispers journey has been a really emotional one – not easy by any means, and in with the excitement of creating new work has been a lot of head-scratching and blood, sweat and tears,’ said Nick.

‘We think the final result is a really important document for the past lockdown year.’

A sense of touch by Anna Raven.

Highland Whispers is a game of consequences. Five artists from different areas were invited to create a series of five works each, based on the five senses – touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell – and responded to a work sent to them in the chain by another artist.

They had not previously met and had not encountered each other’s work before. Through a process of online connection with the others, and through personal reflection and documentation, the five created their individual works and passed them on before returning each piece to the Watercolour Music base – sometimes at a keyboard stroke by email, sometimes by large purpose-built crate for the most delicate of creations.

The end result is a compact and powerful exhibition of 25 works that will chime with so many people’s experiences of lockdown – fear, uncertainty, loss, but also love and family, a reconnection with nature, and a looking forward to returning to the wider world.

Eucal trio by Alex Boyd.

Highland Whispers was co-curated by Nick and visual artist and maker Toria Caine of Caladar Arts and curator at An Talla Solais gallery in Ullapool. Joining them in the five were Irish poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama, landscape and documentary photographer Alex Boyd, and visual artist Anna Raven.

A 3D virtual gallery tour at will allow folk to wander round the exhibition, listen to music and poetry and read about the artists and works. But as Scotland reaches another lockdown-easing milestone, Ullapool gallery An Talla Solais will also be exhibiting the works in an ‘inside-out’ presentation, allowing visitors and locals to view the works through the windows of the gallery.

Toria said: ‘I believe Highland Whispers is setting the standard for a new hybrid way of working that will give us the best of both worlds.’

It will also be possible to view the realworld ‘village gallery’ while accessing the online exhibition to listen to Nick’s music or Pádraig’s poetry readings, or view all other exhibition information using smartphone access via QR codes and website links.