Convocation: Colm Cille’s Spiral >

The Western Isles and Glasgow, Scotland

Curator: Jenny Brownrigg

Commission date: Raasay, 12-18 Aug 2013; CCA gathering 2-5pm, 11 Oct and The Glasgow School of Art exhibition, 12 Oct – 1 Nov 2013

Scotland’s Spiral knot forms a process of purposeful enquiry and creative dialogue, creating a ‘journey of ideas’ which links creative and research practices by bringing together a group of artists and scholars. The project title, ‘convocation’, means ‘a calling together’. ‘The Spiral’ is a common form in manuscripts and monuments, which amongst various meanings represents the dialectic; a method of debate for resolving disagreement.

The format of the event itself echoes the dynamic of the ‘spiral’ rather than a circle or cycle, with the group gathering on Raasay, Skye (Ruminatio), then dissipating (Meditatio), then re-gathering in Glasgow (Revelatio). The aim is to create new knowledge through making contemporary responses to the extreme past. To aid this enquiry and engagement, the group will respond to a series of questions established at the start of the project.

Beginning with an intensive six-day residency on Raasay, Skye, the scholars on the first day set a series of questions inspired by themes linked to St Columba and medieval thinking, which the group discussed then will creatively respond to. The questions enabled the group to explore the relevance of past ways of thinking and understanding from a contemporary perspective. This exploration allows for and encourages a group as well as individual responses, linking to ideas of ‘the monastery’ as a place to develop knowledge through existing and generating ideas in a community.

A month later the group will re-gather in Glasgow, to give their creative responses through an event at CCA, and for artworks to be shown concurrently at The Glasgow School of Art in a public exhibition.

The convocation group moves from the rural to the city over the course of the project, in order to echo the Celtic perception that the ‘Centre of Thinking’ was historically seen as the island or the monastery; and what was outside this was seen as ‘the peripheral imagination’. This is the inverse of the contemporary perspective which sees the rural as the periphery and the city as the centre.


Professor Clare Lees, King’s College London

Kathryn Maude, PhD student, King’s College London

Modern day scholars compete in the search of ‘new knowledge’; a pleasing parallel to the historic scholars who created the Book of Kells as a resource of new knowledge intended for people to live their life by. The monastery was historically cited as the place to develop knowledge, through the synergy of both the individual and the group. The scholars’ involvement in this project shapes the contemporary engagement with key questions from the ‘extreme past’.


Sue Brind, Ceara Conway, Thomas Joshua Cooper, Caroline Dear, Michail Mersinis, Hardeep Pandhal, Jessica Ramm, Johnny Rodger, Augustus Veinoglou

The Convocation includes practitioners from Galway, Skye, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The practitioners are cross-disciplinary in nature, including sound, architecture, performance and text-based. Their own practice has links to gain the most from this opportunity and the themes of St Columba, which are defined as interests in knowledge (learning, writing, books as source of power), languages and cultures, water and crossings, belief, story-telling, landscape or ‘the miraculous and the supernatural’.

The particular nature of this project, beginning with questions, is envisaged to lead to ‘open creative acts’ rather than be prescriptive, allowing space for those involved to interpret and misinterpret and to work experimentally, collaboratively and individually.

The practitioners will creatively respond to the questions, with outputs being shown in the exhibition at The Glasgow School of Art and / or the gathering day event for the group at CCA. Work may also be shown in Londonderry ~ Derry at the final exhibition of the whole Spiral.


Emma Balkind, Edwin Pickstone

From the artist group, two will be assigned the role of the ‘Illuminator’. St Columba’s story was mediated through an Abbot called Adomnan. The role of the mediator or observer witnessing the story is an important one, so two ‘illuminators’ will make up the group. Their role will be to creatively document the journey of thought and creative enquiry that the group takes through the stages of the project. Their process will also echo the theme of the project as a whole which is to ‘illuminate contemporary responses to the extreme past’. As the monks illuminated scripts, these modern-day illuminators will map the discussions of the ‘Convocation’.

The illuminators’ work will have two outputs, one shown in Glasgow that tells the story of the first stage on Skye; the second to be a response to the Glasgow gathering. Both stages of illumination will be shown in Derry~Londonderry at the last stage of the Spiral.


The organisers are from Difference Exchange, the initiators of the entire Spiral (in partnership with Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies (CLAMS), King’s College London); the lead Scottish curator (Jenny Brownrigg, The Glasgow School of Art), in partnership with ATLAS Arts (Skye, Emma Nicolson) and CCA (Francis McKee). The organisers have shaped the questions with the scholars in advance of Raasay, and will support the practitioners in the development of their work. The GSA organisers are the lead on this part of the project and deliver the smooth operational running of all stages. Academics from University of Glasgow were involved in shaping the questions for the group.


The Centre

Raasay is an island between Skye and mainland Scotland and is birthplace to the Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean. The group had Raasay House as their base, and visited a number of sites during their residency, includingSt. Moluag’s Chapel ~ A 13th century chapel now in ruins, next to Raasay house;
Brochel Castle ~ Built by the MacLeods of Lewis in the 15th century; and Hallaig ~ cleared village, and subject of Sorley MacLean’s poem ‘Hallaig’ (1952).

The Periphery

Glasgow, CCA: gathering
The Glasgow School of Art: exhibition in Mackintosh Museum

Supported by:

'Convocation' is part of the Derry~ Londonderry City of Culture project 'Colm Cille's Spiral', and is one of 6 projects across UK and EIRE that creates an artistic engagement with significant sites along once-vital perimeters and sea routes, including Lindisfarne, Derry~Londonderry and Bradwell-on-Sea.

Colm Cille's Spiral is a Difference Exchange project in partnership with The Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies, at Kings College London.

Colm Cille’s Spiral is part of Creative Futures, a Creative Scotland talent development programme which aims to promote the professional development, capabilities, connectivity and ambitions of Scotland’s creative practitioners and organisations.

'Convocation' is supported by The Glasgow School of Art, CCA, ATLAS Arts and University of Glasgow.

Short film about the Raasay residency:

Watch a short film of interviews with the participants who took part in the residency on Raasay.

Listen to a rough cut of Emma's sound piece 'Raasay ASMR':
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Convocation: Colm Cille’s Spiral

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Convocation Exhibition Post 11: Emma Balkind

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