Rionnach Maoim: Cloud Shadows
Rionnach Maoim: Cloud Shadows responds to the themes of The Year of Colmcille, 1500, and St Columba’s legacy. The work celebrates Gaelic language and is inspired by a desire for greater protection of our wilderness lands and seas; including an awareness that much ecological knowledge is being lost through indigenous language extinction.
With isolation brought about by the pandemic, life has become less mobile and more embedded in the local environment. As in the era when Gaelic speakers inhabited my home area of Argyll (or “Land of the Gael”), engagement with the landscape becomes key to wellbeing.
That early engagement is evidenced in the 18 letters of the traditional Scottish Gaelic alphabet, each represented by the name of a tree or shrub. John Burnside writes in a Guardian review of Robert MacFarlane’s book Landmarks: Indigenous people have always known that language and the land are continuous. In the early 1900’s, Dwelly’s Gaelic dictionary finds 73 translations for ‘ocean wave’, each describing a variation in season and formation. None of this can be expressed in one word in English. Nevertheless, seasons continue to shape landscape, and together they have a profound effect on contemporary everyday life.
The WWF report, An Integrated Approach to Conserving the World's Biological and Cultural Diversity, finds that since the ecological knowledge accumulated by indigenous people is embodied in languages, language extinction is leading to loss of ecological knowledge. By including photographs from Dwelly’s Dictionary with the landscape photographs, I am acknowledging this integral relationship.
The four central images symbolise the delicate balance of our seasons, one of the foremost environmental concerns of this era. They observe the visual magic of seasonal variations and are a call for solutions to climate change. The accompanying verses are written by Gaelic singer and poet, Gillebride MacMillan.
Supported by the Culture, Heritage and Arts Assembly, Argyll & Isles (CHARTS) through the national Colmcille 1500 Legacy Award, funded by Bòrd na Gàidhlig.