On Tuesday 9th November I took part in a fascinating performance piece by Glasgow-based artist Alexander Stevenson. The Eigg Lectures are running on four consecutive nights in Nottingham as part of the Sideshow events running alongside the British Art Show at Nottingham Contemporary. The performances are identical except for the ‘lecturer’, who changes each night. The lecture in question concerns Stevenson’s work as artist in residence on the Isle of Eigg and is interwoven with stories of the mythical Alastair MacSteafan performed by the ‘storyteller’ (Reaghan Reilly) and physical ‘re-enactments’ performed in various ways by Thom Scullion (both of whom were great). The audience were seated on a revolve in the centre of the room and were rotated (with much grinding of wheels) to face each performer in turn as the narratives unfolded and intertwined. The three performances combined to be a meditation on the different ways in which Eigg and the Eiggach (and, beyond them, knowledge more generally) have been represented over the centuries. The audience on their insular revolve, whether they were aware of it or not, took on the role of the islanders.
Unwieldy though it might sound, it was extremely effective, with a nice tension being created between the different ways of telling and re-telling the histories and realities of Eigg. It was a great privilege to be a part of it. All four versions are being filmed and will be cut together to create an integrated whole somehow (I am told) capturing the differences and similarities between the different lecturers. I am looking forward to seeing the end result.
In the course of preparing for the lecture I learnt a great deal about Eigg itself and its troubled history, being used and abused by various, ‘Lairds’ of varying degrees of insanity, before being bought by the islanders themselves in partnership with the RSPB in 1997. Its history says something about the reality of island ‘utopias’ – something not very encouraging for those tempted.
If he can figure out a way of transporting the revolve, Alexander told me he may even tour the performance throughout the UK using different combinations of local lecturers each time. If it comes your way, I strongly recommend joining in.