Art review: Tonje Boe Birkeland, Papa Westray

THE small Orkney island of Papa Westray (Papay) – population 70 – provided both material and location for this time-bending combination of photography and archaeology.

Tuva Tengel (1901-1985) by Tonje Boe Birkeland. Picture: Submitted
Tuva Tengel (1901-1985) by Tonje Boe Birkeland. Picture: Submitted
Tuva Tengel (1901-1985) by Tonje Boe Birkeland. Picture: Submitted

In a derelict croft, in photographs hung on walls green with mould, Tonje Bøe Birkeland became Luelle Magdalon Lumiére, Victorian traveller, looking out from Papay’s rocky shores and wind-battered cliffs. As daylight faded and freezing rain blew in, visitors viewed the photographs with torches, brave dispatches from the edge of the island.

Displayed alongside the photographs, in collaboration with Orkney archaeologists Daniel Lee and Antonia Thomas, GPS tracks and a stone carving of the initials LML – ambiguously “recorded” on a cliff-face “during an archaeological survey” – blurred the understanding of fact, fiction and time in Birkeland’s beautiful work.

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Making use of abandoned spaces is a characteristic of the Papay Gyro Nights contemporary art festival, now in its fourth year, held in this remote location around the first full moon of February. The Characters was one of the more accessible events in a programme with an emphasis on video art that also included a fire procession, a byre of full moons and a temporary sauna, constructed using 200 kilos of Estonian sauna stones imported specially for the occasion.

This week at Scandinavian House in New York one of Birkeland’s Papay photographs will be shown in a much larger print, but it is unlikely to have more impact than it did on the island.

• The Papay Giro Nights festival ends on Saturday