Art review: Island Drift, Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow

IN 1998 Angus Farquhar’s NVA organisation took audiences out of the decaying industrial buildings where he had first made his name and out into the dark.At the site of the Devil’s Pulpit in Finnich Glen near Drymen they were led through the gloom into an environmental installation using light and music.

NVAs Island Drift exhibition was created in collaboration with Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park with moving and static lights on land and water. Picture: Contributed

Island Drift

Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow

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Rating: ***

Anyone who experienced subsequent works like The Path in Glen Lyon or The Storr in Skye will know that over the following years NVA developed an extensive expertise in exposing and reimagining the hidden places of Scotland and a set of logistic skills in moving people and kit that enabled recent events such as Speed of Light and Ghost Peleton, which have turned the collective movement of runners and cyclists respectively into public spectacles through the use of LED technologies. In doing so NVA anticipated a wider reappraisal of Scotland’s landscape and the exponential growth of endurance sports such as fell running, urban marathons and cycle touring as everyday leisure activities.

Fifteen years later, in 2013, NVA were back in the vicinity of Loch Lomond this time for Island Drift an eight-month project working with the rangers of the National Park, longstanding collaborator designer James Johnson and the photographer Alan McAteer. Using the technological tricks NVA had developed in public art events including light suits and light batons they experimented with different ways to illuminate the landscape, using both moving and static light sources on land and water.

The results are a series of works on show at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow that illustrate the Highland Boundary Fault, the geological fault first described a century or so ago that marks the change in topography between Highland and Lowland Scotland. Unusually for NVA these images are not documentation of a performance but an endpoint in themselves.

The result is a series of spectacular landscape photographs shot through with staccato light. The finest view of the fault is from Conic Hill and here the team created a luminous line that splits the visual field in two. Other accompanying images show a path through the woods, a tree rent asunder by storm damage and a shoreline in which light batons 
seem to have washed up like jellyfish.

There’s a risk that the work can’t tell us much more than the fact that Loch Lomond is there, that it’s a beautiful place and that the manipulation of light and dark are rather lovely. McAteer’s skill as a photographer does however offer more nuance, playing off the pale cast of a crescent moon against NVA’s own light skills and the sodium glow of the communities on the park’s edge.

It’s here in the understanding that this is a populated rather than a pristine place and the recognition than the loch is hard on the shoulder of some of the most populous parts of the country that a complex and fruitful discussion of our relationship with this familiar landscape might begin.