Last year I was very pleased to be selected as the Artist in Residency for Wigtown Book Festival.
My first visit to Wigtown started from Edinburgh on a (not surprisingly) grey, wet morning – a train journey to Lockerbie. I was excited but also nervous as one is at the onset of a new project and meeting new people. Martin, Wigtown Book Festival volunteer and resident very kindly gave me a ride to Wigtown. The two hour journey felt pretty short with Martin enthusiastically talking about everything under the sun. I quickly brought out my recorder, Martin didn’t flinch and thus started my project – Wee Wigtown!
The weather changed, it got sunnier and the countryside looked intensely green. I had the wonderful sensation, like from Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Woods of looking forward to a picnic. My first glimpse of Wigtown came when we drove past Newton Stewart. On the other side of the water, tucked away in it’s happy corner.
Once there I was carted off to more places, first by Anne, the book festival manager and then by Tracy, the RSPB representative at the County building. It was incredible how open and welcoming everyone was! I gate crashed a meeting at the Smiddy – where all the cool older residents go to for good banter, biccies and tea. In the beginning everyone seemed a little shy, not just of me but of the suspicious field recorder I had brought to take interviews. But once permission to record was granted I covered it in my trusty old sock and the mood relaxed. Then it was just a matter of keeping up with a bunch of gossiping, guffawing and even boisterous grannies (and some grandpas).
My visit took me to cafes, bookshops, the lone charity shop and of course the good old pub. Everyone was lovely, invited me in and were excited about the book festival – not to paint just a rosy picture, there were some good natured grumpy ones too!
Now, looking back the whole experience was intense and wonderful. The project saw me create my first large scale installation that engaged the public and let them be part of the artwork. As an artist one is always so critical of ones work, and I definitely was. However, it was humbling and inspiring to see so many people take part. People left their stories in the artwork, some funny, some sad and some very personal ones. What was wonderful was that people kept coming back. The last day of the exhibition many visitors, now friends came back and shared their stories with me personally. There were genuine hugs and tears like the ones when saying goodbye to a good friend.