Abandoned food and abandoned lives on Ailsa Craig
A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to go stay at a particularly swish hotel up in Scotland, on the Ayrshire coast. We got up to many things, indulging in a lifestyle that I am not quite accustomed to. But the whole experience was totally charming, genteel and relaxed, and a proper review will be springing up very soon.
Whilst I was there, a trip had been arranged to visit Ailsa Craig, which is a huge lump of blue honed granite that looms out up of the sea, in the Firth of Clyde. Like a giant who tried to awake thousands of years ago but then suddenly thought better of it and immediately fell back to sleep. In the warmer spring and summer months, around 80,000 birds swoop in, to rest, mate and populate on his scarred forehead. Mostly gannets, puffins and guillemots, they all party throughout the season but soon disappear once the cold winds settle in. Leaving behind a hell of mess. This in turn fertilises the island and lays down a patchy green coat, to cover the island's bare bones. Which is fair payment, when you think about it. And after getting used to the smell.
The birds are not alone though in making their mark. Evidence of human habitation is dotted all about the place, ranging from sixteenth century ruins to a modern day lighthouse. The core dwellings though, once belonged to a community of quarrymen, who lived on the island with their families and who made a living, sheering off the granite with scant tools and their bare hands. To live on an isolated rock, eight miles from shore, takes a certain type of toughness and these people were certainly tough. But eventually, it all got too much. There wasn't any money in it anymore. So, they just left.
Luckily, we were able to get on the island - sometimes the tide makes it impossible - and we were able to have a good look around and explore. Although there was evidence of some recent residence (I think a 'party' spirit remains on the island) creeping around the derelict, crumbling cottages and living quarters felt like we had landed in some apocalyptic novel. A place that had borne witness to a four minute warning before silence; with an atmosphere that was full of foreboding, all spooky and eerie and yet at the same time, totally exhilarating. Ovens were strewn about, rusting into oblivion. Paint blistered and peeled from ceiling and walls. Packets of food, just sat on the side and were bleached by the elements. It all suggested that something very, very, very bad had happened here...
For the whole time we were there, I just kept snapping away like a demon. Prompting my colleagues to observe that I rather fancied myself as some sort of a conceptual artist. A visionary, with a keen eye on dystopian commentary and social discord. Or 'Grayson Perry' as they called me. The cards.
Having since looked back through the snaps I took on that day, I have begun to wonder whether there is some sort of merit, or worth in them. Musing that if in some way, they represent a warning or premonition of what life would be like, if we were to cut ourselves off in some way. Or simply, the photos could just reflect a statement of what happens to 'islands' when they are left to their own devices, all abandoned and alone.
It needs working on before I approach some skinny, bearded gallery owner in London's East End. In the meantime, you can get a sneak preview here: