Comharradh is an audio-visual installation which is the result of sustained engagement with the peat bogs and moorlands of the Isle of Lewis. At heart, it is an ode to the moor; to its component parts, peat, water, sea, and sky; to the wide open spaces that create the sense of what is commonly known as ‘landscape’; and to the local language and poetry which attempt to represent it.
Although the pure poetry of the moor would be a worthy documentary subject in itself, my desire to represent the moor was also driven by a political imperative. Through the eyes of big business, the peat lands of Lewis are seen as desolate and unworthy of preservation. This idea of desolation has legitimised calls for mass development from energy companies who are trying to build upon and dig up the moor in order to construct wind turbines. Building upon peat deprives it of the water that sustains it, releasing tonnes of the carbon stored in its structure.
Rich cultural forms are created through the centuries long relationship between people and place. If the peat disappears, carbon, poetry, culture, and language will be lost. Comharradh plays a role in remediating that loss by asking the viewer to become acquainted with the land; to perform acts of place- and self-making, mental-mapping, poetry and song. Traditional photographic prints did not do justice to the ineffability of the land and so I chose to use the waterways of the island – the very body of the moor – as the camera itself in order to create abstract prints. These prints are supplemented with the sounds of the moor and its people; official documents concerning land development; videos of the flora; and fifty kilos of raw peat for the viewer to inspect.
Though always addressing the effects of mass consumption and corporate interests on the environment, my documentary practice has evolved. It now centres on two interconnected imperatives: to immerse myself in the materiality of the landscape (and, primarily waterscapes) in order to explore the specificity of those materials as documentary objects; and to investigate the ways in which those apparently ‘natural’ elements are represented in human culture and endangered by an unforgiving economy.