Two artists presented ideas for a Crofters’ Memorial for Staffin during a week in March 2018 with a showcase of work at Staffin Community Hall.
Since 2014, ATLAS Arts has been working with the Staffin Community Trust/Urras An Taobh Sear and the community to explore what a contemporary memorial that acknowledges the historically significant crofters’ land struggle in the Staffin area could be.
ATLAS Arts is a visual arts organisation dedicated to commissioning contemporary arts, culture, heritage, and education and is based in the Isle of Skye.
In 2017, following an open call for applications, sculptor Henry Castle, based in Windsor, and design collective Lateral North based in Glasgow were selected. Over the last 12 months both have spent several weeks in Skye conducting research.
The display in Staffin showcased this research and their proposals of what form a contemporary memorial could take. This includes Henry Castle’s exploration of the history of Loch Leum nam Bradh (Loch of the Leaping Quern Stones) and the significance of quern stones to the crofters in the area at the time of the uprisings; and Tom Smith from Lateral North’s investigation of how digital technologies, such as augmented reality and audio/visual experiences, could be used to bring a memorial to life.
The querns – or millstones – were a long-time focus of a battle between landlords and tenants over the milling of grains, which – before the introduction of the potato – was entirely central to survival. Landlords sought to destroy the ‘self-help’ mills of the villagers in order to force them to use the expensive commercial mills which the landlords built in each area.
Shona Cameron, ATLAS Arts’ producer, said: “A central aim of this project is for the artists commissioned to contribute to the awareness and understanding within the local community of the potentially positive impacts and benefits of a commissioned public artwork/contemporary memorial. “
Supported with assistance from Creative Scotland’s Public Art Research and Development Fund a series of pilot commissions have been commissioned. The first commission, was Ruth Barker’s, Place of Pillars (2016). The poetic monologue was conceived as a lament on the Crofters’ Uprising and was performed live in both Skye and in Edinburgh as part of the 2016 Edinburgh Art Festival.