Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Boat search in Kelvingrove Gallery - 12th October 18

Ridiculous museum. You have singularly failed to play host to our writing day, our search for painted boats. 

We arrived to doors that were closed after putting pennies in parking meters set to the wrong time. Your maps enticed us to art-promised floors where we found bare wooden rails, obstructive screens and stern signs warning of slips, of threatening behaviours and others that simply demanded money donations.

At last I found a scattering of ill-lit paintings in the bowels of museum, a didactic storyboard of panels, after escaping screeching children among dinosaurs in glass-boxed artefacts from Kilmartin.

The Glasgow Boys, hurrah! Surely I’ll find a boat here, a boat in Scotland? But no. A punt on the Ouse and a shore in Devon, dammit where are the boats in Scotland? Even the Dutch Shipping Trade collection fails to display the magnificent harbour that we see in the advertising poster

Dali’s Christ on the cross is home. We stumble across it around a dark corner instead of at the end of a long corridor or gallery that would afford it an appropriate viewing. Christ himself look sadly down to the bottom of the painting where ho! There! On a dry shore leaning forlornly on its side, an empty little boat. “Thank you.” I breathe, feeling my despair acknowledged in this dearth of maritime magic.

I settle in front of JS Lowry’s seascape, disconsolate but grateful, taking refuge in this impossibly simple layering of green and white lattice that threatens to spill over its frame onto the gallery floor. No swell or curve, just still representation of light on water. I breathe in the sea air and give up my search.

Finally we meet in the tea room clutching pads and pens, ready to scribble our our gallery boat stories. Black and white clad young waiters, boys and girls, sail about silently inefficient and out of reach. We find a table at which we cannot sit, a menu from which we cannot order but finally secure coffee and take up our pens with a great shout of unassailable camaraderie - "Avast, Kelvingrove".

After being admonished for staying too long at our unwanted table without paying our, evidently top secret, bill, necks cricked from attempts to catch somebody's eye, we stumble laughing into the carpark deluge with poems in our nets. And nestling in Helen's bag?  The beginnings of this marvellous voyage that she says is a work in progress but is, to my eye, well ready to set sail:

by Helen Elsley

In the mud below the crannog, stirred centuries later,
coriander and peppercorns, seedspices
dropped through straw and flooring cracks
to sink through sepia peat-water,
settled into silt.
Now their traces, sifted out
tell tales of journeys.

From this empty loch, the Lords of the Isles
kept hold of their lands, from backwater Finlaggan,
where the grass grows uneven mounds 
over the rubble of their houses.
The marshy reedbeds that made their fortress
are traversed by duckboard paths, for access.
We wonder at the sound of stirred rushes, 
loud in the absence of traffic.

Octofad, Collebost and Scarista
declare their strangeness amongst the homespun
Tarbets and Mhors.
Craftsmen of Govan built a Viking ship 
of overlapping planks, for the Galleries.
Shipbuilding skills
washed up on our shores in such boats
sank down through the generations
to settle on Clydeside.

"This jet necklace
was left with a whetstone and a knife
In a cist burial in Monybachan, Argyll
with no bones to tell us if 
it belonged to a man or a woman."
But surely the question is – jet?
Carried from Whitby, most likely, to this glen,
made precious by the shine and rare distance.
Who fetched it so far?

When all the echoing empty places
with single track roads that take us across moors
to the middle of nowhere,
were forests that fuelled our fables,
and bordered in our homes on the landside,
remote islands and sealochs, were at the very hub,
butted up against the bustleof the sea highway.

Photo by Cap'n Bev taken from Easdale Island

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