Balnakiel (2009) - is a single screen video and multi-channel sound installation. Set in a place that is deeply marked by previous trauma and is subject to ongoing preparations for war and conflict, the work focuses on underlying tensions and fears at play in the interaction of very different experiences and understandings of this location from the perspectives of three main groups of inhabitants. The Ministry of Defence, for whom the location is a major military training and bombing range, where NATO and it’s allies conduct combined land, air and sea exercises with live munitions and bombs and where the landscape is, and has been, a stand in for successive sites of conflict globally. The local community whose families have lived there for generations and whose community bears the legacy of the Highland Clearances (the forced removal of people from the land in the 19th Century to make way for sheep farming and the subsequent oppression of their language and culture) and an incomer community of idealists seeking ‘alternative’ lifestyles who arrived in the 1960s and established themselves in a former Early Warning Station of military Nissan huts built then abandoned by the MOD during the Cold War.
The Balnakiel project as a whole explores how these different territories of occupation impact on one another, how physical and psychological landscapes are constructed and in particular, how the military use of landscape affects the civilian population. The wider project includes works that extend the investigation into the co-existence of diverse rates of change, scopes of vision and sense of location that are evolving there from the Cold War period to current development of military strategies such as ‘Show of Force’ designed for contemporary war operations.
Balnakiel was made in dialogue with cognitive neuropsychologist Martin A. Conway.Balnakiel is a study of actual conditions of perception—of how Balnakeil the village and its environs are perceived from the air, from the sealed cockpit of an aircraft passing through cloud, from the ground immediately below an aircraft as it makes a deafening descent, from domestic structures battered by rain, and from the highland terrain during a weather front. It is a study of human communications in terms of what Peter Sloterdijk calls a spherology, focusing on taken-for-granted atmospheric knowledge. Communication and sensing takes place within “spheres”—areas of inhabitation characterized by specific atmospheric conditions. InBalnakielspheres (which Sloterdijk argues may proliferate and connect as “foam” or “bubbles” bordered by membranes) are delineated within the film by air and noise regulating structures such as planes or buildings and in the gallery by the installation space.