Artist Bibo Keeley writes about her experiences of participating in the Haddo Arts Festival 2017

In the summer of 2017 I was one of the artists who were invited to create a sculpture for the Haddo Arts Festival which would be held in mid-autumn.

The artists were given the opportunity to create works which used as a starting point the poem ‘Like Our Bodies’ Imprint’ by Yehuda Amichai.   A key element of the project was to create a sculpture from natural, bio-degradable materials to allow the artwork to “decay back into the landscape as part of the ongoing cycle of Nature, leaving no lasting environmental impact but continuing to exist in the memories of those who have experienced them”.

I was particularly drawn to this because I’m interested in environmental issues and so that posed an interesting challenge for me as an artist.

The art festival would take place at Haddo House Country Park. I had never been there before so the first step was to explore the grounds and absorb the sights and sounds.
It was on this first visit that I became aware of the bat colony at Haddo House.

I was surprised when somebody showed me a bat hanging on the wall in the courtyard in the broad daylight.  It had been found inside the building and moved to a safe place, so I was able to have an unusually close look at it and take photographs of this beautiful creature.

The National Trust for Scotland regularly organizes educational talks about bats at Haddo. Coincidentally, there was one that very evening.  I decided to stay for that and it was fantastic.  We learned about different bat species and their behaviour, and then later at dusk outside in the courtyard we witnessed hundreds of bats emerging from their roost. With the help of bat detectors we were even able to hear their normally inaudible calls.

It was an unforgettable day, especially since it was my birthday and this felt like the perfect present.  I already knew on the way home that this would be my inspiration.

Bats are very small, nocturnal, fast moving and they hibernate for several months. Therefore most people are not really aware of them.  I wanted to contrast this sense of invisibility and their tiny, fragile shapes with an artwork which would create a different kind of mystery by its large scale.

When bats go into hibernation, they tuck themselves into their wings and form a very simple but distinct shape, almost like a cocoon; they become cold and stiff. In German, which is my native language, this is called WINTERSCHLAF (winter sleep).  So my idea which was starting to develop, based on the shape of the hibernating bat, was along the themes of sleep, death, re-birth, re-awakening from hibernation and the way nature’s cycle continues.

In order to create a large-scale sculpture which would be a self-supporting structure, I decided to work with green willow. This would also be lightweight and allow me to hang the sculpture from a tree in the park.

This short video shows the making and installation of Bibo Keeley’s sculpture WINTERSCHLAF: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-GVxjBCssA

I really enjoyed the journey from the inspiration through to the making of the work.  I chose a beautiful old tree to hang the sculpture from. I used biodegradable jute rope for this and installed it with a lot of help from kind people and a long ladder. I felt a sense of joy and creative satisfaction when my sculpture was finally in situ.

Bibo Keeley, WINTERSCHLAF, willow, ca. 4x3x1 m

Before and during the Haddo Arts Festival I had the opportunity to get to know some of the other participating artists.  On several occasions I had interesting discussions about ideas for future art projects with one of them, Neil Kellas.  So the next time we saw a call for artists for a public sculpture in the North East of Scotland, we decided to work on this project together.

Our proposal this time was in response to the Mither Tongue Sculpture Project in Keith, Scotland’s first Scots Toun, and proposes a public sculpture which will highlight the beauty and importance of the Scots language. I am very happy that our proposal was well received and is currently one of three which were shortlisted, as I write this in in March 2018.

This exciting development is the result of a collaboration which would not have come about if it hadn’t been for our participation in the Haddo Arts Festival.

In the meantime I have also been invited to show my own solo art exhibition MOTHER OCEAN at the Old Pheasantry building at Haddo House Country Park.  It will be co-hosted by North East Climate Week and Aberdeenshire Council in March 2018. The exhibition addresses environmental issues through photography, some performance-based video pieces and an installation using discarded plastic marine litter from Aberdeenshire beaches.

So the participation in the Haddo Arts Festival in 2017 was exciting and rewarding, and also subsequently led to further opportunities for me as an artist.  I would like to express my gratitude for the opportunity to take part, with special thanks to the artistic director John Cairns, Administrator Dr. Cathy Guthrie, and Suzanna Atkinson at Haddo House & Country Park.

Tales from the Fairports

Every August, I take off with t’other Dr. G to spend three days and nights in farmers’ fields in Cropredy, Oxfordshire, and it is one of the highlights of my year. Why? Because we’re regulars at the Fairport Convention Cropredy Festival.

I can’t claim to be as longstanding a Fairporter as t’other Dr. G, but we have been almost every year since Fairport Convention’s Broughton Castle weekend back in 1981 – with a few misses due to friends inconsiderately getting married on the same weekend, once-in-a-lifetime visit to the USA and on one memorable occasion having to returnhome before it all got started due to an accident with boiling water, pasta bows and my feet which is the only time I’ve been in an ambulance with blues and twos!

Daughter Maddy has equally been a regular since she was a bump right up until the last few years when she’s been working abroad and is gutted that she hasn’t been able to get back. Along with so many other Fairporters, she has grown up with the Festival. You see the same folk in the audience, year after year, many of us having started on motorbikes with one or two man tents, graduating over the years through first cars and bigger tents, to newer cars and even bigger tents or caravans and RVs.

So what’s so special about “Croppers” as it is affectionately known? It’s hard to put my finger on it, but I’ll have a go.

Fairport Audience

Fairport Audience

Firstly, the friendliness, the humour and the complete lack of “celebrity”. It’s a bit of a cliché, but there is a sense of us all being part of a huge Fairport family, there is no VIP area or backstage bar, and the musicians all wander around the Festival field like the rest of us. So it’s normal to look up and catch Chris Leslie, Dave Pegg or Simon Nicol walking past just a few feet away or chatting to festival goers at the bar. As for the humour – it wouldn’t be Croppers without the silly signs around the place.

Silly Signs

Silly Signs

The facilities! Fairport Convention’s Cropredy Festival has set the bar very high in terms of providing for the audience’s comfort. Yes, they are all chemical toilets, but there are plenty of them, regularly serviced, and you rarely have to queue for more than 2-3 minutes or remember your own loo paper. The ones in our camping field even had running water in the wash hand basins and posh soap! For the past few years, there have been showers on several of the camping fields for those prepared to queue for anything up to 2 hours. And for the real smartphone junkies, Friends of the Earth will hire a portable phone charger for £10 or will charge your phone for you if you can bear to leave it with them for an hour or two. Yes, I know it is really all about the music, but the hygiene stuff matters.

As my family will tell you, I never completely switch off the tourist officer/festival organiser/economic development bit of me. One of the biggest lessons I take away every year is how rooted the Festival is in the local community and how much the community get back from allowing 20,000 folkies, their cars & motorbikes, caravans & tents, and their music to invade this small Oxfordshire village every August for three nights celebrating the best of folk rock and, of course, Fairport Convention themselves. The local Scout groups provide much of the camping field marshalling and tidy up the festival field every morning before we are let back on. Their blanket collection on the Saturday evening raises thousands of pounds. The local and other charities run raffles which also raise thousands, and the village primary school does a mean line in cooked breakfasts, run with incredible efficiency and friendliness, which also raises huge sums for the school’s IT equipment, outings for the kids, and to support their school garden and practical work in sustainability. The pubs are heaving, the village shop does exceptional business and the B&Bs are booked up months in advance.

But the real reasons I go are the music and to have time where I don’t have to be anywhere or do anything else. Fairport Convention are, of course, the climax of the weekend, and we all have our different favourite tracks from their fifty years as a band. Each year it’s a different journey through the three days – from the winners of the Radio 2 Young Folk Awards to the Aussie Pink Floyd (fabulous), Al Stewart to Marillion, Ralph McTell to Status Quo, and all via blue grass, rock and roll, reggae or punk. The only criterion as far as the programming goes is quality.

So you can usually guarantee there are going to be one or two acts that don’t really float your boat, but as long as it’s not actually raining, so what? Just stretch out on the field and enjoy the sunshine, or take a wander around the traders’ stalls around the edge of the field. There’s bound to be a new band to like later in the day. Over the years my discoveries have included the Alison Brown band (blue grass) and Bellowhead (sadly no more), Flook and Dan Ar Braz.

Petula Clark and Richard Thompson

Petula Clark and Richard Thompson

My highlights from this year’s acts included The Divine Comedy, Petula Clark (yes, really, and she was amazing), Richard Thompson, the guitar heroes’ guitar hero, The Trevor Horn band (again, yes, really, and they went down a storm) and Dougie MacLean. I enjoyed the Fairports’ own set even more than usual because along with perennials like “The Hiring Fair” and “Sir Patrick Spens”, they took a wander through their back catalogue to give us favourites from earlier albums such as “Sloth”, and “Walk A While”. All too soon, we reached ”Matty Groves “, traditionally the penultimate number, and then the song with which the Fairports end every Festival and every gig.

“Meet on the Ledge” is the greatest community sing, a special moment where everyone on the field or in the audience joins in. It’s a remembrance of anyone we’ve ever lost or who may be far away and, at the same time, a celebration and affirmation of friendship and fellowship. 20,000 people standing and dancing in a field in Oxfordshire, singing full throatedly along with Fairport Convention and friends is, ultimately, why we trek down from Aberdeenshire and others come from all around the world to spend a weekend in the country every August.

Cathy Guthrie