The phrase “to be away with the fairies”, which has its origins in Scots Gaelic, means to live in a dream world with your head in the clouds and your feet at a slight remove from the ground. Hanna Tuulikki’s startling and lyrical reimagining of this feeling is Air falbh leis na h-eòin | Away with the Birds, and it is all the more powerful for being grounded in the ecological rather than the fantastical. On show at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, but with an interactive version also online, it is an immersive artwork that explores bird song and its harmonic simulation in Gaelic music. The centrepiece is a glorious, abundant original song cycle composed for ten female vocalists.
This 50-minute composition, constructed out of song fragments and Gaelic poetry, unfolds in five movements, each representing a particular place and its environment. The visual score is equally resonant, incorporating a playful aesthetic that seems drawn in part from concrete poetry, and also the loose but exacting stitching of embroidery and letter-writing.
What is perhaps most striking about Tuulikki’s piece is the sense of a multi-channel and directional exchange, moving through laments, enchantment, dances, hunts and more. It is radically local in its attention to the particularities of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and it is highly appropriate that the work was first performed on the Island of Canna in 2014. It’s almost as if through her rigorous environmental and cultural research, Tuulikki collaborates with the birds – which given contemporary thought around the post-human, is not such a fantastical idea after all.
Away with the Birds runs until 24 September. For more information: www.balticmill.com
1. Courtesy of Baltic.