For a contribution to the volcano-exhibition Nomadic Mountains curated by Jean Bernard Koeman in Schunck, Heerlen we sailed to the impressive sea cave Uamh-Binn, which means “Cave of melodies” in Gaelic, on the small uninhabited island of Staffa. We spend a day of rubbing, drawing and recording and took the measure for the final work, a leporello, which unfolds exactly on one of the actual fracture surfaces on Staffa. Mimicking the tall basalt formations of the island and its dark rock shelter we developed a sculpture which exists out of an original rubbing of one of the pillars, a handwritten compilation of historical texts about the cave and notes (which Miek tried to write with the same speed as the lava flood that caused the island) during the fieldwork. 

The words are placed in different sections as graffiti on the sides, resulting in a dim mysterious and almost as incomprehensible as a medieval relic, where the viewer as a literary, biological or even anthropological researcher has to make an effort to read or fathom it. ‘A secret in the shape of a sculpture', a darkness transferred from sea cave to exhibition hall.

We were definitely not the first people that tried to capture the beauty of Fingal’s Cave. Many artists before us went to Staffa for the same reason. Composer Felix Mendelssohn visited in 1829 and wrote The Hebrides, Op. 26, (also known as Fingal's Cave overture), inspired by the echoes in the cave. Mendelssohn's overture popularized the cave as a tourist destination. Other famous 19th-century visitors included author Jules Verne, who used the cave as a shelter in his book Le Rayon Vert (The Green Ray), and mentions it in the novels Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Mysterious Island; poets William Wordsworth, John Keats, Lord Tennyson and David Livingstone. The island inspired James Macpherson to write his famous cycle of epic poems Ossian. Painter J. M. W. Turner painted Staffa hidden behind a steamer in 1832. The playwright August Strindberg also set scenes from his play A Dream Play in a place called "Fingal's Grotta". Scots novelist Sir Walter Scott described Fingal's Cave as "one of the most extraordinary places I ever beheld. It exceeded, in my mind, every description I had heard of it… composed entirely of basaltic pillars as high as the roof of a cathedral, and running deep into the rock, eternally swept by a deep and swelling sea, and paved, as it were, with ruddy marble, [it] baffles all description.” Artist Matthew Barney used the cave for the opening and closing scenes of his film, Cremaster 3 and the Alistiar MacLean novel-based movie, When Eight Bells Toll starring Anthony Hopkins was filmed there.

Staffa souvenir

Inspired by the basalt formations of Staffa Island we are developing an edible Staffa piece made in collaboration with baker, gardener, writer and artist Lotte Landman.

Miek Zwamborn