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Arts / Arts project evolves to cope with coronavirus

Honds Reach Up, Amy's contribution to the Travelling Gallery's Shapes of Water Exhibition, has been postponed. Photo: Sam McDiarmid

INNOVATIVE Burra based arts project Gaada celebrated its second birthday yesterday (Monday) with one of its partners, Amy Gear, being interviewed on Janice Forsyth’s Afternoon Show.

The past few weeks of coronavirus has of course affected several of Gaada’s ongoing projects and turned up a few new challenges for Amy and partner Daniel Clark.

Perhaps most notably the Gaada pair have launched an online zine of contributed visual art, titled Quarantzine, the first collection of which will be published on the internet in about a week.

Amy said that once life goes back to normal after the Covid-19 pandemic, the plan is to publish a book containing every single submission. “It is not a competition,” she said.

Quarantzine is open to all sorts of art that can be represented visually, such as JPGs or PDF files of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and even music scores.

Yesterday also marked the 100th submission to Quarantzine, with work coming from all over the world. The pair decided to use a work, Living Ghosts, sent from Italy, as their cover photo; it has subsequently “gone global”.

Gaada has limited submissions to one per person per month to stop the project being swamped by the more prolific contributors. The submissions seem to be coming from a whole range of talents, from probable professional artists and illustrators to beginners.

Amy Gear.

One of the “really positive things to come out of this,” that somewhere like rural Shetland can be at the epicentre of a digital happening just as much as an urban art environment.

Gaada is continuing its work with people with disabilities who obviously can no longer come to the Auld Methodist Kirk at Bridge End but are interacting each Friday via Facebook, Instagram or whatever social media platform of choice, and given a weekly project to complete.

According to Amy, the disruption of routine can be especially distressing for people with autism, so continuing the virtual connection can go some way to help.

“We have a private platform within the website with tasks tailored to the individual’s interest. Some communicate by Skype, some by What’sApp, another is a gaming platform with video; they all call on Friday to tell us about their work.”

The fee for the students has been reduced as they are no longer benefiting from a full session, so they are now contributing as they see fit, said Amy.

Luckily Amy’s exhibition Ferning Foaming Bloom, described as “playfully knotting together film, spoken word, Shetland dialect and myth” finished showing in Aberdeen just before the full effect of the coronavirus lockdown.

Her Travelling Gallery show Honds Reach Up, part of the Shapes of Water exhibition, was less fortunate as the show was cancelled after only a couple of days on the road. Her multi-media installation also contained significant sound and animation input from Daniel.

Amy said that she hoped the bus-based exhibition will get back on track eventually and that it held special memories for her as it was the first art exhibition she had ever been to when it stopped at the Mid Yell school.

Dialect, she said, forms an important element of her work, and is universally picked up on in her exhibitions.

The landscape features largely in Amy’s work.

Gaada, which was set up in an attempt to bring Shetland’s diverse artistic community together, is well equipped to bounce back once the coronavirus strictures are eased. It has taken delivery of two presses – a letter press and an etching press – and a 4K projector that can output “fantastic images.”

Shetland creators have had very limited access to printing technology, said Amy, a situation that acquisition of the presses is intended to rectify.

According to Amy, printing is a good way to get people who are perhaps more technically inclined into art. Considerable work has to go into setting up the presses to make sure that they print properly and consistently.

Etching also involved a lot of chemicals, something Amy was fascinated by, and provides “geeking” opportunities for those that maybe don’t enjoy drawing.

Amy said that she missed visiting her grandparents in Yell, who she is in the habit of seeing at least once a month.

Her grandmother Wendy Gear’s tales of trows and giants influenced Amy’s own view and work on the Shetland landscape.

Aside from continuing with maintenance work at the kirk, while observing the social distancing protocols, the pair have been exercising their Romanian rescue dog Lenny and planting tatties, setting up raised beds and repairing the dyke walls.

“At home we are trying to make the best of our time and have never had a right holiday for a while,” said Amy. “This is such a sad situation, but also a chance to do something practical.”

She said that grant provider Creative Scotland had been “very supportive” and had relaxed some of their conditions in the face of the coronavirus restrictions.