Cicely Gill on Louise Barrington's 'Sylph'

Part of ONE WORK

Louise Barrington, 'Slyph' (2021). Courtesy of the artist.

We commissioned poet and playwright Cicely Gill to respond to Louise Barringtons Sylph’ (2021). You can read or listen to Cicely read the text below.

Sylph’ (2021) was presented on the LUX Scotland website in September 2023, followed by an online discussion event with Louise, as part of our ONE WORK series.

ONE WORK is a series of online discussion events to think more deeply about how an artwork came into being. Focusing closely on a single work, these generous discussions provide space for an artist to present a recent work and talk through the work’s creation. The events are accompanied by a month-long online screening and specially commissioned written response published on the LUX Scotland website.

Cicely Gill has written poetry most of her life and as an adult has written plays, novels and short stories as well.

As regards poetry, her themes are varied, drawing on people and places and the life around her.

She has self-published two detective novels, one set on Arran, and is currently writing a contemporary novel.

Last August her full-length play Sail or Stay’, about the Clearances on Arran was performed in the Lamlash Community Theatre and in 2014, another play, A Horse for every Man that Died’, about World War One on Arran was also performed in Lamlash.

Sylph: A Response

I speak from a cellular space, perhaps a dream of Orkney unvisited.

I am menaced by a booming which disrupts me, opens my dream in a sky-world of clouds, always clouds, pink and grey, and hands — whose?— dark against them.

Hands feeling outwards, towards what? Asking what? As if talking to the clouds, to the birds, beckoning, signing, what? Connecting?

In the foreground which is sky, birds dizzy my feelings, undermine my thoughts as their flight is unnervingly random here

but there, in the far places of my sight, I see the V‑pattern of birds who know where they are going.

Momentarily my dream is at peace.

But what is this silken sail, radiant, with no boat. A sky-boat invisible,

with a song of gentle breezes, shielding figures dancing slowly on the air.

Tenuous but solid shadows, often just hands.

Is this a child-game where fingers become rabbits? Bizarre dream-mind!

I feel so high up here. Unstable altitude.

What universe is this with no platform (flat shape) to steady myself.

I am aloft with the pink and grey, bodiless perhaps, just an emotion steered by thought.

Suddenly and unexpected, an obscured sun, foggy and out of the fog, below, is a tractor, red and comforting, grounding me as it works its way across a field, an ordinary Orkney field, so I suppose, half cut, green swathes, so solid and so not sky, with black birds following dipping and swooping for food and white birds milling and diving between.

Yes, the tractor boomed into existence and gave us autumn: a recognisable step on the earth’s journey. I am on board amid the tractor flow, flying along with the birds. For a moment tranquillity; the white farmhouse on the hill, stone wall, white fence.

But did I see this? The silken sail obscures with a reflection like Northern Lights.

Strange world. Tractor tracked by a rainbow only pink and the hands? Do they control this scene, this dream or are they my hands perhaps? Only connect’.

Sometimes they do, with each other, sometimes reach out to the sky, to the birds but where are they in the Orkney islands, these disembodied bodies.

Do they stretch their limbs in vain? Sometimes a group, a whole dance, attempting order, control.

Sometimes I think I see progression: the hands have signalled — have they?— and grey randoms, almost verticals, primeval globules falling through the sky, turning into raindrops. I am up in the sky with the rain and the birds as they fly through it.

Did the hands disappear the tractor, the now-connecting hands?

And again, the silken sail, security in an insecure world, still obscuring or maybe protecting the dancing figures. A veil to be broken before a birth?

Empty field. White posts, a semblance of fence, a long stone wall. Order but emptiness. What low buildings sit on the horizon?

And, close now, the dancing figures are more defined behind the sail. Dwellings now in focus, posts defining a road and I wonder if the road has a destination or perhaps a destiny.

And though far off, the beehive hill commands the view and sends us unanswerable questions.

Tall shadowy reed-like shapes cross the field as if they are reflections of themselves. What is that pink meteor shooting across the sky and landing in the field, becoming a field of snow at the bidding of some dark transmuting bird.

We have reached winter. The silken sail is a flag of unknown import. The figure on the left cannot connect with the arms on the right. Where am I in all this? I am menaced by vibrating music and birds, some flying backwards. Are they flying to or from or just flying?

I must be dreaming: figures in paradise of birdsong, figure carving a new world from blue, enclosing it.

And the silken sail, sails on.

Image description: A film still shows six seagulls flying through a dusk-like sky overlaid with an orange 16mm film exposure.

Audio Version

Part of ONE WORK

ONE WORK is a series of online events that focus closely on a single work. These generous discussions provide an opportunity for an artist to present a recent work and talk through how the work came into being. Each work is available as a month-long online screening, followed by a specially commissioned written response that serves as documentation of both the work and the discussion.

Learn more