Simon Yuill presents Raik
An exhibition review
by Kieran Donnan
Aberdeen isn't a city I readily connect a story to. I only recently learned that it had been, prior to the expansion of Union St, a land of burns and wood, home to the Denburn and Stocket forest. The city doesn't give much of that away as the lochs have been drained, seafront reinforced and valleys bridged over.
What you want to learn you can obtain from a height, if you reach Rubislaw den you'll view the houses rolling down to the sea, and as you reach a commanding spot you will see the way the city nestles comfortably amidst rolling hills and scenery.
When I think of what Simon Yuill does with Raik, Alistair Moffat's The Hidden Ways comes to mind: in it he takes a pathfinder map and some historical reference points and uncovers an entire landscape, especially in and around the river Tay which remerges amongst motorway and vast bridges as a highway in an of itself, carrying Scotland out of its heartland to the sea. Both writers position their readers in a landscape that is otherwise unimaginable to the modern, 21st century person.
Yuill's "Raik" seems to be an experiment in reimagining. He is generous to the city, and out of some interviews with locals on the fishing industry looks back at the migration of workers from the west coast, and even further to when the area was bequeathed by Robert Bruce in the fourteenth century. Yuill gives back the story to thee name, caught up in the obliterating change of the past few decades. It's as if he were dropped out of the sky with an old map and some artefacts and can now give way to a different story.
Highlighted in the exhibition were five epochs, which also came with a small pamphlet to describe them: reindeer, salmon, herring, oil, microbes. And imprinted to five standing capes were the imagery of these, a wearable piece of our history, to wrap it around and feel very much a part of. The text was loosened and freed by the very tactile objects, which were artefacts in themselves. It's the imagery of a story, an arc or journey one can relate with that is so compelling here.
In "Raik" Simon Yuill does what many artists tend to cast aside: he connects with people's need for stories.
Admittedly fact is solid, solid even as granite, but our history and the stories we tell ourselves give us a commitment to change, to reinterpret and reinvest ourselves in our habitat. To go all the way back from Aberdeen as tundra and stalking deer to a new kind of urban habitat, living peak-oil and the threshold of a melting ice cap and opening Baltic, Yuill has started a conversation and given his art an arc of discovery and optimism.
I hope that Aberdeen continues to look for its answers in the form of creative license not only through hard carved fact but in the form of stories as well.