Since 2016 Australian artists and Scottish whiskey have been creative bedfellows. Joan Ross was the first Australian artist to take up a residency at the Glenfiddich distillery and next year Elyse de Valle will enjoy their hospitality in the Scottish Highlands. But in the meantime, Stanislava Pinchuk, the second Australian Glenfiddich artist in residence, reports on exotic foods, near perpetual daylight, and making the most of the middle of nowhere.
Sometimes artists don’t talk about it, but burning out is a really big part of the whole deal. And Glenfiddich is an amazing residency if you’re in a bit of a shell, which I honestly was when I landed. It’s also an amazing residency if you’re a whiskey hound, which I honestly also am. The two probably have a bit of a crossover, but not out here. It’s really quiet.
For the last few years, my practice has been concerned with making data maps of how landscape is changed in war and conflict zones. The data is mapped through textiles, and plotted across large paper works and installations. So it was a big leap to be working in the intense quietness of the Scottish Highlands. Mostly, I wanted to learn how to map waterways without the pressure of a conflict zone: to understand how the rain and the weather effect the water and the crop over a season, and watch it slowly. To read everything I needed to read, to plan the next projects ahead.
You can see hours of weather coming ahead. Just about permanent daylight, it gives you these incredible patterns of brightness and clouds, almost a few days in one. Grey, overcast mornings. Bright sunshine by the early evening. Finally a quick patch of dark-ish blue light by the early morning hours. This will be your very small time bracket when you can put yourself to sleep and feel human.
This also means that you can walk and hike until late into the night. In every direction are Highland hills and waterways. You can follow any of them and end up in the most incredible places. Castle ruins, Pictish stones, graveyards, distilleries. Peat bogs, lochs, waterfalls. Deer, wild raspberries growing everywhere, churches, running pheasants. On your way back, you can stop at the pub and drink from the places you walked through.
As soon as you stop at any pub more than twice, someone will ask if you are one of the artists in residence. And every single one of those people will floor you completely with how cool, intelligent and generous they are. Every one will describe all the artists from past years and the work they made.
He’ll tell you that he thinks artists spend too much time thinking and not looking at what’s right in front of them. You are very isolated and you will spend the next three months taking this art criticism to heart. It’s actually pretty valid. Thanks, Gordon.
All the other artists at Glenfiddich are complete rockstars. As is Andy, who runs the residency, who is an actual rockstar. You’re really sorted there. But the first person you’ll probably make friends with is Dave the groundskeeper. Dave will have your back for the next three months. He will invite you to watch Eurovision at his house, and if he really likes you, he will take you to climb rocks at the beach. He will show you dinosaur footprints and let you swing past bigger supermarkets on the drive back so you can get avocados.
The second friend you will make is also called Dave. He runs the antique shop in town, and wears purple head to toe. He will offer to show you the massage room out the back. Don’t let that scare you. He will also offer you a beer in the afternoon and you will sit in his shop for way too long eating biscuits. You will also bump into the first Dave there, buying a kilt. Because it’s Scotland. It will also be a running joke that everyone is called Ian or Dave out here. Because they are.
Speaking of which, Ian from engineering will be your next friend. He will organise a Monday hike club in good weather, and drive you all to the bottoms of nearby Bens. Your next friend will be Ian from the soup factory nearby, who also comes along. He’s one of the best brains you’ll ever meet and you will walk for hours chatting every time.
In the meantime, you will get used to the daylight. It will make everything feel romantic. And it really is paradise. You can catch up on everything, start all your next projects with so much physical space, so much head-space. It is an incredible privilege and I miss it hideously.
Mostly in the bath, with a whiskey and the sound of sheep in the field opposite your house. In that field, there will be one perfect, bright white, completely shampooed sheep. You will never find out the reason why. After a while, you will also wonder if you are losing your mind, but the artist from Edinburgh has been obsessing about it too. Everyone else will be very jealous and try to find the sheep with no success.
In this isolation, you will slowly start dreaming about Vietnamese food. It will turn out that four of the other artists are going through the same thing. One night you will get hammered at the Indian artist’s house, and wake up so hangover that you will really wonder about the limits of how much you would pay for an UberEats of Vietnamese food to reach you for breakfast. The nearest is 3.5 hours away, so in a vaguely manipulative gesture, you will resolve to start cooking big dinners of ‘Australian’ food for everyone. This is only so that the other artists will reciprocate and cook their national dishes for you. It will work pretty well.
But more importantly, if you win this prize you will eat a deep fried pizza. For a hot 25 seconds there, it will be the most delicious thing you have ever eaten. Before it cools even one degree, and before your brain and stomach figure out what’s going on. In that brief moment, it’s glorious. Your only other vegetarian option will be macaroni and cheese inside a pie. Macaroni and cheese inside a burger. Macaroni and cheese deep fried in a clump shape. Macaroni and cheese on top of fried chips.
In good news, you will burn all these calories at the weekly ceilidh dances. They will become the highlight of your week. You might go for days without speaking to a soul, but then dance like mad and win some raffles. Some days will pass slowly, but three months will suddenly pass quickly. There will be a lot of reading left unfinished, a lot of work suddenly rushed. A lot of walks not done enough and a lot of conversations not had. If you can, stay a while.
Watch a current interview with Stanislava Pinchuk here.