January 31, 2020

How do we shape collective memory?

Malcolm Maclean | Torcuil Crichton

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Public art installation using 280 deer posts (2.5m) and subsea lightingSheol An Iolaire, 2019189 ft x 27 ft. The precise dimensions of HMY Iolaire

At 2am on New Year’s morning 1919 the admiralty yacht Iolaire was approaching Stornoway harbour when it ran aground on the Beasts of Holm with the loss of 200 lives. The 280 men on board were returning from WW1 but only 80 made it ashore while others drowned within sight of their homes. This disaster had a profound impact on families across Lewis and the community trauma had lasting consequences. One was the Iolaire being rarely mentioned to avoid distressing those who lost loved ones. As time passed the story became semi-invisible. Our art installation set out to render the story fully visible in the heart of Stornoway as part of the 2019 centenary commemorations. We used 280 deer posts – one for each soul on board – to create a precise, to scale, outline of the Iolaire on South Beach where she was due to land. 80 of the posts are painted white and they are all illuminated so the ship remains visible underwater at high tide. Creative retellings include films, photographs, poetry and music and public popularity has prompted a yearlong extension to the temporary one-month installation. The Port Authority now want it to become a permanent memorial.