Throughout the history of the world, the edible mussel (mytilus edulis) has been of huge importance to mankind.
Often used as an emergency food in times of difficulty. This is a food that crosses the class food boundaries.
“A food delightful to the taste of lords and cheap enough for poor folk’s tables” poet Ausonius, 4th century”
The Tain mussel project.
I was invited to carry out a community project connected to the local Doroch Firth wild mussel scalps. This project was part of the 2007 year of Highland culture.
The Tain mussel company agreed to give enough mussels to feed the town for a day. The local hotel cooked the mussels and the local bakery gave garlic bread. All this was provided for free to those who came to eat whilst the local highland band played. It was a fantastic community event.
In all about 1100 people were fed. All the mussel shells that would normally have been discarded were saved for me to start my work.
The main theme of my project was “The cycle of nature is actually a recycle”.
The statue of the Duke of Sutherland looks over the town of Tain. During the late 18th and early 19th century thousands of his tenant farmers were fiercely evicted from their homes and land, to make way for large-scale sheep farming. Many people perished during this period from starvation. Some were forced onto barren land next to the sea. This period of highland history is called the Highland Clearances.
One food that was freely available was the common blue mussel, which is still today helping the local community. James VI bequeathed the wild mussel scalps to the town. He stipulated that the financial profits from the mussels were to be given back to the town. I was surprised to find out that 70% of the mussel harvest goes to France and the rest into the English market. The local people did not eat their own mussels and they were not even available in nearby shops.
The shell that protects the mussel is always thrown away, it has no value, like the crofters were seen by their landlords. I used the shell to form armour for the two figures and chairs placed within the beautiful unused church in the centre of Tain. The church, during the clearances seems to have sided with the rich southern landowners and did very little or nothing to help the crofters. On entering the building the figures seemed real. They were the unwanted past.
Every material used within this project was recycled, objects once needed and then discarded like the crofters.
I asked each of the six local primary school to work on the same theme but the results were so different because of their locations. One school was situated next to a beach, another in a forest and one in the centre of Tain, so we went out with the kids to collect materials left by nature to make 300 mosaics portraits. They were all hung in a disused shop in the centre of Tain. Each portrait was framed by the Tain Mussels.