A symbolic ceremony to "awaken the giant" took place in Glenshee on 6 November to coincide with the designated day of mass mobilisation for COP26.
The ceremony was the official opening of The Awakening, a 9,000 square metre installation of a giant hand sited on the Coire Lairige at the Spittal of Glenshee, inspired by the Glen’s many Finn mac Cumhaill stories, and commissioned by the Cateran Ecomuseum, one of only two "museums without walls" in Scotland.
A Pictish war horn, the Carnyx, was sounded in the glen three times by musical archaeologist and wind instrumentalist, John Kenny, to awaken the giant. The event was inspired by old Scottish giant lore which tells us that Finn is asleep under the mountains with his warriors ready to be awoken at a time of great portent by this signal so that he can come to our aid.
The Cateran Ecomuseum’s poet in residence, Jim Mackintosh, read a new poem for The Awakening, and storyteller Lindsey Gibb told a re-imagined tale about the piece – both of which were performed in public for the first time at The Awakening ceremony.
Pupils from Kirkmichael Primary School gifted representatives from the area with hazel trees, symbols of wisdom and inspiration in Celtic mythology.
Pictured at the opening ceremony are, from left, musical archaeologist John Kenny, storyteller Lindsey Gibb, Kevin Stirling, John Swinney MSP, poet Jim Mackintosh, Bob Ellis from Visit Cateran Country, Clare Cooper from the Cateran Ecomuseum, David Woodcock from Kirkmichael with artists Martin McGuinness and Fraser Gray
Co-designed by talented Tayside-based artist, Martin McGuinness, whose acclaimed portrait of Hamish Henderson formed part of the launch of the innovative Cateran Ecomuseum in 2019, and long-term collaborator Fraser Gray, The Awakening will be in place until around mid-December, coinciding with the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 which took place in Glasgow.
Made out of 2,500 metres of jute and geotextile and pinned to the earth it has taken nearly 500 hours to install. And at 180 metres by 50 metres, and 2,000 metres above sea level, it's thought to be highest art installation ever placed in the UK landscape.
Tapping back into this very ancient story of how we can awaken the giant at a time of emergency was a very poignant moment given what is at stake for all life on our planet because of the climate emergency.
And the climate crisis affecting us all was brought into sharp relief when the opening ceremony had to be rescheduled due to an extreme weather event that closed several roads in the area, including the A93 following flood damage to the historic bridge at Bridge of Cally.
This installation and the story and poem commissioned for it aims to raise awareness of the immense danger we are in and the "giant" levels of energy needed from each and every one of us if we are to regenerate our planet home and we are pleased that the rescheduled date meant that we could be part of a global day of action and mass mobilisation for COP26.
The Awakening is one of a number of initiatives that are taking place this year as part of our Museum of Rapid Transition programme, "From Deep Time to Our Time".
We want to highlight how the story of our past can help guide the story of our future through a focus on the Ecomuseum’s landscapes and their constantly changing geological, climate and human story.
Engaging people with their heritage has huge potential to help people build more regenerative and resilient lifestyles and mobilise climate action.
COP26 is a huge opportunity to raise awareness of that and we hope that people are listening and wake up to the fact that action has to be taken now.
The installation is also part of a new social media marketing campaign aimed at encouraging more local visitors to the Blairgowrie and east Perthshire area this autumn and beyond, which is being developed by the area’s destination marketing organisation, with funding from VisitScotland.
Working in collaboration with the Cateran Ecomuseum and the wider community, the Blairgowrie and East Perthshire Tourist Association (BEPTA) is delivering the targeted campaign as part of wider efforts to develop strong visitor experiences that recognise the growing responsible and regenerative tourism consumer trends post-COVID-19.
The Awakening is located on the Dalmunzie Estate side of popular long-distance walking route the Cateran Trail, just off the A93 Snow Road and within the Cairngorms National Park, and the new campaign will also feature the many and varied attractions in the Blairgowrie and East Perthshire area, including its accommodation providers, food and drink offering, and activity providers, and highlight the importance of responsible tourism.
Blairgowrie and east Perthshire has a strong cultural heritage and creative offering and The Awakening is a stunning example of this.
We hope it will be a catalyst for highlighting the wider visitor proposition to a new audience post-COVID-19, as well as the message that it is vitally important to protect what it is that makes this area so special and attractive to visitors.
We also have a rich and diverse natural history and, as we rebuild from the global coronavirus pandemic, the sustainability and welfare of our communities, our culture and the wonderful natural environment that we are so lucky to have here on our doorstep has to be at the centre of that recovery.
Building on the appetite for staycations and rediscovering Scotland, we’re aiming to encourage people who live within two to three hours travel time of Blairgowrie and east Perthshire to visit the area using a range of channels to showcase The Awakening and the wider region, increasing visitor numbers in what is traditionally a quieter time of year for the tourism industry after the busier summer season.
Responsible tourism is one of the driving forces of a sustainable rural economy in the Blairgowrie and east Perthshire area.
Through BEPTA, tourism businesses and organisations in Blairgowrie and east Perthshire are building collaborative working relationships for the benefit of the wider community, and the Cateran Ecomuseum and The Awakening is providing a fantastic opportunity to shine a spotlight on this beautiful area and its historic and dramatic landscape at what is a particularly stunning time of year.
This was a moving and emotive ceremony that paid tribute to the rich cultural history of our local region.
The Awakening is a timely installation that inspires us to build a better, more sustainable future by looking to our past. It is a particularly relevant work of art, given that the eyes of the world are currently on Scotland for the COP26 summit.
I am hopeful that The Awakening will encourage more people to visit Blairgowrie and east Perthshire and to learn more about our storied past. I am also confident that this installation will help visitors to reflect upon the individual steps we can all take to address the climate emergency.