Mapping Eigg

Copyright David Lemm 

Maps are often of infrastructure, but maps can also function as a kind of infrastructure, an object that mediates people’s relationship to one another and to the landscape. Off the Grid’s experiments with visual methodologies led to an interest in the map as method, as representational tool, and as artefact.


In November 2014, we supported a Bothy Project artist residency on the Isle of Eigg to explore the significance and value of maps as tools of way finding, instruments of government, material artefacts of exchange and repositories of meaning. Edinburgh-based artist David Lemm spent two weeks on the Isle of Eigg working with residents to explore the history of maps on the island and to experiment with the making of maps that meet the current needs, interests and concerns of those who live there.

Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Maps have been a central and contentious part of the history of the Isle of Eigg. For many living in the Scottish Highlands the history of mapping has been experienced as a history of foreign governance and power. Maps were crucial to the surveying, documentation and selling of crofting land during the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th Centuries. On Eigg the representation of the island as an isolated, self-contained unit was a marketing technique used in its sale to rich landowners. Such maps represented the land as empty and available, erased or Anglicised Gaelic place names and excised historical routes and paths. Other maps were used to calculate and help extract rents from crofters. Families who had crofted the land for generations were rendered invisible. On the Isle of Eigg maps have therefore been experienced historically as tools of governance and commerce imposed from without.

Meanwhile new maps are continually being created. A network map of the island’s community-owned electricity grid, for example, with its schematic bold lines marking new connections between homes, transformers, wind and hydro-turbines emphasises the role of the island’s new renewable energy infrastructure in re- imagining community. 

Photo David Lemm

Mapping Eigg experimented with forms of map-making that are participatory, that incorporate narrative, that explore the significance of off-grid infrastructures and that materialise multiple and complex ways of belonging to the land. The goal was subversive: given the historical use of maps as an instrument of governance and commercial extraction, what might maps made through collaboration Eigg’s residents reveal about relationships between place, people and infrastructure? 


David Lemm’s practice explores place, perception and experience through graphic and diagrammatic aesthetics. He works in a range of media (printmaking, drawing, collage, video), to explore relationships between pattern-making, narrative and meaning. His recent work has involved working with maps and charts as a basis for layered compositions that draw on navigation and route-making as a basis for examining relationships between objective and subjective meaning. While on Eigg he collected narratives about mapping and way-finding, explored the undocumented cache of maps that are distributed across the island in homes and community buildings, and organized participatory workshops to explore experimental forms of mapping that are relevant for Eigg today.


In the first week of the residency we ran a participatory mapping workshop to explore the ways in which the ordinance survey map of Eigg could be repurposed to capture the routes that people make in their daily lives, the places they inhabit, and the unused spaces that people are physically unable to reach or that they seldom have reason to visit.



In the second week of the residency, David ran a lino-cutting workshop with the residents in the community hall. Participants were asked to create symbols representing life on Eigg, thinking specifically about how things work, what they do/what they need/where they go on the island, patterns in the landscape and visible/invisible infrastructures. The end goal was to make an experimental map which explored the idea of what a map of the island might look like without directly representing its geography, which only contained symbols deemed significant and created by the residents.

Pieces made during this residency were shown as part of David lemm: Debris and Phenomena, a solo exhibition at Edinburgh Printmakers

Read more about David Lemm’s residency on Eigg on The Bothy Project website here.

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