ANGUS FARQUHAR IS STANDING WITH HIS FEET IN A STREAM. It's only a trickle. not the torrent that's blasting down the mountain a few yards to our left. His hiking boots are more than up to it. And his journey has barely begun. 'What I've started here is like lifting up a rock a single millimetre.' he says bending down and plucking a small stone f'rom the bubbling water round his feet. ‘If I'm lucky I might discover a bit more in the next twenty or thirty years.'
We're at a mystery location somewhere in Glen Lyon. the stunning 3()-mile tract of southern Highland countryside that cuts a route between Aberfeldy in the east and the 107611] Beinn Heasgarnich in the west. It's a landscape where the cows are brown and hairy. the rocks reveal the secrets of ancient shielings (the small stone cottages where crofters would spend the summer months) and the spring arrives under duress. two months late. Angus points to an outcrop silhouetted against an uncommonly hot sun. a looming mountain with something of the Close lz'iii'mmtcrs ()f'l'lw Third Kind about it. As we look up. an eagle takes flight. It's a harsh enviromnent. but today it's idyllic.
Angus feeds on it. The man who made his name at the centre of Test Dept. the industrial drumming outfit that beat out a rhythm of anarcho-socialism to counterpoint the dull thud of 80s Thatcherism. has gone all pastoral. ‘l was very angry for about ten years.' he tells me when I catch up with him in Edinburgh a few days later. ‘But I'd say the work now is much more reflective'.
Angus has taken a two-year lease on at Glen Lyon cottage up a track over a cattle grid just past a wooden bridge off a single-lane road. And. when he's not in his Glasgow flat doing his day job as artistic director of the
nva organisation (or indeed in Edinburgh drumming for
Beltane. the neo-pagan fire festival he revived thirteen years ago). he's heading for the hills. bagging those Munros and trying to keep warm in a house fuelled by one coal fire. He says he's glad he doesn't have to live there through every day of the snowbound winter. but he loves this landscape with a passion.
Neither is he just some romantic holiday weekender. Angus is making his daily treks up the mountainside in the
name of art. An unusual kind of art it has to be said. but for
a man who's done shows in warehouses. on docksides and in prison cells. his latest scheme. The Par/I. is out of the ordinary only in terms of ambition and scale. lt's taking seven miles of cabling. three square miles of mountainside rising to 1500 feet and a two-hour walk. Two years in the making. it will involve 100 people. including musicians from Nepal. soundscape artist Gus Furguson and the
Music, theatre, art . . . call it what you will, ANGUS FARQUHAR and nva have left an extraordinary legacy of work over the
past decade. Now he's taking us on a magical mystery tour to Glen LYON. Words: Mark Fisher Portrait Photographs: Steve Reid
Bombos de Santo Andre. a band of Portuguese drummers.
Here's the deal. For two weeks from the middle of May. buses will set off from Glasgow. Edinburgh and Perth every evening. delivering punters to Aberfeldy. There. they'll be met by a fleet of mini-buses small enough to negotiate a passing place in the dark. arriving in the heart of Glen Lyon from around 10pm. The exact location is being kept secret. both to keep the landowner sweet and to add a sense of magic to the mystery tour.
Once there. your safety will be ensured by one of three Tibetan sherpas ready to guide you along an old drove road for a three-mile night time ramble. You'll be encouraged to do the hike alone to help you remain true to your own responses — none of your inner-city cynicism here — and en route you'll encounter a landscape that has been not so much altered as 'enhanced'.
‘lt's about seeing what's already there.' says Angus. ‘We're looking at the way landscape can be transformed by the human activity within it. We're looking at what has been lost or buried in our own culture and what is still alive in certain other mountain cultures. We'll be giving people hints about how things can be changed. lt's temporary enhancement. We have techniques that assist you to see and hear in a different way.'
It is. he makes clear. more than a jumped-up countryside ramble with the Brownies. There again. if you go expecting a performance with a beginning. middle and end. you could be disappointed. Though his Test Dept work was one for the music critics. and his post-Test Dept work has brought out the theatre hacks. Angus's sensibility is more like that of a visual artist.
In truth. he doesn't fit comfortably into any pigeonhole: his one-man shows Pain with Graham ('unnington and The Gimmick with Dael ()rlandersmith were pitched squarely at the straight drama crowd. But how would you classify Grand ('wzrml. which sent the audience on a journey through Glasgow's deserted Central Hotel. or the company's lighting initiative that will be transforming the appearance of a number of landmark Glasgow buildings over the coming months‘.’
It means you have to keep yourself open. Like going to a gallery. there isn't an obvious time to clap. But so often. even in his least successful work. there are moments of spine—tingling brilliance that stay with you for years: the sight of an army of stick men appearing an impossible distance away at the far end of Springburn's St Rollox Locomotive Works in The Second Coming (1990): the cranes that took on choreographed life over the ('lyde from the Meadowside Granary during the otherwise forgettable .S'mmiv ll'utm‘s (1995): or the hawk that flew