Jill Smith’s Zodiac Journey: Gemini

Isle of Lewis

Photo: Mhairi Law

When considering where to carry out the Gemini action, I immediately thought of Gallan Head, which is a high promontory just north of where I live. It is a place of wind, surrounded on three sides by the ocean. 130 mph hurricanes have been known here. During the Cold War the land was owned and used by the Ministry of Defence as a radar tracking station. Some years ago the Gallan Head Community Trust were able to purchase it through the Scottish Community Right to Buy scheme, and open it up to the public. I find it a very powerful and quite magical place, with high cliffs which are the nesting sites of many birds. It is a place of birds. 

As it is community owned, I wanted to invite local people to participate in this action, so sent out invitations to those I thought might be interested. 

Gemini is traditionally ‘The Twins’, so I felt instinctively I should for this action create a double spiral – one leading into another – and chose an area I had often been drawn to: down a bit and to the west of the highest point of the headland. 

I wanted to celebrate not only the element of Air, but all the birds who fly around our skies, playing on air currents, and enjoying a completely different experience of living to that of us earthborne humans 

My neighbour, Trish Bell of Hebrides Craftzing, who keeps chickens, gave me a piece of fine-holed wire fencing and my daughter Saffron, when she was up here for Aries, fashioned it into a beautiful Bird, something beyond my capabilities. 

For a year, wherever I’ve walked, I’ve collected fallen feathers – in my garden, on Gallan Head, in the Norfolk countryside, and even on Norwich and Stornoway streets. A lot of them were from pigeons. 

Because I was inviting people, and because for this action Iain Morrison from Fruitmarket, and poet and Virginia Woolf scholar Jane Goldman were coming here to participate, we had to choose a specific date well in advance and hope the weather would be kind. Both Iain and Jane are Geminis, and the chosen date was actually Iain’s birthday. It was Jane who discovered my lack of acknowledgement in the Fruitmarket archive, even though I had been the first woman to be part of an exhibition there nearly 50 years previously. Remember – this Zodiac Journey is part of Fruitmarket’s 50th anniversary celebrations. 

We’d had a period of strange weather – thick fog hanging over us for over a week and then a few days of hot sunshine and clear stillness. But the forecast was for a change on the 22nd – ‘light rain showers’ or drizzle, cloud cover and a ‘moderate breeze’. 

The day came. High cloud but as yet no rain – would it hold off? 

I knew it would take some time to lay out the double spiral before people arrived, so, after a good lunch at the nearby Edge cafe, Iain, Jane, Mhairi Law the photographer, and I, climbed up the Head and to my chosen spot. With their help I laid out the spirals, mainly in white cotton rope, finishing with the old length I had used for the Virgo single spiral, so many months ago now. 

I laid out the Gemini cloth with its own double spiral in the centre of one of these larger ones, and weighted it down with stones, as there was a considerable wind buffeting everything, including my hair! I placed on it photos of my younger son Taliesin, and his younger son and my youngest grandchild Alfie, who are both Geminis, and a conch shell I had blown in so many performances way back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The old basket I had made and used in those days also, I placed beside it with the wooden Gemini sign propped up against it. The wire Bird nestled down, tucked under the basket so it wouldn’t take flight in this strong wind. 

Several times the rain tried, but the power of Air on this day kept it away. 

As it was so windy, I took a basket of feathers with me when I went back to the cafe to collect whoever had arrived for the action, and gave them the feathers, asking them to tuck them away somewhere safe until they were needed. Many people I had invited arrived, and a party who had been lunching in the cafe joined us. 

We walked back up to the highest point and then down to the spirals, and the people gathered at the end of one of them. 

This was the third and last wearing of the Air outfit. Onto it Jane pinned the double-headed brooch made by Taliesin, which I had worn in Capricorn. This time it represented the Gemini twins. In one ear I wore an earring of a raven with dark and silver crescent moons. When Taliesin was born in a tipi in Wales in 1984 a young raven sat on the top of it.  

I had a long, wide ribbon fixed to a cane, and began the action by moving round both the spirals, twirling it into shapes, dancing it with the wind, celebrating this powerful element of Air which was making its presence felt so strongly on this Gemini day. 

I then walked both spirals and into the centre of the one with the Gemini cloth and the wire Bird, and blew the conch shell. Two by two all my guests walked the double spiral, came to the centre of the one I was in, knelt and placed their feathers firmly into the Bird. I then gave them each a blue cup-cake, its top cut into wings, in thanks for their joining in this celebration. 

When they had all been in and walked back through the spirals, I picked up the Bird and held it aloft to the wind. I had wondered whether all the feathers would fly off, but they were firmly fixed and most stayed in as I walked back through the spirals. The Bird’s wings vibrated in the wind and it seemed to express the same joy as do the live birds above us. 

There was another Gemini present whose birthday was this day, so we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to both him and Iain. 

It was such a lovely happy gathering, and I felt so full of joy myself. Although I had planned the action, it was so adaptable that what actually happened grew from the people who were there and the strong presence of this great element of AIR. 

I am so very grateful to everyone who came, many of them dressed in blue and white,  and made this such an enjoyable action; to the rain for staying away, and to Trish for the wire and to Saffron for turning it into the Bird, which was the star of the show! 

Jill Smith, May 2024

See also www.jill-smith.co.uk

Main images: Mhairi Law



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