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Artist's life-size bunker on display at Glenfiddich Distillery

By Lorna Thompson

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A YOUNG Scottish artist has built a bunker inspired by past and present anxieties as part of a prestigious Moray residency programme.

Gabrielle Gillott (26), from Edinburgh, won the £10,000 Glenfiddich Residency Award, the largest award given to an emerging artist in Scotland, in February last year, just before Covid-19 lockdowns began.

However, last year's Artists in Residence (AiR) programme, which hosts artists from around the world at Glenfiddich Distillery in Dufftown, was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Gabrielle had to wait a further year to claim her three-month residency prize.

She has now put the finishing touches to her life-size bunker installation, "Pursuit of Time", which is on show at Glenfiddich Distillery's Art Gallery this week.

Gabrielle said: "I was always interested in bunkers, and when I arrived in Dufftown I was reading about the Cold War and the Royal Observer Corps (ROC), who built underground observation posts around the country which were intended to survive a nuclear attack.

"I discovered there was one nearby, in the Cabrach, which is looked after by volunteers, and then I began to visit others.

"If an atomic bomb was dropped, the ROC were expected to monitor the effects from the bunker, but they only had supplies for three weeks so it was a suicide mission, in a way.

"Bunkers are the architecture of our anxiety. It felt like this was a parallel to what we've experienced globally recently. In the pandemic, we heard of billionaires going to New Zealand to build bunkers, so that fed into what I was thinking about.

Gabrielle Gillott, from Edinburgh, in her life-size bunker installation, "Pursuit of Time", at Glenfiddich Distillery in Dufftown.
Gabrielle Gillott, from Edinburgh, in her life-size bunker installation, "Pursuit of Time", at Glenfiddich Distillery in Dufftown.

"I seem to have strange knack for building a bunker before something goes down. The last one I built was in February 2020, and this time, I was nearly finished when Storm Arwen came along!"

Gabrielle, who graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 2019, described the residency as "a really incredible experience".

She added: "Like most students, when I graduated I had to start working full-time, so to have three months to work on my art practice has been amazing. It was a turning point in terms of using video in my practice, and I'm going away with a whole piggy bank of new ideas."

The AiR programme is one of the largest privately funded artist residency programmes in the UK with a total budget of £130,000. Run by whisky giant William Grant & Sons, it is now in the 20th year.

After cancelling the 2020 residency due to the pandemic, co-ordinator Andy Fairgrieve triumphed over the odds to go ahead this year, bringing artists to the distillery from Canada, the US, Taiwan, China, Korea and the UK.

Andy said: "After last year's enforced hiatus, having the artists here has felt like a massive achievement, especially given all the uncertainty over international travel.

"This is our 20th year so, no matter how difficult it was going to be, I felt it was important to ensure something went ahead, while keeping everyone safe.

"We've had to do things a little differently, but the artists have made the most of their time here, and come up with some really interesting work."

The Glenfiddich AiR Programme is open to artists in all disciplines from painting, sculpture and digital work to graphics and graffiti art, and has also hosted writers and composers. Over the two decades, more than 140 artists from 20 countries have participated.

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