True North Conference 2016


17-19 March 2016, Helmsdale, Scotland

“History is a set of lies agreed upon.”
― Napoléon Bonaparte

Timespan held its annual True North Conference on the subject of re-writing history. We invited our visitors to reflect on the cultural values we inscribe on the past, the processes and methodologies of writing history and the question of context and selection.

Over the last few years our programme has been concerned with the concept of North. We have been investigating our identity, what remoteness means to us and how we are connected in the past, present and future. We wanted to pause for a moment to discuss and share the means and ends of how stories can be told.

The True North conference was for everyone: for artists, historians, academics, curators, or researchers; for those with an interest in thinking about the past or dreaming about the future.

Thursday evening, 17th March, we welcomed most of our audience of 65 people to Timespan and Helmsdale with an informal reception and buffet. This was a first chance to meet over a culinary excursion along the 58th latitude prepared by the Fundraising Committee.

On Friday and Saturday two full days of presentations, conversations, explorations and performances followed.

On the conference agenda for Friday the 18th of March

  • Intangible Cultural Heritage, a keynote by Joanne Orr, CEO of Museums Galleries Scotland.
  • Place Making, a round table discussion on shaping the future through an understanding of place, with presentations by Timespan’s Heritage Officer Jacquie Aitken, curator and art historian Karin de Wild, writer Mike Saunders, and environmental artists Collins & Goto, chaired by Lisa Collinson.
  • A series of 5 Minute Presentations chaired by Lisa Collinson offering a broad and varied look at re-writing history across disciplines.
  • Water Thief: Stealing Time a performance piece by Scottish artist Alison Scott with collaborator Alice Tarbuck. Using a water clock – a clepsydra or water thief – to shape a scripted conversation questioning the methodologies we use to measure history.
  • Time for networking and exploring Helmsdale and the surrounding area.

On the conference agenda for Saturday the 19th of March

  • A second round table discussion, Shaping Practice, looked at examples of writing and re-writing as professional practice. Contributors included Lucy Harland, director of Lucidity Media, historian Elizabeth Ritchie, curator Jenny Brownrigg and visual art programmer Deirdre MacKenna, chaired by Anthony Schrag.
  • Exploration Sessions, which offered an opportunity to delve deeper into some of the ideas around re-writing histories, along with projects at Timespan. These included a Digital Workshop on Virtual Worlds with our partners from St Andrew’s University, the Monument Card Game with artist Laura Donkers, Visual Narratives with Jo Clements and Mapping the Past, a writing workshop with Laura Tansley and more.
  • Experiencing North from a phenomenologically and geo-politically view with presentations by Francis Halsall from National College of Art and Design Dublin and others.
  • Time for networking and exploring Helmsdale and the surrounding area.

View full True North Conference Agenda 2016.

As always, Highland hospitality was essential and openly commended: local food was provided by Whaligoe Steps Cafe, Timespan’s Fundraising Committee and our own Riverside Cafe.



After the conference we were able to extend some of the conversations outwards, in different ways and from unusual viewpoints.

Conference Reflection: Andrew Edwards

A bursary was offered to attend the conference and produce a reflective document; looking back on what took place and making this visible for those not in attendance, as well as acting as a means of looking forwards, encouraging a continued conversation and exchange.

The Conference Reflector bursary was awarded to Andrew Edwards, a dramaturg, performer and playwright based in Glasgow. Drawing on his practice and research interests around ecography, performative writing and dramaturgies of affect, Andy proposed to create a sensory ecography, an archive of the affective-relations between himself and the conference’s structures, threads and atmospheres.

The end result is Affective North, an immersive site that weaves together experiential and constituent aspects of the conference from a particular, personal and critically engaged standpoint. It functions as a reflective account, a performative score, and an invitation to navigate a landscape of experience; rewriting and refracting the history of the True North Conference.

Water Thief

Water Thief was a performative work conceived for and performed at the True North: Rewriting Histories conference by Alison Scott and collaborator Alice Tarbuck. The work encouraged a consideration of the standardised methodologies we use to calibrate our lives, through retelling the story of the water clock, or Water Thief as it was known in the ancient Greek courts, and reactivating the form of the object itself. The performance used a water clock to shape a scripted conversation, performed at the water’s edge at Helmsdale’s Old Harbour.

The full orator’s script is now online, alongside photograph documentation and a pdf of the poster produced for the project and distributed to conference participants.

True North Publication

We are also pleased to be able to share with you our True North publication. Launched at the 2016 conference, True North: From Documentation to Re-writing History creates a link between the two True North conferences held at Timespan. It draws on the themes of each conference, documentation and re-writing history, enhancing the connections between them through commissioned contributions from a variety of disciplines.

Contributors include artist Nicky Bird whose photo-essay “From Car Showroom to Casino: A Midlothian Site of History” pieces together a history of Nivensknowe Miners Social Welfare Club in Midlothian through image and text, Peter Davidson whose contribution “The Gaps and Absences in the Northern Record” considers the difficulties inherent within the Northern historical record and Matt Sillars who traces the development of photography as a mode of self-presentation in the context of the North in his essay “Modes of Self-presentation in the North”. Other contributions include a short story by author Sue Reid-Sexton drawing on a journey undertaken as part of Possible Scotland for inspiration, a 2d choreography considering placement and direction by Robbie Synge and an artists’ guide to medieval nordic sources by Lisa Collinson.

The publication is available to purchase through our online shop.