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Black and white close up image of a whale bone held in someone's hands.

On Sonorous Seas

Mhairi Killin with Fergus Hall, Tom DeMajo, Miek Zwamborn and Susie Leiper

The story of On Sonorous Seas began with a whale carcass that came ashore in August 2018 at Tràigh an t-Suidhe/Strand of the Seat, at the north end of the Isle of Iona, where artist Mhairi Killin lives.

Finding out why the whale had died led the artist on a journey into the tangled overlay of two cryptic environments; the habitats of the military and the habitats of deep diving whales. It took her on a ten-day sea voyage aboard the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust research vessel, The Silurian, during the largest tactically-focussed, NATO-led, military exercise in Europe – Joint Warrior – and immersed her in a pelagic world of sound.

You are warmly welcome to join us for the opening preview of On Sonorous Seas, at Taigh Chearsabhagh on Saturday 2nd September, at 7pm.  This preview event is free and open to all.

What became of the Iona whale is a story told with the voices of science, art, music and poetry. It interrogates the power of, and reliance on, sound as a survival tool for both the whales and the military, and the complex relationship between the militarisation of Scotland’s seas and their existing ecosystems.

The central video piece, A Constellation of Strandings, was created in collaboration with CGI artist Tom deMajo, with a new composition by Fergus Hall. Composed almost entirely from hydrophone recordings of orca calls, dolphin clicks and whistles, mid range active military sonar and boat engines made during Mhairi’s research trip on the Silurian, Fergus has created an accompanying soundscape across 6 movements, featuring vocals from Lea Shaw.

Dutch-born and Mull-based poet and artist Miek Zwamborn wrote a poem as an elegy and requiem for the whales, with calligraphy by artist Susie Leiper on loose leaf papers imprinted by Miek and Mhairi with impressions of whale bones gathered during the stranding event.

Killin produced a podcast series which explores both the research behind the project and these collaborations. All six episodes are available online www.onsonorousseas.com

On Sonorous Seas is free and open to all from 10 am – 4 pm, Monday to Saturday, in Galleries 1 and 2 at Taigh Chearsabhagh.  If you would like to support our continued programming and enable us to keep offering free events, please consider making a donation to Taigh Chearsabhagh.

Mhairi Killin lives on the Isle of Iona, in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, where she works with the precious relationships between land, sea, humans, and other living beings. Her practice explores the island landscapes that surround and are her home, and she seeks to understand how belief structures – religious, mythopoeic, and socio-political – have shaped the physical and metaphysical spaces she journeys through.

On Sonorous Seas was commissioned by An Tobar and Mull Theatre, where the exhibition was first presented in July/August 2022. The project was funded by AN Bursaries, VACMA Award/Creative Scotland, CHArts and The Space CIC with support from Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust, Scottish Association for Marine Science, National Museums Scotland, Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme. Thanks to Innis & Gunn for their support of the Preview at GSA.


A Gathering of Air and Sea: 16th September, Hosta Hall, North Uist, 6pm – 10pm

A Gathering of Air and Sea is held in conjunction with Killin’s On Sonorous Seas exhibition, together with artist Shona Illingworth.


*All cetacean species found in Scottish waters are classed as European protected species and a Nature Scot licence is required to use/collect their remains. Mhairi Killin is covered by a Nature Scot licence to carry out this project.*

Image credit: Mhairi Killin