Hanrui Jiang


This project originates in my experience of selkie folktales while visiting the Orkney Islands in November, 2018. A selkie is a blend of a seal with human characteristics; it is a notion that does not exist in the objective world but is a subjective construct of the human mind. Selkies are in seal form in the water but obtain a human form when they shed their sealskin and venture onto the land. Their lives continually cross the undefined boundary, and the coastal area becomes a zone of mythical transition. My perception of the Orkney coastal landscape was formed through this visit to the Orkney Islands and the very atmosphere in selkie folktales. Therefore, this project is aiming to explore what the reading of selkie folktales contributes to my understanding of the landscape in the coastal region and provide an open museum for the primitive lifestyle and oral culture.

The feature of oral culture is that it constantly evolves according to the objective environment and regional social reality, and adapts to how different performers perceive the world subjectively. The fluid features of how oral culture is preserved and passed on corresponds to the fluid status of a coastal area’s perpetual movement. The word fluidity comes from the reading of selkie folktales that describe both the development of oral culture within geography and
history, and the experience of space and time in the coastal area.

The site is situated in the abandoned island ‘Eynhallow’ in Orkney, which is explored through the investigation of geographical features and the analogy that sealskin can be regarded as a transition between the land and sea, humans and seals. The fluid status of the landscape near coastal areas and its lifestyle helps to shape the morphology of the island; that the sea is a continuation of the land and the water is only a thin membrane that separates them.