ARBURO is an ongoing collaboration with visual artist Philippa Thomas. It was first presented at St Giles Cathedral on New Year's Day 2016 as part of SCOT:LANDS, curated by Atlas Arts.

Arburo is a small and fragile community on the edge of a major urban sprawl. Its ramshackle huts and houseboats are slowly crumbling into canal water, and its dwindling population is struggling to sustain itself. They are a people caught between the forces of capitalism and tradition, torn between different understandings of place and of land, trapped between the earth and the sky.

In the early years of the 21st century, they make various attempts to save the place they call home, seeking out new ways to create work, seeking out new inhabitants, and fighting to defend their way of life. When their homes are finally threatened with clearance by government-backed property developers, they embark on an odyssey of protest, migration and self-discovery - an odyssey that leads to unexpected questions about our sense of home, our sense of place, and our sense of belonging…

Arburo is of course a fictional location, but it is a synthesis of real cases of fragile communities and forced eviction from across time and across the globe. Although Arburo does not exist, when one of its inhabitants opens their mouth to tell their story, through narrative or through song, their words are those of a real person. Everything they say is drawn from a library of eyewitness accounts, interview content and historical content from the Highland clearance story, similar situations in modern day Cambodia, Europe’s current “immigration crisis” and on studies of other kinds of community loss, such as the closing down of the online world “EALand”.

The building of Arburo from these fragments began during a research and development period under a bursary from Creative Scotland. The project has been on a hiatus following the commissioning of the Hebridean Cable Transit Company but we are actively seeking opportunities to continue working on it - if Arburo sounds like your kind of town, get in touch.

Below are some images of research trips and site visits during the development of the project, see beneath for an index.


1. The earth belongs unto the lord, and all that it contains, except the western islands which belong unto MacBrayne's.
2. Ruins of a blackhouse on the Isle of Eigg, a place steeped in some all-too-recent memories of ill treatment at the hands of disinterested landowners.
3. Two women at Borei Kela in Phnom Penh survey the empty land they used to own from a hole in the wall of a ruined '60s apartment block. They are squatting there while they fight for proper compensation. 
4. Borei Kela resettlement buildings 1 - 8, with the unfinished building 9 (now for rent) in front, and a car dealership in the foreground where building 10 is supposed to be.
5. A banner for one of the new buildings going up on the land that was grabbed at Borei Kela. Kitchens! Offices! Star Mart! Star Mart!
6. Dok Lundy on the steps of his NGO funded shack on his 5x12m plot 40km from Phnom Penh. "I miss Phnom Penh, but I have no hope any more". While we were there, Phanimex, the company that evicted him, phoned him up to demand that he take on the role of Community Leader in the resettlement camp. Lundy is anything but convinced that the tiny plots are really theirs to keep.
7. NGO funded houses at the resettlement camp.
8. Lundy and Nara, a journalist and my translator for the day, survey the remaining resettlement land. The previous day, Phanimex representatives had been there inspecting the site, leading to speculation that the families who refused to leave (and are still living in makeshifts under buildings 1-8) are facing the imminent arrival of more bulldozers.
9. Vek Sokchan, holding a rice pan - one of only two things she managed to rescue from her house at Borei Kela when bulldozers and excavators arrived at 8am, 3/1/2012. The other was a bowl, now smashed. She lived on the site of her NGO funded house in the open air, sleeping on a tarpaulin until last year. "The plots aren't even 5 x 12 - they are all 4.7 x 12 so they can fit more families into less land. All they have done is given us a place to bury ourselves."
10. A "receipt". No hard titles or specific locations were given to the victims, just a sheet they signed to acknowledge receipt of 60m2 of land. On the back of some is a further statement they had to sign promising they would not protest against Phanimex.
11. Protestors outside the National Assembly in Phnom Penh demanding the release of 19 eviction activists.
12. Laying names, photos and messages on the road in front of the National Assembly
13. Avatars gather and chat at EA Land town hall for a "See You Soon Party", organised by community leader Parizad. DJ Spike sobs through a closing speech and the announced time for the servers to shut down draws closer.
14. The error message that signified the apocalypse about two and a half minutes later... This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a Code Twenty Three.