MacGillivray is the Highland name of writer and artist Kirsten Norrie. Brought up internationally within a military context and living for a significant period of time in both England and Northern Ireland, Norrie returned to Scotland after studying at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, University of Oxford where she received a doctorate in Performance and Scottish Identity; her thesis was entitled Cloth, Cull and Cocktail: Anatomising the Performer Body of 'Scotland'.
MacGillivray's first work The Last Wolf of Scotland, published by Pighog/Red Hen (Brighton/Los Angeles) in 2013, summons forth a pantheon of muses, outlaws and showmen from the dark corners of Scottish and American history, animating their world with an incantatory free verse that is shockingly contemporary and hauntingly ritualistic. The poems excavate passion and transgression with precision and sympathy, allowing the reader to witness history from surprising new angles. Constructed in Norn, Orcadian, Shetlandic, Scots and English with a Gaelic translation by Aonghas MacNeacail, The Last Wolf of Scotland was written with reference to Hugh MacDiarmid's magpie use of dictionaries, on location as a Kluge Fellow at the Library of Congress, Washington DC, Shetland, Orkney and the Highlands and also informed by time spent with Navajo and Hopi people during her Slade travel award to Arizona in 2003.
Her second book The Nine of Diamonds: Surroial Mordantless (Bloodaxe Books, 2016), extends a succinct Gaelic theme, cross-germinated with the Native American Sioux ghost gamble. Written on the Isle of Skye and Edinburgh in the lead up to the Scottish referendum as a response to Highland issues of 'freedom' and dissent, MacGillivray researched the book whilst artist in residence at Sabhal Mor Ostaig, the Gaelic College, during the shooting of her Gaelic short film Aisling Sheòrais MhicDhòmhnaill: George MacDonald's Dream. Written on location in the last cave that Bonnie Prince Charlie hid in at Elgol, after being immersed in a Clearance Village waterfall and on a stag cull, the book is constructed as a numinous card game in nine parts to play back the Duke of Cumberland – the 'butcher' – who puportedly gave the order that no Highlander be given quarter after the Battle of Culloden on the back of a playing card: the nine of diamonds. Nine also featured in the execution of Highland Jacobite soldiers in Inverness Kirkyard who were forced to march nine paces between the gravestone they knelt or sat upon opposite a bayonet propped on an opposite stone for execution. To counter the commonly trod ground of Highland diaspora, MacGillivray concocted a surrealistic backdrop to the book in which the card game is traced back into chance play, tarot and any reference to a Scottish Surrealism movement which she tracked in the Gabrielle Keiller Archive at the Museum of Modern Art, Edinburgh. Deer emerge as a theme in the book through Breton's 'coral capped' stags and a French phantasmagoric streak runs through the book starting with the sub-title Surroial Mordantless which places part of the stag's antler with an anti-fixative, a non-mordant thus creating a herd of deer as Highlanders on the run in the garden of the Highlands as free of dye, free of blood and free of fixity. Also inspired by the clumsy Daily Mail reportage of the Cambridge academic who was gored in the neck by a stag; references to the transformed gender of the individual and the animal trapped in an enclosed garden seemed to echo and mimic a playful twist on the cultural motifs used by the press in the lead up to the referendum. Written in instinct as a numinous wish text, though failed, The Nine of Diamonds: Surroial Mordantless begins with the Gaelic visionary practice of the 'taghairm' where a Highlander wrapped in ox or stag skin was left behind the furthest most recesses of a waterfall for a number of days to induce vision.
MacGillivray has worked as a performance artist with the European collective The Wolf in the Winter, with The Parlour Collective and solo in Greenland, Germany, the Netherlands, Vietnam, United States, UK, Spain and Norway alongside recording five albums: Wolf, Radiophonic Subluna, Radio Beating Heart, Horse Sweat Chandelier and Once Upon A Dirty Ear. Her music has appeared on the BBC, for film soundtracks Swandown Channel 4/Britdoc, 2012 and By Our Selves, 2015 by British director Andrew Kotting in which she appeared in a cameo opposite Toby Jones. She has performed internationally with The Fall, Arlo Guthrie, Arthur Brown, Shirley Collins, Michael Moorcock, Vic Godard, Toby Jones, Alan Moore, Jem Finer (The Pogues), Current 93, Gallon Drunk, Iain Sinclair, Trembling Bells, Thurston Moore, B. Catling and Band of Susans, playing electric autoharp, grand and toy piano, harmonium and dulcitone and integrated with readings.
Her writing has appeared in Magma, ASLS New Writing Scotland, The Scotsman, Test Centre Magazine, Be the First to Like This (a new generation of Scottish voices by the Scottish Poetry Library), Art Monthly, Performance Research, By Our Selves (a book accompanying the film alongside essays by Iain Sinclair and Alan Moore), Strange Attractor and Gutter Magazine. In 2013 she received Creative Scotland funding to write a non-fiction work Scottish Lost Boys with new material presented on child actor Jon Whiteley and Scottish director Bill Douglas. In 2015 she was selected to represent Scottish poetry alongside Ryan Van Winkle and William Letford at the Queensland Poetry Festival, Australia by Creative Scotland and with a further award in 2015 is setting the poetry of Mary Queen of Scots to music. She has taught at the Universities of Oxford, Cheltenham and Gloucester and Edinburgh College of Art, and currently lives and works in Edinburgh.
Books by MacGillivray