‘Alien tree’ for Waverley during Edinburgh Art Festival

Artist Charles Avery's daughters Loris, 8, and Elvera, 5. Picture: Neil Hanna
Artist Charles Avery's daughters Loris, 8, and Elvera, 5. Picture: Neil Hanna
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A COLOURFUL “alien tree” from an artist’s fictional island has been created as an official meeting point in Waverley Station for the Edinburgh Festival.

Tens of thousands of visitors will be greeted by Charles Avery’s work, which features 162 coloured acrylic rods hanging from three bronze branches.

It is one of several pieces commissioned by the Edinburgh Art Festival this year to respond to the city’s “fairy-tale architecture and setting.” Waverley was selected for the project because it is the only station in the world named after a fictional novel, Sir Walter Scott’s 1814 novel of the same name.

The five-metre tall work - which will be located next to platform two until the end of August - is the latest in a series of artistic interventions in public spaces, with others including the Regent Bridge on Calton Road and the Scotsman Steps.

Avery, who spent three months working on his sculpture, said he would be happy for it to become a permanent feature in the station, despite an initial reluctance to take on the project. The Mull-born and bred artist has spent a decade producing work charting the lives of the inhabitants, as well as artificial flora and fauna, on an invented island, which is partly inspired by his Hebridean home.

Commuters will be able to sit underneath the “strange fruit” hanging from its branches and enjoy a moment of relaxation amid the frenzy of the festival, although barriers will be erected the work at night-time to protect the work. The spot selected for it has been a designated meeting point in Waverley for some time, but has never had an official marker before.

Festival director Sorcha Carey said: “It really felt like a site crying out for some art. We wanted to give people somewhere nice to meet. We really like bringing art out of galleries and into public spaces in that very intense moment of August. Where better than a train station?

“The theme of our commissions programme this year, The Improbably City, takes its inspiration from Edinburgh itself and the way in which the city feels as much at home in the world of fiction as in the real world.

“I thought it would be really interesting to reflect on that by inviting artists who are making imaginary worlds in their work to come and make new work in the city. Charles was a completely obvious choice for that theme. His tree looks amazing - especially when the acrylic rods pick up little dapples of sunshine.

“With the city’s population doubling in August, a large proportion of those visitors will be coming here by train. What better welcome to give them than a joyous, colourful tree in the middle of the station?”

Avery will also be showing a selection of large-scale drawings and sculptures created for “The Islanders project” at the Ingleby Gallery, a few minutes walk away from his tree, on Calton Road, during the festival.

He said: “Site-specific work isn’t something I really do within my project and The Island has always been very internal, but at the same time I felt this was a wonderful opportunity. I really wanted whatever I was going to do in the space to be supplanted there, almost like a spaceship, or an export from The Island.

“It is really like a specimen which has been taken from The Island. It’s supposed to a kind of airy, formal, elegant, place of reflection and relaxation for the islanders. I want people to engage with it and sit underneath it and have a coffee and sandwich. We’re relying on the good nature of people.

“I’m really pleased with it now that it’s been installed. I think it really holds its own in the station.”

HIGHLIGHTS

Historic buildings, neglected landmarks, little-known closes and a shopping centre will all be playing host to art festival.

The debating chamber created for the Scottish Parliament building that never was on Calton Hill will instead house pagan rituals. London artist Marvin Gaye Chetwynd will be staging a series of performances in the old Royal High School inspired by the ancient Greek cult of the Mother Goddess.

A prototype of an underwater ship will be installed by Ariel Guzik in Trinity Apse, a gothic kirk building off the Royal Mile, while the Mexican artist will be staging a live performance featuring real-life recordings of whales and dolphins.

An 18th street map of the Old Town has inspired Finnish-English artist and composer Hanna Tuulikki’s intimate performance piece, which will be staged in Fountains Close, off the High Street.

An empty shop unit in the St James Centre, off Princes Street, will become home to hundreds of paper planes, as part of Irish artist Emma Finn’s humorous mountain-set story, while local sound artist Deb Marshall will form her own choir to respond to the neo-classical architecture of General Register House.

The Edinburgh Art Festival runs until 30 August.