IT WAS billed as an attempt to unite Scotland’s capital in a collective welcome to the tens of thousands of visitors descending for the world’s biggest arts festival.
But a leading artist’s efforts to persuade dozens of institutions to hoist a simple white flag bearing the simple message “hello” have fallen foul of red tape and bureaucracy at three of the city’s most prominent landmarks.
Edinburgh Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Scottish Parliament building have all snubbed Peter Liversidge’s project, despite pleas from Edinburgh Art Festival organisers for their backing.
The English artist’s “Flags for Edinburgh” idea, was based on institutions replacing their usual flags with a “hello” message printed in black on a white flag for the duration of the festival.
It has won the backing of Edinburgh City Council, the National Galleries of Scotland, the Royal Bank of Scotland, National Museums Scotland and Edinburgh University.
Among the 50 locations confirmed so far are the City Chambers on the High Street; the Assembly Rooms on George Street; Waverley Gate, the headquarters of Creative Scotland; Camera Obscura, the nearest attraction to Edinburgh Castle; and the historic Canongate Kirk, close to the parliament building.
The art festival’s publicity material states that the artist wants to remind people that the flag, in its simplest sense, “is a form of hello, a greeting, an indication of intent, be that benevolent or with malice”.
Liversidge, who specialises in performance art, has exhibited at numerous institutions, such as Tate Liverpool in 2008, the Centre d’Art Santa Mònica, Barcelona in 2008, and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 2010.
He said: “We’ve been talking about this project for eight months now and a huge amount of work has gone into it from the art festival. You only have to look at events of the last few months and what has happened with Alex Salmond and his Saltire at Wimbledon and the birth of the royal baby and all the flag-waving that went on.
“A flag usually represents a nation, but in this case, at the busiest time of year in Edinburgh, this was simply about making a buoyant greeting to the people who are in the city for the festival. We have around 50 locations for flags confirmed and people have been very supportive, but we still have ten flags left. Of course we would like these other places to be involved. It would be fantastic if they did.”
Edinburgh Art Festival director Sorcha Carey said: “The idea was that anywhere with a flagpole could take part and that’s why we approached places like the castle and the parliament, as well as the council, RBS, the museums and galleries, and various hotels, who have agreed to take part.
“The aim was to get people across the city flying the one flag to send out a collective message. There seems to be a lot of protocols and legislation in place over the flying of flags in certain places, like the castle, which obviously is a military base.”
“It’s certainly not too late for a change of heart at this stage and I’d be more than delighted if anyone else wants to come on board.”
Edinburgh Castle’s military status means it must fly the Union Flag at all times, while Brigadier David Allfrey, former commander of 51 Scottish Brigade, who is now in charge of the Tattoo, ruled out embracing the artist’s project anywhere on the esplanade. However, he has offered to appear “in conversation” with Liversidge during the festival to speak about issues raised by flags.
He told Scotland on Sunday: “It wasn’t a question of red tape, it was really a question about the gravity of flags as far as I’m concerned. They are very important symbols which deserve a large amount of respect and while this is a very worthwhile project, I didn’t feel it was appropriate for the esplanade.”
A spokesman for the Army in Scotland said: “Headquarters Edinburgh Garrison at Edinburgh Castle has the responsibility for flying the Union Flag. In the order of precedence at the castle the Union Flag must always be flown from the highest flag pole.”
The Scottish Parliament’s corporate body has an extensive policy on flag-flying, including arrangements for occasions like Remembrance Day, St Andrew’s Day and the Queen’s Birthday.
However, a spokeswoman said: “The policy is that only the Saltire, Union flag and European flag are flown daily.”
Ironically, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is a major festival venue this year, hosting an exhibition of drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci, which opens on Friday. No-one was available for comment on the Flags for Edinburgh project.
A Creative Scotland spokeswoman said: “Peter Liversidge’s work offers a simple friendly welcome to the city with the word Hello on flags in locations across Edinburgh. It also seeks to inspire debate about the meaning of flags.”
The project, which runS from 1 August to 1 September, is part of the art festival being funded by the Scottish Government this year with £160,000 funding a series of one-off commissions. Others include a “fire poem” on The Mound, an installation in an old graveyard watchtower below Calton Hill and a transformation of the historic sculpture court at Edinburgh College of Art.