Edinburgh Art Festival announced its cancellation earlier this year along with the other festivals. However, as lockdown eases, the festival has commissioned ten artists who have taken part in previous festivals to present work online or in outdoor public spaces across the city.
The selection, the festival says, is “informed by and seeks to reflect on the profound personal and societal impacts of the global pandemic”. Artists such as Ruth Ewan, Hanna Tuulikki and Shannon Te Ao will present new work or repurpose existing work which address the times we are living through, in some cases with uncanny prescience. As some of the first art to reflect on the pandemic, this body of work shows the variety of ways in which visual artists can address the issues and experiences of the moment.
Peter Liversidge staged Flags for Edinburgh at the 2013 Edinburgh Art Festival, inviting buildings across the city to fly a white flag printed with the word “Hello.” The flags will return this year, flying from hotels, galleries, schools and public buildings, as the city emerges from Covid-19 lockdown.
“In the original project, I was thinking about my relationship with Edinburgh and how the city changes during the festival,” says Liversidge. “The flags were about welcoming people to the city.”
"Seven years is a long time and the context for that work has completely changed - we’re not living in the same world in so many different ways, from the American President to the Brexit vote, the independence vote, the resurgence of populism.
“Now we’ve been through an unprecedented time, one we couldn’t have imagined seven years ago. When the art festival contacted me about showing the work again, I said yes straight away. I wouldn’t have thought of bringing it back, but it’s a beautiful gesture for this moment.
“When you reduce it down, the history of the flag is not representing a place, an organisation, a movement, it’s just a greeting, announcing who you are and where you are. White is the colour of reconciliation and truce, and the font we used was developed for wayfinding signs in Charles de Gaulle Airport in the 1960s, then the biggest hub airport in Europe. It’s about exploring the world and bringing people together, about open, friendly conversation.
“I’ve spent lockdown in our two bedroom flat in East London with my wife and two children, who are 14 and 12. I haven’t found it particularly easy. I like to research, so I’ve looked at previous pandemics, and my main concern is for the second wave.To start with, I didn’t make any work, then I made A Thousand Thank Yous, a group of cardboard signs for the corner of our local park thanking the NHS and key workers. Peculiarly, that went viral and ended up in newspapers from Brooklyn to Beijing."
Flags for Edinburgh can be seen on buildings and in parks throughout the city. A version of A Thousand Thank Yous will be shown with other projects by Peter at Jupiter Artland this summer.
Calvin Z. Laing, an Edinburgh-based artist working in moving image and performance, has put his lockdown reflections into a new work made for Edinburgh Art Festival in the area of the city where he grew up.
“A lot of my work is about everyday tasks and rituals and pushing that until it becomes absurd,” he says. “Lockdown was a time when normality was disrupted and routines had to be broken so, after the period of hyperanxiety at the start, I found it a very interesting time. I was furloughed from my day-job and had time to work without the pressure of being productive.
“Lockdown provided time for reflection. People were going through their old photograph albums, remembering things about their childhood, so for this work, it felt natural to return to Drylaw where I grew up. I wrote the first version of the script for Calvin & Jogging at the height of lockdown. Everyone was jogging suddenly as a way of keeping sane, creating a routine, a new thing that wasn’t really new.
“In the centre of Drylaw, there is a mansion, Drylaw House, built in 1718, which is now a luxury let, and around it is housing built in the 1950s. Edinburgh is such a beautiful city, but as a kid I didn’t see that. If you go to Muirhouse, Pilton, Drylaw, you feel slightly forgotten in the city. In a subtle, indirect way, the work is commenting on that.
“Live performance is a really important aspect of my work but, in lockdown, I started thinking about new ways of working and distributing work, and produced a performance piece (Calvin & Geppetto) as a live broadcast. My work for EAF will be shown at certain fixed times, to keep a sense of the live audience.
Calvin & Jogging will be shown on www.edinburghartfestival.com on Thursdays at 7pm, Saturdays at 11am.
Ellie Harrison is best known for her project The Glasgow Effect in 2016, in which she undertook not to travel outside the city for a year. In the light of lockdown, her work for EAF reflects on the need for all of us to think again about our carbon footprint
“The 2016 project (now a book, The Glasgow Effect: A Tale of Class, Capitalism and Carbon Footprint) was a response to realising how much I was travelling. The more opportunities I was offered, the more travelling I had to do. I was thinking, this really isn’t sustainable, and it’s just going to increase, I’m just going to produce more and more carbon.
“The graph in the posters shows 17 years of the carbon footprint of a professional artist. I used my travel expenses records, diaries and photographs, then worked out the carbon footprint based on the different modes of transport. In 2016, when I only used my bike, I had zero carbon footprint for transport.
“At the start of lockdown, I realised this is going to have a massive impact, not just on my carbon footprint but on everybody’s. With the furlough scheme, people are being paid to stay at home in a very similar way to what I did in 2016. This thing which was a very individual artwork is suddenly being experienced by people all around the world.
"Obviously there is going to be massive social and economic damage brought about by lockdown, but there are unquestionably environmental benefits. We need to reconfigure our lives and communities and social and economic system so we can all travel less. We’re at a time when people are questioning how do we rebuild, how do we build back better, do we really want to go back to the old carbon-intensive ways? It’s a good time to bring these issues to the surface.”
‘Tonnes of carbon produced by the personal transportation of a “professional artist”’ posters are displayed at Meadowbank Stadium Hoardings on London Road and at Calton Road.
Ruth Ewan: In her project for Edinburgh Art Festival in 2018, Sympathetic Magick, Ruth Ewan mixed magic and politics by recruiting magicians to present tricks with a political edge on the streets of Edinburgh during the festival. Now, in a city with many fewer than usual street performers, she will present a poster series (entitled Magic Words, Ian, Margaret, Peggy) in locations across the city. A short film, Worker’s Song Storydeck, devised with magician Billy Reid, will also be on the EAF website.
Tam Joseph: Dominica-born artist Tam Joseph first presented The Hand Made Map of the World as a billboard for EAF in 2014. Joseph, who works in painting, sculpture and graphic art, playfully switches the names of countries – America becomes China, the UK becomes Cuba – on the map to lay bare elements of the destructive quest for territorial control. The map will be displayed on Middle Meadow Walk, a reminder of the history of the Meadows which hosted the International Exhibition of Art, Industry and Science in 1886.
Tamara MacArthur: The desire for human contact in a time of social distancing is the theme of a new online performance created by Glasgow-based artist Tamara MacArthur. In It’s All Over But the Dreaming, the artist will perform from an elaborate theatrical set built in her studio exploring themes of loneliness and yearning in a time of enforced isolation. Her performance will be available throughout the festival on the EAF website.
Rosalind Nashashibi: The two films commissioned by EAF last year and shown at Modern One weave a narrative about a small group of people in isolation, and their preparation for an experimental journey into space. Our recent experience of isolation will shine fresh light on this work, full of Nashashibi’s thoughtful observations about community, family, stories and journeys into the unknown. It will be shown on the EAF website.
Rae-Yen Song: The bold costume designs Rae-Yen Song provided for the Platform exhibition at EAF in 2018 were part of Song Dynasty, an ongoing archive of family outings. Rae-Yen’s quest to create a new kind of family portrait of diasporic experience, combining autobiography and fantasy and collaborating with family members, expands this year with songdynasty.life, with a previously-unseen video becoming the first accession to an online archive, and a poster at the former Odeon cinema on South Clerk Street.
Shannon Te Ao: A New Zealand artist of Maori descent, Shannon Te Ao presented a moving two-screen film installation at EAF in 2017, With The Sun Aglow, I Have My Pensive Moods. Shot at various locations in his tribal lands, the films speak of loss and yearning and the damage wrought by colonialism. The words are a lament written in the 1840s by Te Rohu, the daughter of a Maori chieftain, who contracted leprosy from a potential suitor. This year there is a welcome chance to revisit them on the EAF website.
Hanna Tuulikki: Tuulikki’s Sing Sign: A Close Duet is a vocal and movement composition devised for the closes of Edinburgh’s Old Town which was performed as part of EAF in 2015. Themes of communication and connection in the piece resonate all the more five years on. The film of that work will be available on the EAF website throughout the festival, but Tuulikki and her collaborator Daniel Padden will also stage a live performance during the festival period to be livestreamed – check the EAF website for details.
Edinburgh Art Festival works runs until 30 August. For more information about all the artists involved and their work see, www.edinburghartfestival.com
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