Jailed poets' voices to be heard in Edinburgh Art Festival works

A live show inspired by specimens of human remains from an anatomy museum, footage of occult rituals staged at stone circles around Scotland and pop-up performances of magic inspired by the current political landscape will be staged as part of Edinburgh's annual celebration of visual art

Indian artist Shilpa Gupta at the Edinburgh Art Festival
Indian artist Shilpa Gupta at the Edinburgh Art Festival

A vast installation will bring to life the words of 100 poets jailed around the world as far back as the eighth century, while Syrian musicians and singers will explore the plight of refugees during the month-long event.

The 15th annual Edinburgh Art Festival will also feature an installation designed to give audiences a taste of the “spectacle” created in zoo enclosures, the display of vintage Nasa photographs in an exhibition devoted to the space race and moon landings, and 
an exploration of the centuries-old symbolism of The Green Man.

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The UK’s biggest annual celebration – which runs until the end of August – will see work created for a former fire museum, an old paint store in Leith Docks, a wildlife garden, and the city’s new French Embassy headquarters, as well as museums, galleries and arts centres across the city.

Carmen Miranda (2008)

Indian artist Shilpa Gupta has turned fragments of work by 100 poets from around the world who have been jailed as far back as the eighth century into a “chorus of voices” for her project.

She has suspended 100 microphones from 100 metal ropes which are pierced with the words of verse, which are played over the course of an hour to form an “ongoing sequence of haunting recitals”.

Ruth Ewan’s Sympathetic Magick project will see 16 professional and amateur musicians stage specially created performances with a political edge at venues across the city, including the Waverley Bar and Sandy Bell’s pubs, parliament Square, the Central Library and the Filmhouse cinema.

Edinburgh University’s anatomy lecture theatre will host a site-specific performance featuring visual art, astronomy and medieval music looking at the relationship people have with the bodies of others, both alive and dead.

The Common Sense Trondheim

Lucy Skaer’s The Green Man exhibition will be drawn from the university’s own archives, while Andy Cumming’s project Mythopoeia will see him explore the occult and mythology at sites like Callanish, on the Isle of Lewis.

The Ingleby Gallery’s exhibition, Jacob’s Ladder is being staged to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the release of Stanley Kubrick’s classic science-fiction epic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It will feature images captured on the Apollo 8 and 9 missions in the 1960s, alongside the work of contemporary artists like Cornelia Parker, Katie Paterson and Peter Liversidge.

The festival programme at the Jupiter Artland sculpture park includes Of Landscape Immersion, Ollie Dook’s exploration of how zoos mimic the natural habitat of animals will see audiences become “a spectacle to be observed.”

The art festival will feature a number of previously unseen exhibitions by the late East Lothian artist, John Bellany.

Among the pop-up venues this year are the city’s former “Museum of Fire”, which will be playing host to Shilpa Gupta’s work, described as a powerful reflection on freedom of expression, which is one of the festival’s special commissions this year.

It will feature fragments of poetry performed in seven different languages, including English, Arabic, Russian and Hindi, over the course of an hour.

Gupta, who has created similar work for an exhibition in Azerbaijan said: “When you walk into the space the 100 microphones suspended from the ceiling will start talking to you. They are in a state of hysteria.

“The inspiration for the work comes from the time we are living in. There has been a clamping down on free speech for writers, poets and filmmakers throughout the world. The work is really about persistence, the voice of the individual, and the possibility of art and artists coming from a place of dreams.”

Glasgow-based artist Ruth Ewan has joined forces with London-born “Marxist magician” Ian Saville to create the Sympathetic Magick project, which see tricks tackling issues around capitalism and socialism “infiltrating” venues and public spaces around the city.”

Edinburgh Art Festival director Sorcha Carey said: “Ruth has brought together a series of workshops for magicians and asked them to think about the things they feel passionately about and if magic could change the world what would they change about it.

“They are interested in all kinds of relevant and live political issues, such as mental health and climate change. They will be developing their repertoire for their performances during the festival.”

The Scottish Government is supporting the event to the tune of £140,000 via its Festivals Expo Fund.

Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “The Edinburgh Art Festival showcases the best of Scottish visual artists and their international collaborations to locals and overseas visitors alike.

“It is an exciting opportunity to enhance public engagement with contemporary art, while reflecting on wider social issues through music, poetry and magic.“

Amanda Catto, head of visual arts at Creative Scotland, said: “The Edinburgh Art Festival is a highlight of the visual arts calendar, bringing together a world-class programme that offers significant opportunities for public engagement and participation.

“The 2018 commissions represent a rich and diverse collection of works. It is exciting to see the range of artists included, from established international figures to those at an early stage in their career, and we look forward to the new perspectives and ideas that their works will bring to the many thousands of people who will visit the festival.”