Two years after being asked to work in one of Edinburgh’s most historic landmarks, German artist Michael Pendry said he believes the latest incarnation of his worldwide “art for peace” project has never been more relevant or important.
Long delayed by the Covid pandemic, Pendry has finally unveiled his new Les Colombes installation in St Giles’ Cathedral against the backdrop of a conflict in Ukraine that has entered its second month.
Visitors to the cathedral and the nearby National Museum have spent weeks making folded white paper doves, which have been turned into a flock by Pendry, for a show that combines sculpture with sound and lighting effects.
First staged in Pendry's native Munich eight years ago, Les Colombes has since been adapted for religious sites in Jerusalem, Buenos Aires, San Francisco and New York.
It will be available to see for free during the day at the cathedral, while entry will be ticketed in the evenings for the full sound and light show, as well as a series of concerts.
Pendry said: “I hope people will really embrace the project in Edinburgh. I do believe art can make a change and a difference, by making people think and reflect.
“Peace and freedom is at stake all the time – it’s not something we can ever take for granted.
“The idea behind the project has always been to send out messages of peace and hope. Obviously it has been running for a lot longer than the war in Ukraine, but of course it feels more relevant and important than ever just now.
“It feels like what is at stake is much bigger now, but nonetheless there have been so many other wars around the world over the last decade. It just feels a lot closer for us Europeans at the moment.”
Pendry was commissioned to work with St Giles’ Cathedral by Edinburgh’s Burns & Beyond festival, which had to cancel this year’s event due to the pandemic. But organisers were determined to ensure Pendry’s work could be seen this year.
Pendry added: "I started discussing bringing the project to Edinburgh two years ago and then had to delay things because of Covid.
“The cathedral is a very beautiful space, which is just perfect for the project. I always have a basic shape in mind for how I like to see the flock, but it’s always created from scratch to suit each location.
"Most of the doves I’ve used have been created here in Edinburgh at the National Museum or the cathedral, but some travel with me in a big flight case wherever I take the project.”
The Reverend Calum MacLeod, minister at St Giles’, said: “Doves are symbols of hope and peace in the Christian tradition and are seen as a sign of the Holy Spirit of God.
"I’m reminded that St. Columba, who brought Christianity to these shores, was known as ’the dove of the church – Columcille’. There are two stained glass windows depicting him in the cathedral.
"In these days of turmoil and violence in our world I hope ‘Les Colombes’ gives hope of peace.”
The show is on at St Giles' Cathedral until April 7.