The Edinburgh Art Festival packs schedule in eighth year

By Ben Miller | 02 August 2011
A photo of a tall stone structure above a glass pavilion on a grass city square
Karen Forbes, Solar Pavilion (visualisation) (2011)© Courtesy Karen Forbes / Gio
Festival: Edinburgh Art Festival, various venues, Edinburgh, August 4 – September 4 2011

The Edinburgh Art Festival should be an easy sell given that the streets of the Scottish capital are teeming with culture fans eager to hoover up the festival and fringe trappings this month.

In its eighth year, the campaign has a stellar line-up so lengthy it feels unfair not to cram in as much as possible, from the first large-scale show of works for decades by pop artist Robert Rauschenberg to Tony Cragg’s first museum show in more than ten years at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Historical shows cover the 15th and 16th centuries and the Queen’s Jubilee, there are big-name group shows at Ingleby Gallery and Edinburgh College of Art, and Russian and Japanese artists take to The Scotland-Russia Forum and the Corn Exchange Gallery. British and Scottish emerging talents are also afforded plenty of space across a packed month.

A photo of a large blood-red bell-shaped sculpture intersected by a tall black shard on a wooden gallery floor
Anish Kapoor, Untitled (2010). Wax, oil based paint and steel© Anish Kapoor
Anish Kapoor’s exhibition is his first solo one in Scotland. Hosted by the Edinburgh College of Art, the latest piece in Kapoor’s Flashback series features a five metre-high wax bell covered in his trademark blood-red paint (this is the first time the piece has been seen in the UK), and White Sand, Red Millet, Many Flowers, an organic form adorned with raw pigment which was made by the artist almost 30 years ago.

Anyone who has visited Edinburgh’s festivals during that time should be familiar with the Scotsman Steps. Usually little more than a grimy marathon of slabs leading between Waverley station and the thespian treats lying in wait in the city’s famous Old Town, this year they’ve been gloriously transformed courtesy of Martin Creed’s incisive imagination.

A photo of brightly coloured stone and marble steps
Martin Creed, Work No. 1059 (2011). Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth© The Fruitmarket Gallery. Image: Gautier Deblonde
Creed has turned each step into a piece of individually-coloured marble, laying stardust under your feet before you’ve even sampled the magic of the mid-August city. “Here is a set of steps lots of people use every day, going to work, or coming back from the pub,” as Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones has already put it. “Why not make that climb a moment of beauty?”

Creed’s spectacular stairway has been funded by the Scottish government’s Expo Fund, which has also stumped up for a temporary pavilion by Karen Forbes in St Andrew Square Gardens, the first such central structure in the festival’s history.

Described as the materialisation of the city’s “long fascination with optics and optical devices for viewing”, it uses all sorts of curvy glassplay to dazzle meanderers under the sunlight, inspired by Sir David Brewster, an Edinburgh physics devotee infatuated by the movement of light.

A photo of a multicoloured abstract oil painting
Ingrid Calame, puEEp (2001). Enamel paint on aluminium
© Collection of Karen and Flora Lang
Brewster invented the kaleidoscope, and Forbes follows his lead by continuously reworking light against the giant crevasses of a central column which acts as a giant sundial. Forbes is an artist keen to engage audiences, who she hopes will find time to contemplate and reflect within the bustle surrounding them.

Failing that, the pavilion will also host events devised by the clutch of excellent galleries Edinburgh is endowed with. Among them, the Fruitmarket Gallery houses 17 years’ worth of tracing by Ingrid Calame.

The New Yorker’s works can be as much of a surprise to her as they are to us, because she likes to follow marks, stains and cracks in certain locations, and then combine, layer and retrace them in pencil, pigment, enamel and oil paint to create cracked, arterial maps.

Vienna-based artist Hans Schabus digs deeper in the white cube of Collective Gallery, where he’s cleaned and ordered a year’s worth of rubbish accumulated by his family into neat clumps of discard.

A photo of different shaped and coloured boxes full of soil
Hans Schabus, Remains of the day (2010) (detail)
© Courtesy the artist / Collective
Perhaps a higher calling might be on the curatorial cards at the City Art Centre, where David Mach, a bright-eyed sculptor who cherished controversy in the 1980s and 1990s, celebrates the 400th birthday of the King James Bible with a five-floor exploration of its themes. The central piece is a crucifixion made of coat hangers, which suggests Mach may not be about to shed his subversive stripes.

Leeds-born sculptor Thomas Houseago is another exponent of creations with a lasting impact as large as their physical scale. His unsettling, Futurist-style statues are at the Royal Botanic Gardens.

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