Urban climbing, apes and nap zones: The Edinburgh Art Festival 2012

By Ben Miller | 13 August 2012
A photo of a man standing in an urban city street while a man scales a wall behind him
Anthony Schrag, City is my Playground (2011). Documentation© Photo: T Kaare Smith
Festival: Edinburgh Art Festival, various venues, Edinburgh, until September 2 2012

You would have thought there might be enough capering across Edinburgh at this time of year without Anthony Schrag – he of the plan to invite visitors to Margate Beach to arm wrestle him – leading public tours across the city.

A photo of a large black hut with various opening doors in a lush green sunlit park
Andrew Miller, The Waiting Place (2012)© Photo: Stuart Armitt
Schrag has made the hop from Glasgow for a series of unique experiments, which started with the basics of urban climbing last week. Free-form football matches, pub crawls, “nap zones” and a how-to guide to being a tourist in the Scottish capital will follow.

Each excursion settles Schrag’s responsibility as Tourist-in-Residence, a title bestowed upon him in one of 12 commissions for this year’s festival.

Martin Creed is back with his spectacular staircase, Work No 1059, winding up 104 marble steps from North Bridge to Market Street, turning a side alley of Scotland into a corner of Rome.

Deborah Curtis and Gavin Turk’s House of Fairy Tales – something of a fixture at festivals embracing a sense of psychedelic adventure – dreams up The Magnificent Edinburgh Escapade Part 1, an interactive guide weaving through the city on intricately illustrated maps and task sheets. And the city’s own Callum Innes has used light to turn an early 19th century bridge into a deep arc of illumination.

Perhaps the most high-profile contributor is Susan Philipsz, the 2010 Turner Prize winner.

Leslie Hunter, Chrysanthemums (1913). City Arts Centre© Private collection
Her first ever exhibition in Edinburgh responds to an iconic local landmark, the One O’Clock gun.

Recreating an 1861 experiment in which sailors hung an electrical cable between the Nelson Monument and Edinburgh Castle before tracing the time it took for the gun echo to be heard at various points in between, Philipsz uses Timeline to trace the invisible three-quarters-of-a-mile line the test created.

In a typically ambitious combination of history and mythology, she references the sirens of Homer’s Odyssey and the invention of the first siren, by local man John Robison, to create a “domino effect” of triggered sounds at points across the city.

The artists are lined up along a Festival Promenade, and Andrew Miller has gone one better with Festival Pavilion The Waiting Place. Constructed as a “playful summerhouse”, this timber space in St Andrew Square acts as a hub for the programme.

Film fans should head to Rose Street, where screenings accompany an exhibition from Kevin Harman, a skip-loving sculptor who recently graduated from Edinburgh College of Art.

Other new young artists include ~ in the fields – Nicole Heidtke and Stefan Baumberger – who turn, among other inspirations, to the aquariums of Victorian oceanographic scientists, a 16th century bookwheel, a 19th century illusory card game and more. Seamless panoramas and sculptural installations are the results at New Media Scotland.

A photo of various glass jugs viewed from above shadowing a white surfaced table
Tania Kovats, Rivers (2012)© Courtesy Jupiter Artland
Harry Hill’s first solo show of paintings imagines a parallel universe, a surreal precursor to Through the Looking Glass, Dimly, at Contemporary Art Exchange, which is a collaboration between blind photographers Andrew Follows and Rosita McKenzie.

The Scotland-Russia Institute (who might also enjoy ) and the Scottish Poetry Library are among the more distinctive venues joining in, and there’s a specific look at emerging Polish artists and their influence on the Scottish contemporary art scene at the Royal Scottish Academy.

The reverberating impact of international artists is unmistakeable in the larger shows as well: a multi-screen video account plays above the private diaries of Dieter Roth, and Dutch artist Melvin Moti selects some cosmic objects at the National Museum of Scotland.

New arts centre Summerhall (formerly a vet school) is arguably the most alluring space, merging ancient wooden lecture theatres with chemistry labs in a complex of rooms welcoming multidisciplinary exhibitors throughout the month.

One of them is a recently rediscovered film by Ian Hamilton Finlay, a French Revolution-obsessed artist who is also the subject of the Ingleby Gallery’s current display.

Figurative and landscape paintings by Jock McFadyen, works by influential veteran John Bellany, Scottish Colourist Leslie Hunter and a sculptural installation by Mick Peter offer the more traditional shows.

Blockbuster billing goes to Picasso and Modern British Art at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which also hosts a rather more harrowing Edvard Munch show.

The Scottish National Gallery has great landscapes in Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Symbolist Landscapes in Europe 1880-1910, although a “previously neglected” landscape is the canvas for Tania Kovats’ sculptural magic, this time taking 100 specimens of water to the grounds of Bonnington House, pinched from 100 different rivers across the British Isles.

It’s a special festival for Dovecot, which celebrates its centenary in style through more than 60 tapestries, rugs and rarely-seen works, loaned from major museums. David Hockney, Sir Peter Blake, Graham Sutherland, Edward Paolozzi and Claire Barclay are all taking part.

More pictures:

A photo of a gorilla sitting on a bed playing with a remote next to a set of drawers
Rachel Mayeri, Primate Cinema: Apes as Family (2011). Development still. Commissioned by The Arts Catalyst. Showing at Edinburgh College of Art
© Photo: Matt Chaney

A photo of a figure dressed entirely in cardboard boxes standing in an empty attic
Emily Speed, Inhabitant (2009). The artist has given a one-off performance, Human Castle, as part of the festival
© Photo: Jens Sundheim
A photo of an old notebook with a red hardback cover, ink scrawls and red blotches
Dieter Roth, Notebook (1967). At the Fruitmarket Gallery
© Dieter Roth Estate, Courtesy Hauser and Wirth
An image of a painting of a man with a moustache and giant ears against a yellow backdrop
Harry Hill, Forsyth (2012). Oil on board. Part of the My Hobby series, commissioned for the White Stuff space© Courtesy Harry Hill
A photo of an abstract painting showing hands pulling ears inside a white-walled gallery
Philip Guston, Aegean II (1977); Smoking (1973). Installation view at Inverleith House
© Photo: Michael Wolchover, courtesy Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

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