Edinburgh Art Festival

Take a walk through this year’s Edinburgh Art Festival.

Edinburgh Art Festival: A Few Thoughts

Tourist in Residence (Documentation), Anthony Schrag, 2001

So the Edinburgh Festival has begun, and alongside it the Edinburgh Art Festival. My ‘art day’ began with a tour of Rose Street with Anthony Schrag, ‘Tourist in Residence’ for the length of the festival. Schrag is someone who explores the urban landscape in playful and unexpected ways – climbing up things, jumping from fence to bins, shinning his way up columns. His starting point is the notion that we are essentially apes, built to clamber and climb, yet we live in an environment that discourages this kind of behaviour, restricting us to walking, sitting and occasionally a gentle jog. I enjoyed following him down alleyways, nodding at people on their cigarette breaks or putting out the rubbish as they wondered at this odd kind of tourism. A little boy in our group, probably about four years old, began to copy Schrag, hoisting himself onto window ledges and attempting to scale the architecture, reminding me of how we all once explored the world in this way without any self-consciousness or unease. At what age do we forget to use the world as our playground?

I nipped into the Talbot Rice Gallery, where the Georgian Gallery has some rarely (if ever) seen Donald Judd drawings on display. Judd is known for his industrially produced sculptures, objects that deliberately betray nothing of the touch of the artist. Yet these drawings, the ‘instructions’ for his sculptures, made for others to follow, contain slips and imperfections, traces of the artist’s hand, and that, for me, is what makes them worth looking at; they are little glimpse into the thinking behind the austere minimalist sculptures that are so well known.

Edinburgh Art Festival: A Few Thoughts

Black Beauty – Liberty (after Anna Sewell), Tim Rollins and K.O.S., 1990/97, Courtesy Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich © The Artist.

The Talbot Rice also has paintings by Tim Rollins and K.O.S. (Kids of Survival). An artist from Maine, Rollins began teaching art in the Bronx at the end of the 1970s, discovering the power that creativity could have to change the prospects of the teenage kids under his tutelage. His art class blossomed into ‘K.O.S.’ during the 1980s, gained its own premises and began producing work and, thanks to Rollins’ previous connections showing and, selling it on the international art circuit. Rollins used the medium of art to teach his kids literature, geography, politics… and it is evident that many of the paintings in this exhibition have erudite subjects from Darwin’s Origin of Species to commentaries on the political state of America. Rollins’ achievements and enthusiasm are much to be admired, but after hearing him speak (his style is very much that of a televangelist, in which art and education are his gods) and watching the documentary on his work displayed in the upstairs gallery, I was left with a slight, but indefinable unease about his methods – I still can’t put my finger on it, and this made for a very thought-provoking exhibition, which certainly must be some measure of its success.

My next stop, after the Fruitmarket Gallery, was Summerhall, for a rare opportunity to hear feminist artist Carolee Schneemann speak. Now in her 70s, she came in swinging a rope to the sound of Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’. She was very entertaining, running us through her work from her childhood drawings to the present day, drawing out connections between her early scribbles of staircases and the ‘scroll’ of her well-known performance Interior Scroll (1975). Her recent work is currently on display at Summerhall until late September.

My day ended at the opening of ‘Through the Looking Glass, Dimly’, an intriguing exhibition of photographs by two artists, one blind, one partially sighted, at the Old Ambulance Depot. For the partially sighted photographer, his work seemed to be the means by which he could enhance his vision, talking about one image taken at night which he saw as pitch black, only revealing the image of a pier over the water to himself once he got home and upped the colour contrast of the image. This was another very provocative exhibition, bringing up questions of exactly what role vision plays in the visual arts.

-Ruth Burgon

The Edinburgh Art Festival runs from 2 August 2012 – 2 September 2012.