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Frantic at the Fringe 2012 – Part III

31 Aug

My time in Edinburgh was flying by but I was lucky enough to get tickets for Speed of Light where runners in light suits weave subtle illuminated patterns across the ‘mountain’ at night offering a new visual interpretation of Arthur’s Seat.  Contrary to what many people think, Arthur’s Seat is not a dormant volcano but a small section of a bigger post-volcanic landscape.  It is a dominant feature in Edinburgh and a special part of the city.  I’ve climbed it before but never at night!

NVA’s Speed of Light at Arthur’s Seat. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

I’d been reading on Twitter about people preparing to do this night walk all month and to say I was excited would be an understatement.  Speed of Light seeks to fuse public art and sporting endeavour.  On arrival, you’re shown into large tents at the bottom of the walking path.  Surrounded by people in waterproofs with rucksacks and serious walking boots, we began to realise that handbags and fleeces may not cut it with this crowd.  However, we felt better when our clothing was approved and we were told that people had actually been dense enough to arrive in flipflops!  Groups set off at staggered times throughout the evening and, after a safety briefing and introduction, we were handed our walking sticks.  The audience becomes part of the work and these illuminated sticks become striking elements set against the dark brooding landscape of Arthur’s Seat.

Our walking sticks when we reached the summit. Own photograph.

Sadly, despite our eagerness, Speed of Light was underwhelming.  The publicity shots have all been taken with slow exposures and the spectacle isn’t quite what was promised (my shoddy photos give a more realistic idea).  The idea is brilliant and sometimes you get a feel for how it should be but with the fabulous backdrop of Edinburgh at night, the work so often gets lost.  There is no doubt that it was memorable and that we enjoyed ourselves but it could have been so much more.

NVA’s Speed of Light at Arthur’s Seat seen against the cityscape. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

However, nothing else at the Festival compares to it.  Even the chattering drunk people in our group fell silent as we neared the summit and they felt the power of the pilgrimage-like walk we had undertaken.  Our singing light sabres didn’t half make a racket near the top as apparently they respond to altitude.  We were nearly blown away (literally not metaphorically) while we had to stop on the viewing platform and ended up hugging like penguins to stay upright.  At this point, while moaning and giggling, we were told off for talking and not appreciating the whining of our sticks.

Trying to photograph the piece with a normal camera. Own photograph.

At the summit, you leave a section of your staff in a vibrating urn-like thing, that wasn’t working properly on the night of our ascent, and then you slip and slide your way back down.  At times our group began to split up and, at one point, I seemed to be leading several other people without an official guide in sight.  Not the best idea considering that I can often be quite accident-prone and that I couldn’t really see where I was going.

I do have criticisms and I was rather disappointed by the end but this is an incredible project and I’m so pleased that we had the opportunity to be involved.  Reading about it afterwards has made the piece seem far more fulfilling – the work has been three years in the making and has involved not only the development of new technologies but the training of over 4,000 runners (it’s a shame that more of them weren’t involved at any one time).  There is some great merchandise on sale at the base including a beautiful book on Arthur’s Seat itself and when you finish the walk you are handed a programme about the project that explains the concept in illuminating detail (sorry!).

NVA’s Speed of Light at Arthur’s Seat. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

We were both fitter than we realised and were remarkably unscathed when we finished and headed off for crepes and drinks to celebrate and boast (no-one thought we’d actually do it).

Somehow I made the time to visit the National Gallery of Modern Art as well.  Modern 1 is showing Picasso and Modern British Art which I have recently seen at Tate Britain.  Modern 2, however, is showing Edvard Munch: Graphic Works from the Gunderson Collection with around 50 lithographs and woodcuts owned by a private Norwegian collector.  The exhibition concentrates on how Munch revisited and re-explored his subjects.  Having recently visited the Munch exhibition at Tate in London, this exhibition highlighted to me how much stronger Munch’s graphic works are than his painted works.  Included is a 1895 lithograph on paper of The Scream, one of only two known prints of this work that Munch hand-coloured.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1895. Image via www.i-onmagazine.co.uk

The exhibition also includes a display of archival materials relating to Munch’s first solo show in Edinburgh, in the winter of 1931-2, organised by the Society of Scottish Artists.  Due to the repetitive nature of Munch’s work this exhibition doesn’t take too long to get around but it’s well mounted and does what it says on the tin.  As ever, there is some fantastic sculpture dotted around the grounds of the Modern Galleries including a Gormley and a Roger Hiorns.

Gormley at the Gallery of Modern Art. Own photograph.

In contrast, the current exhibition at the National Gallery requires a bit more thought before you even walk through the door.  This is not an exhibition of Van Gogh and Kandinsky works as most visitors seem to expect (we overheard several people asking the guards where the rest of the Van Goghs were).  The full title is Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Symbolist Landscape in Europe, 1880-1910.  Please take careful note so you don’t get a surprise as there are only two Van Goghs and two Kandinskys in the entire show.   Instead, the exhibition, ordered by artistic trends, showcases landscapes from this period that express the anxieties and aspirations of the symbolists through their interpretation of the natural world.  The exhibition is fundamentally a survey of landscape painting, looking at an area of symbolism that has received little attention until now.  Although there are some famous names dotted throughout, the exhibition also includes artists that even the most ardent art historian wouldn’t pretend to know.

Hung with slightly overpowering wall colours, the exhibition feels like a mixed bag.  Plus, I was still somewhat disappointed by the slightly misleading title.  There are some great individual works hidden here but it’s a collection of landscape paintings and I felt a bit let down.  I thought they’d have gone more for the wow factor during the festival.

Piet Mondrian, (Woods) near Oele, 1908.  Image via http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk

As well as all this, I managed to see 57 theatre shows during my two and a bit weeks up at the Fringe and would have happily crammed in some more if I could have used a magic wand to add some extra hours into the day.  I won’t go on about that here but will gladly wax lyrical about what I saw if you bump into me when I’m out and about.  I certainly didn’t manage all the art exhibitions in the city (I was upset not to get to Summerhall, except at night for the bar which was lovely) but I have crossed out lots of spaces on my art map and next year I’ll try to beat my own gallery count and see how many I can manage.  Bring on Edinburgh 2013!

Speed of Light takes places on selected nights at Arthur’s Seat until 1st September 2012, http://speedoflight2012.org.ukEdvard Munch: Graphic Works from The Gundersen Collection is at the National Gallery of Modern Art until 23rd September 2012 and Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880-1910 is at the National Gallery of Scotland until 14th October 2012, www.nationalgalleries.org.

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Frantic at the Fringe 2012 – Part II

28 Aug

So, only a week or so after my first trip I found myself back at King’s Cross early one Saturday morning boarding a train to Edinburgh.  Having previously realised that my aim to see everything in the Edinburgh Art Festival was a tad ambitious, I’d scaled back and had a more manageable list in hand.

My first visit was to the Talbot Rice Gallery – an absolutely stunning space .  The gallery has two main areas: first is the White Gallery which shows a changing programme of contemporary exhibitions.   For the EAF, the gallery is showing Tim Rollins and K.O.S.: The Black Spot which explores Rollins’ group strategy that enabled him to study literature and produce works of art as a response to the learning process.  Through this Rollins and his peers created their own unique aesthetic solution that inspired some intriguing works responding to literary masterpieces. The exhibition title comes from Treasure Island and the painting created in response summons audiences to reinvigorate a belief that the power of art can change lives.

Tim Rollins and K.O.S.: The Black Spot at Talbot Rice Gallery. Image courtesy of Chris Park and the Talbot Rice Gallery.

There is also the Georgian Gallery with an impressive neoclassical interior, originally designed by William Playfair as a natural history museum.  The upper level displays works from the Torrie Collection, collected by Sir James Erskine of Torrie in the early 19th Century. They are predominantly made up of 17th Century Dutch paintings across a range of different genres.  Erskine, a former student, bequeathed the works to Edinburgh University on his death.   Downstairs houses changing exhibitions and it is here that their second exhibition of Donald Judd drawings is located.  Talbot Rice Gallery are the first in Scotland to examine Judd’s working methods.  The exhibition brings together a number of Judd’s drawings and materials, mostly never before seen in public, all closely connected to his three-dimensional works.  Even after he abandoned painting, drawing was always an important component of Judd’s practice allowing him to problem-solve and express his thoughts and ideas.  The drawings don’t adhere to any formal method of composition-making and his lines escape from the pages, disappearing from our sight.

Donald Judd’s drawings in the Georgian Gallery.  Image courtesy of Chris Park and the Talbot Rice Gallery.

One morning, I realised that my flat on Abercrombie Place was very near a whole series of small commercial galleries and so after breakfast I set off, umbrella in hand, for a little stroll.  My first stop was the Open Eye Gallery who were showing John Bellany at 70 to precede a major retrospective of his work at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery which will celebrate his birthday.  Much of Bellany’s work focuses on the fishing communities and harbours that he saw when growing up in Port Seton.  Recently, Bellany moved to Tuscany and the bright optimistic colour range is a relatively new development inspired by his new surroundings.

John Bellany at 70. Own photograph.

Just along the road, Dundas Street is full of galleries.  Bourne Fine Art are showing an exhibition of works by Jock McFayden to coincide with his exhibition at the Fleming Collection in London.  McFayden defines himself very much as an artist rather than a painter and he sees his works as an organic way of describing the world we live in.  The gallery is very atmospheric but, fundamentally, it is just another commercial gallery where the exhibition spills into the office space, meaning you have to tiptoe past working desks to see all the paintings.  Underneath Bourne is the Dundas Street Gallery, a hire space that was closed and looking rather forlorn.

The closed Dundas Street Gallery. Own photograph.

Carrying on down the hill, I popped into The Scottish Gallery for their Duncan Shanks exhibition where large abstract paintings are filled with emerging heaving forms.  On my way back into town I stopped at the National Portrait Gallery.  This is a huge, beautiful gallery and one where you could easily spend hours or just pop in for 15 minutes to have a nose through one room and soak up the atmosphere.  When it opened in 1869, the space was the first purpose-built portrait gallery in the world and, since then it has expanded and grown from strength to strength. With works spread across 17 large galleries, here is somewhere to lose yourself, particularly during the Fringe when you’re longing for a bolthole away from the madness.

The National Portrait Gallery. Own photograph.

Although I had the amazing EAF art map to help me know where all the smaller galleries are, the blue festival signs outside all the venues are more helpful than you can imagine and act as art beacons around the city.  The Ingleby Gallery are showing Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Twilight Remembers which was included in lots of the festival previews and looked set to be a hit.  I wasn’t let down.  Before even mentioning the art, I have to say what genuinely nice people are working at this gallery.  You’re greeted on arrival and handed the information sheets.  They seem so pleased to see you and delighted that you’ve chosen to visit.  I can think of a fair few other spaces that could learn from this.

Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Twilight Remembers at Ingleby Gallery. Own photograph.

Downstairs is quite subdued with a video piece, Carrier Strike, models, postcards and rare works on paper. For me, this exhibition really comes alive on the first floor.  Three large boulders, bearing the names of Japanese war planes, become stepping stones from the Pacific warzone to Finlay’s famous garden, Little Sparta.  In the Pentland Hills, near Edinburgh, Little Sparta brings together Finlay’s work in a natural landscape which is shaped and changed around the artistic and aesthetic needs of the works.  The garden itself becomes an artwork, encompassing all the individual pieces under its ‘umbrella’.   Upstairs explores the garden offering puns and teasing evocations about what the five-acre outdoor space may offer.  Ingleby ran a number of trips throughout August but I only realised too late and then couldn’t free up the time – I’m gutted that I didn’t get to visit as it’s not regularly open to the public.

Finlay often explores the French Revolution in his work and two sculptures in the exhibition allude to specific historical moments – the Reign of Terror in 1794 and the Ventose, the sixth month in the new calendar adopted in 1792.  The spade refers specifically to the 10th day of that month and conjures up a layering of multiple evocative ideas.  Finlay’s use of objects such as spades and gravestones are a wonder.  Gelling seamlessly into the natural world, they are beautiful pieces of art that offer moments of reflection on all around us.

Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Twilight Remembers at Ingleby Gallery. Own photograph.

Later in the week, I found time to go to the Edinburgh College of Art where, alongside the postgraduate degree show, there is a video work, Apes as Family by Rachel Mayeri and also an exhibition responding to the cast collection at the college.  Although I personally didn’t think much of all the works in Cast Contemporaries,the method of display is great as the works have been shown in a cluttered curatorial arrangement, all mixed up with the actual casts.  Cast Contemporaries explores contrasting responses to the fate of the plaster cast collections in art schools which is particularly appropriate as ECA has one of the most important cast collections in the UK.  These casts are a feature of everyday life here and the exhibition considers them as catalysts for future visual arts experimentation.

Cast Contemporaries.  Image via http://fields.eca.ac.uk/

There was still so much to see that it was lucky I had a while longer…

Tim Rollins & K.O.S.: The Black Spot and Working Papers: Donald Judd Drawings, 1963-93 are at Talbot Rice Gallery until 22nd October 2012, www.ed.ac.uk/about/museums-galleries/talbot-riceJohn Bellany at 70 is at Open Eye Gallery until 4th September 2012, www.openeyegallery.co.ukJock McFadyen: The Ability to Cling…. is at Bourne Fine Art until 15th September 2012, www.bournefineart.comDuncan Shanks: Across a Painted Sky is at the Scottish Gallery until 5th September 2012, www.scottish-gallery.co.ukIan Hamilton Finlay: Twilight Remembers is at Ingleby Gallery until 27th October 2012, www.inglebygallery.comRachel Mayeri: Primate Cinema: Apes as Family and Cast Contemporaries are at the Edinburgh College of Art until 2nd September 2012, www.eca.ac.uk.

Closed for August

26 Aug

When my friend and I sat down to lunch yesterday, I hadn’t decided which gallery to visit in the afternoon. As we named various Mayfair galleries we realised the majority were shut.  And so the unusual (and light-hearted) nature of today’s post emerged.  Wandering around Mayfair and Islington, I was constantly confronted with closed signs and barricaded doors.

August seems to have become a no-go zone – a holiday month when smaller exhibitions are not open to us.  I appreciate all the practical and financial reasons and, yes, some argue in favour of the European mentality of closing in the hot summer months, but we don’t have hot summer months.  Do we?  Yesterday, for example, there was another monsoon.  Why do we close?!

So, here is what I saw.  Enjoy and, as you admire these wonderful ‘exhibits’, enjoy August because, seemingly, that is what the art world intends us to do!

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