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.uk. Edvard 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.