A short visit to Edinburgh Art Festival 2013

“A shadow strikes her side, on the other, a glowing highlight. Her profile’s electric. Arse moon white…”

The woman speaking on the screen, captured in scruffy footage, is the actor Samantha Morton.  She is visibly uncomfortable: in one hand she holds a microphone, the other hand grabs at her hair or the back of her neck. This affecting, contemporary, yet ‘kind of classical’ piece of performance art is by Fiona Banner.  Morton is reading from a script that Banner wrote while Morton posed naked for her in the studio; the actor didn’t see the text until she read it aloud to an audience.  Described as a ‘strip tease,’ this film is on display at the Summerhall venue in Edinburgh, in a small but powerful exhibition of the artist’s work that is part of this edition of the Edinburgh Art Festival.

I feel a bit sheepish writing this as I saw such a tiny fraction of the festival offer.  Strapped for time, I focussed on three things: Summerhall, No Foreign Lands – the major survey of work by Peter Doig at the Scottish National Gallery, and Gabriel Orozco at The Fruitmarket Gallery.  I’m dealing with Doig separately, so here I will describe what I saw – and also what I regret I didn’t see.

Summerhall was a revelation.   Filled with people and activity, centred around a jolly courtyard, most visitors on the first day of the festival were enjoying a beer and a bit of sun.  Yet concealed in temporary sheds, and inside the building in every available space, were visual art exhibitions, performances, films, talks and other events.

When I arrived I was charmed by the first exhibition I saw of site-specific, thoughtful constructions made from detritus.  Baseball caps found rotten on the beach, car suspension wrapped in umbrella fabric, pill packets and illustrations cut from charity shop-bought books had all conjoined like small parts of a bigger picture. The Coventry-based artist, Martin Green, explained that his work was an ongoing process: even in Edinburgh he was adding to his collection of materials. The other Summerhall, and in fact festival, must-see is Michael Nyman’s Images were Produced, a completely original and captivating installation/performance/cinematic experience.

Elsewhere, in the busy centre of the city, The Fruitmarket Gallery are holding one of their well presented monographic exhibitions. This time, using an unusual curatorial twist of taking one work by the artist Gabriel Orozco, and placing it at the centre of a ‘constellation’ of his other works, taking various ideas to their eventual conclusion. His work is a bit too boringly formal and abstract for my liking but I appreciate the curatorial effort that has gone into unpacking his lines of enquiry. For the festival, the gallery has also commissioned a permanent new public artwork by Martin Creed.

Sadly, I didn’t have time to see Peter Liversidge’s show at Ingleby Gallery or the outcome of Ilana Halperin’s residency at the National Museum of Scotland, and I was in the city too early to see Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane’s work at Jupiter Artland (that venue is also showing Sam Durant’s Scaffold – I saw this eerie gallows-based climbing frame in Kassel, its worth seeing).  There is so much, you could be completely unstrategic and wait and see what you come across.  There is plenty to suit all tastes but get up there quick as the official festival period ends on 1 September 2013.


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