30 July – 30 August

While our 2020 edition was unfortunately cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, we were able to present a programme of work across the city and online in August. As Edinburgh began to emerge from lockdown and we reflected on a period of unprecedented global change and upheaval, we invited ten artists from previous festival editions to mark the dates of what would have been our 2020 festival.

Ruth EwanEllie HarrisonTam JosephCalvin Z LaingPeter LiversidgeTamara MacArthurRosalind NashashibiRae-Yen Song; Shannon Te Ao; and Hanna Tuulikki each presented work as part of this August offering. Combining archival presentations chosen for their resonance in relation to the current context (local and global), alongside specially conceived responses, the selection included online screenings and live performances, which were available via the festival website from the 30 July as well as a small number of projects appearing in public sites around the city.

The selection was informed by and sought to reflect on the profound personal and societal impacts of the global pandemic – as we looked to find new ways of communicating and being together; to confront the urgent inequalities in our society; and to imagine new futures.

Online and Around the City

Ruth Ewan revisited her Sympathetic Magick (2018) project, where she invited magicians to consider how they might use their magic to change the world; with an online presentation of her short film, Worker’s Song Storydeck (devised with magician Billy Reid), and a special poster series devised with magician Ian Saville, calling upon all of us to join together in a ‘mass action for the radical transformation of society’.

Artist and activist Ellie Harrison (2012 and 2014 festival programmes) presented an up-to-date version of her graph showing the Tonnes of carbon produced by the personal transportation of a ‘professional artist’ at city centre poster sites. Created through the meticulous analysis of the 3,988 journeys she has made over the last 17 years, Harrison makes connections between literal and social mobility and highlights the consequences of our travel choices for our climate, which have come into focus in all our lives during lockdown.

Tam Joseph re-presented The hand made map of the world, first presented as a billboard in the 2014 festival. Transforming and subverting the ‘World Political Map’, Joseph playfully renames familiar landmasses (America becomes China; United Kingdom becomes Cuba) to lay bare the destructive quest for territorial control which has dominated geopolitics over the centuries, and critique the supposed ideological neutrality of maps. Sited on The Meadows, Joseph is drawn to the history of this green space, which in 1886 hosted the International Exhibition of Art, Industry and Science.

Calvin Z. Laing (whose film Calvin & Metro, featured in our 2012 programme) revisited the neighbourhood of his childhood in the suburbs of Edinburgh to present a new online performance Calvin & Jogging. Reflecting on how lockdown for many has resulted in a return to the family home and memories, as well as taking up new reactive activities, the artist used humour and the tools of stand up to explore nostalgia, and the disintegration of public and private space.

Peter Liversidge revisited his 2013 festival commission Flags for Edinburgh which invited buildings across the city to fly a white flag that reads HELLO. As we emerged from an extended period of isolation, and looked to find new ways to be together, Liversidge invited organisations and communities across Edinburgh, alongside partner August Edinburgh festivals to send a collective greeting to each other and the wider world; with HELLOs flying from rooftops across the city, including libraries, hotels, galleries, museums, consulates, schools and community parks.

Flags for Edinburgh coincided with the launch of Liversidge’s Sign Painting Studio at Jupiter Artland, where members of the public could order a placard to be painted and taken away for free, created with Jupiter’s ORBIT Youth Council, a group of 16 to 18 year olds recruited from every corner of Scotland.

Following on from her 2019 Art Late performance at Dovecot Studios, Tamara MacArthur created a new online performance investigating our desire for closeness and contemporary methods devised to simulate human contact in a time of social distancing. For It’s All Over But the Dreaming, the artist performed live from an elaborate theatrical set built in her studio, holding close a hand-made life-size doll, to explore themes of loneliness, yearning and futility in relation to the enforced isolation we have experienced since Coronavirus.

Rosalind Nashashibi shared an online presentation of her two-part film commissioned for the 2019 edition of the festival, following a group of individuals coming together in preparation for an experimental journey into space, to explore the importance of storytelling and love in the building and sustaining of community.

Rae-Yen Song expanded on a project for the 2018 festival, to add to an ongoing familial collaboration, Song Dynasty. Presented both online and as a poster at a site in the city chosen for its special connection to the artist’s family, the work draws on autobiography and fantasy to speak broadly and politically about foreignness and the position of the Other, archiving a modern myth that settles and lives through virtual, imagined and public spaces.

Shannon Te Ao’s two screen video installation With the sun aglow, I have my pensive moods, commissioned for the 2017 festival edition, is a poetic meditation on themes of love, grief, sickness and healing. Taking its title from a tribal lament composed by Te Rohu (daughter of Tūwharetoa chief, Mananui Te Heu Heu), Te Ao counterposes cinematic references, using footage shot at a number of locations within Te Ao’s tribal lands including some of the farm lands which directly encircle the urupa (familial burial grounds) of Te Ao’s family.

Hanna Tuulikki’s Sing Sign: a close duet, commissioned for the 2015 edition, reflects on that innate human desire to communicate and connect, a vocal and gestural suite devised for the historic ‘closes’ of Edinburgh – the small alleyways that lead off either side of the Royal Mile. Tuulikki also presented a special live performance of an extract from the work on-line, with her collaborator Daniel Padden – looking to the performative possibilities of the digital technology which became such a critical tool for us all throughout lockdown.

Platform: 2020

Despite the cancellation of the 2020 festival, we were delighted to present Platform, the festival’s annual showcase supporting artists in the early stages of their careers to make and present new work, at City Art Centre in the Autumn. 

Selected from an open call by artist Ruth Ewan, and curator Sophia Hao, (Cooper Gallery, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design), four artists based in Scotland – Rabindranath BhoseMark BleakleyRhona Jack and Susannah Stark were selected to take part.

The exhibition brought together four new bodies of work that included sound installations, textile and sculptural works, print-making, film, performance, and text-based works. Across each of the artists’ individual practice, a number of themes and approaches were particularly resonant for our present times including: the aesthetics of the collective, the intense vitality of ‘being together’ in space; strategies for survival; and the importance of the sense of touch.

View the Platform: 2020 Booklet:

Artists’ Interview: Platform: 2020

Rabindranath A Bhose drew on queer modes of living and relating as expansive strategies for survival, creating a new large-scale vinyl drawing for the exhibition space. Composed of signs, and words, the drawing referenced autobiographical and mythological elements. The drawing was closely related to a text written during lockdown which will was presented both in print form and in audio form read by the artist’s lover.

Artist and choreographer Mark Bleakley developed a new work using movement, print and video to develop a playful exploration of the poetics of weight and gravity and their relation to collectivity; asking how these are used by, with or against live bodies, and emphasising the vitality of being in a space together, and how this is manifest. The process of the work drew upon film documentation from a movement workshop devised with collaborators, and a range of found footage relating to ideas of grounding, groundlessness, and inertia.

Rhona Jack developed a series of large-scale textile based sculptural works, taking the form of stitched hangings, woven rugs and elements of soft sculpture. Reconstructed and crafted from a patchwork of recycled scrap fabrics and items of clothing, the work drew attention to our relationship to textile production, consumption and waste; presenting consumerism in opposition to the personal narratives that we put upon clothes made in their millions.

Susannah Stark’s work consisted of an audio soundscape featuring field recordings and song fragments sung by the artist that draw on histories of habitation in Scotland, interwoven with several ‘moving collages’ made from touristic postcards and property adverts which emanated coloured light, suggesting different ways of ‘seeing’ and highlighting emotional frequencies within the images. In addition were a series of floor-based sculptures assembled from various natural and synthetic found objects sourced with help from the artist’s mum, that were suggestive of meditating bodies.

Black Lives Matter Mural Trail

We were also proud to support the Black Lives Matter Mural Trail – a public trail of artworks by Scottish BAME artists in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, led by creative producer Wezi Mhura – supporting the presentation of work at sites across the city.