Take a walk with the Edinburgh Art Festival
- Deborah Chu
- 21 August 2020
Explore the public artworks dotted throughout the city via the festival's art trails
When it became clear that a physical festival would not be a possibility this year, the organisers of the Edinburgh Art Festival quickly adapted their 2020 programme into an online offering. This digital space has allowed art lovers to come together as never before and experience both new pieces and works from previous festival editions that challenge accepted beliefs, interrogate our understanding of our world, and bring delight into our lives.
Not everything has been transposed to cyberspace, however. If you're a resident of Edinburgh, or have experienced festivals past, you'll know there's never been a stranger August in this city. Without the usual crush of the crowd (though we do miss it so), this is a wholly unique time to take in Edinburgh and its artistic riches. Moreover, the Edinburgh Art Festival has staged public artworks across the city, free and accessible to all, and organisers have mapped out three different routes around Edinburgh for audiences to help them best experience these works by foot.
While the New Town – Old Town route (1.5 miles) hits up various galleries across the city centre, from Ingleby to Dovecot Studios (many are appointment only or remain closed, please check their websites for more information), participants can also make their way down Martin Creed's Work no.1059, a staircase of 104 steps made up of differently coloured marble which was commissioned by The Fruitmarket Gallery for the Edinburgh Art Festival in 2011.
Those looking for a longer stroll can then link up with the Southwards route (1 mile), which will bring its audiences from the Dovecot to a re-production of Tam Joseph's The Hand Made Map of the World on Middle Meadow Walk. Joseph's work, which playfully reconfigures the world map as we know it, exposes how territorial control has dominated geopolitics over the centuries and challenges the 'received wisdom' of history and culture. First displayed during the 2014 festival, the work gains resonance due to its new location by the Meadows, which hosted the International Exhibition of Art, Industry and Science in 1886.
The Southwards route then finishes on Clerk Street, where Rae-Yen Song's posters Song Dynasty ○○ (2018) and songdynasty.life (2020) are displayed. Song's 2018 work, which draws upon both autobiographical and fantastical elements, explores notions of belonging through a visual vocabulary built upon ritual, tradition and myth. The artist builds upon this in songdynasty.life, a poster rendition of her digital piece (available to view on the festival website) which sees a group of costumed figures submit themselves to the gaze of the public.
For those ready to tackle Edinburgh's notoriously hilly terrain, the High – Low walk (0.6-0.8 miles) starts at Collective atop Calton Hill, before meandering down the Jacob's Ladder steps to the right. At the bottom, below the rail bridge, is Graham Fagen's A Drama in Time, a neon installation from the 2016 festival that draws upon Edinburgh's various histories – from Robert Burns's voyage to Jamaica to the works of city planner Patrick Geddes – to showcase the span of a life and what lies beyond.
Across from Fagen's work is Ellie Harrison's Tonnes of carbon produced by the personal transportation of a 'professional artist'. Harrison, who exhibited at the festival in 2012 and 2014, charts her carbon footprint caused by travel over the past 17 years, considering aspects of social and literal mobility and the impact this has on our environment.
From here, walking towards New Street, audiences can take in posters from Ruth Ewan's series Magic Words (Ian, Margaret, Peggy), which revisits 2018's Sympathetic Magick project in a call for 'mass action for the radical transformation of society', devised alongside magician Ian Saville. The work is a companion to her short film Worker's Song Storydeck, created with magician Billy Reid, which can be viewed on the festival website.
With just ten days left of the Edinburgh Art Festival and a few sunny days left on the forecast, there has never been a better time to lace up the trainers and experience the creative wealth that the city has to offer.
Edinburgh Art Festival runs until Sun 30 Aug. Visit the festival's website to read more about the walks and accessible alternative routes.