Kim Coleman & Jenny Hogarth at Edinburgh Art Festival
Paul Dale finds out more about their Festival installation
This article is from 2010.
Following a rich tradition of surveillance art, Kim Coleman & Jenny Hogarth’s festival show aims to turn Edinburgh into a city under observation. Paul Dale peers through their lens
In this age of surveillance-induced morality, Kim Coleman & Jenny Hogarth’s new show Staged seems, on paper at least, somewhat fitting. Coleman & Hogarth (in combo their surnames make them sound like a satiric mustard) follow their recent Frieze Art Fair project with a multi-channel video installation incorporating stage-managed performances with live events filmed around Edinburgh by CCTV cameras, transforming the festival and the city. The proposed aim, according to the press release at least, ‘is to turn Edinburgh at festival time into a mise-en-scène and the visitors, tourists and locals into players’.
It sounds like a tall order, one that if executed with any kind of aplomb will embrace both the broad appeal of an August in Edinburgh and the anarchy of surveillance art pioneers including Pop Art poster boy Andy Warhol, internet experimenter Josh Harris, New York’s anarchist thespians the Surveillance Camera Players and mixed-media artists Christian Moeller and Camille Utterback’s dynamic installations in Osaka City, Japan, and San Jose, California, respectively.
Recipients of the festival’s Scottish Government Expo funding, Coleman & Hogarth’s new project is undoubtedly their most ambitious to date despite previously working with the Boyle Family and founding and directing the Meadowbank-based Embassy Gallery from 2003-2006. Working in collaboration with The Collective Gallery, the pair have been mad busy preparing this fiddly beast of a show for months, but still found time to answer a few questions about Staged.
‘The work aims to create an alternative portrait of the city, capturing the relationship Edinburgh has with performance,’ Hogarth explains. ‘It will be an installation in the City Observatory on Calton Hill using live video feeds to create an environment that allows viewers to see invisible or unnoticed aspects of the city in new ways, like a digital camera obscura. Originally the Observatory used the most contemporary lens technology available to survey the night sky. Similarly Staged will use modern technology to consider forms of observation in the present day and alter the way we understand time and space in the city.’
Interestingly, the work uses old and new media to draw connotations to and annotations of the biggest arts and performance festival in the world, an idea that clearly excites these two pluralistic thinkers. ‘Our experience of Edinburgh during the festival is that of people viewing and being viewed; they watch performance and at the same time take part in a human drama,’ Coleman expounds. ‘We aim to heighten viewers’ awareness of the staging of the festivals, mixing the premeditated and the spontaneous, the organised and the randomised, what’s intended to be scrutinised and what’s not, what’s appreciated and what’s taken for granted. Cameras installed around the city will transmit images from multiple positions and angles. Like a montage of the festival, Staged will look at the overlooked and stage it, allowing the viewer to reflect on their relationship to the wider staging of the city for the festival.’
So rather like their surveillance art contemporaries, Coleman & Hogarth are pushing form and medium to reveal unfamiliar metaphors and sentiments. Do they feel a kinship or at the very least a weight of influence? ‘The thing is different ways of seeing are made possible by different kinds of technology. We are interested in devices that look at and represent the city and the people within it,’ Hogarth says, attempting to encapsulate her and Coleman’s thinking in historical terms. ‘We were especially influenced by the way cameras and light have been employed in the creation of urban spectacles. Camera obscuras were originally used by artists but they were also used for spying and then latterly for entertainment. We are influenced by early uses of film [pre cinema] to record crowd scenes and present the images back to the same community that evening as well as Structuralist films of the 1960s which worked with the parameters of the film camera. Wavelength by Michael Snow, for example, works with the full length of the zoom function to create the structure of his film. In a similar way we will work with the pan-tilt and zooming mechanisms of contemporary CCTV cameras to create a structure for this work.’
All of which is great for those coming to the exhibition with an advanced knowledge of art history and theory but how would the pair sell Staged to those looking for a diversion between shows? ‘It’s basically a live video installation combining multiple live feeds to transform the festival city into a kaleidoscopic mise-en-scène,’ says Hogarth. ‘Also the experience of visiting Staged will hopefully give visitors an alternative experience of the Observatory building and its history, while considering the role of observation in the present day.’
After the festival, the pair will be temporarily relocating to Belfast to work on an exhibition at Catalyst Arts. Theirs is clearly a healthy working relationship, one free of the usual egos and associated woes. ‘As a collaboration, our working process is an ongoing discussion,’ says Coleman. ‘Conversations lead to the decisions we make about the work. Neither of us does a particular aspect of the work alone; we work together on all phases of the process.’
Both, however, seem aware that Staged has been publicised as one of the big attractions of the Edinburgh Art Festival, one that brings with it the weight of a public bursary. The stakes are high, but on past evidence, Coleman & Hogarth are up to the job. Are they looking forward to it? They seem to answer in tandem: ‘The festival transforms Edinburgh, and the whole of August is a great time to be there. However, we’ll probably be too busy to see any shows!’
Kim Coleman & Jenny Hogarth, City Observatory, Calton Hill, 0131 220 1260, 30 Jul–15 Aug, free.