Craig Coulthard: The Drummer and the Drone
An imaginative military film set in Scotland’s future, screening at the Edinburgh Art Festival
This article is from 2014.
Under the darkened, vaulting ceiling of Trinity Apse, a few yards from the tartan-infested Royal Mile, the strain of bagpipes rings out. The sound echoes that of gift shop muzak and Highland dress buskers all the way up to the Esplanade, but the tone is different. Here a piper and a drummer, projected full size on a screen in the darkness, perform a dramatic lament and then rest, staring blankly ahead, while a synthesised female voice reads a eulogy for those who served in a campaign of combat. The process is repeated more than once before the film transports us to the Scottish Highlands, and finally Coulport, the storage facility for the UK's stock of Trident warheads.
Craig Coulthard's reference points in this work are all apparent and lucidly placed together to echo the concerns of earlier works like ‘Forest Pitch’, in that they’re partly constructed to examine the relationship between humanity and nature. The conflicts described by the disembodied voice come from some speculative future Scotland where ecological conflicts are seemingly dominant: the combatants thanked have been involved with protecting endangered species and saving the survivors of an eruption on Mount Etna, and for enduring a ‘safe and profitable prioritising of all those involved’.
Between each of the piper segments an imaginary 3D CGI monument develops, its straight grey lines barely hinting at the weathered cairns of ceremonial remembrance we know from cemeteries and public parks. Coulthard's aim is compelling, to form a visual nexus in time which lies deep in the trappings of tradition – specifically Scots military tradition – and the imagined conflicts of the future our nation and planet might have to face. Yet the delivery is reserved and in some ways staid, with the piping sequence dulled by over-repetition. While pandering to an audience who might be drawn in by the sound of pipes isn’t necessary, this space cries out for more dynamism than might be found here.
Trinity Apse, Edinburgh, until 31 Aug, free.