Allegories and Existence at Summerhall
Curator Holly Knox Yeoman brings work by Hermann Nitsch, David Sherry, Derrick Guild and Ortonandon to Summerhall
This article is from 2015.
In a few short years, Summerhall has asserted itself as the festival venue in Edinburgh. It’s not hard to see why; the multi-arts venue caters for both the general festivalgoer and connoisseur alike, and provides a unique setting for creatives to mingle; a melting pot of disciplines and styles.
The strength of its annual Fringe programme lies in the careful consideration afforded to every element. No strand suffers as a result of too much attention being given to another; its visual arts programme is equally as ambitious and boisterous as its theatre, dance and music counterparts. Perhaps it is this that allows for meaningful connections to surface across disciplines.
Summerhall’s Festival 2015 is no exception. Exhibitions programmer Holly Knox Yeoman is credited with pulling together a visual arts programme that is dramatic, curious, funny and disturbing in equal measures. Performance has a strong influence on this year’s manifesto Allegories and Existence, and visitors are guaranteed a theatrical experience, both in the presence of the artwork and as they wind their way round the labyrinthine halls and chambers of the former Royal Dick Veterinary School.
There are international headliners, intended to uphold Summerhall’s reputation as a place of sensation and excitement. Knox Yeoman is committed to pleasing festival crowds with the spectacle they have come to expect, but she is equally dedicated to showcasing what is special about contemporary art from Scotland, commenting that ‘it’s about recognising the talent close to home and maintaining that balance of the local and international aspects of the programme.’
The most in-your-face of the exhibitions is Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch’s Das Orgien Mysterien Theater, an overview of the artist’s career spanning the last decade. Nitsch (who recently had an exhibition abruptly cancelled in Mexico because of his work’s perceived violence) will present an extensive body of expressive paintings as well as relics, robes and surgical implements. The works will be presented across two areas of Summerhall; the new Sciennes Gallery, and more interestingly, the venue’s converted War Memorial Library.
Counterbalancing the grisly presence of Nitsch’s work with humour and gentle provocation are Scotland-based artists David Sherry and sisters Katie, Sophie and Anna Orton of artist group Ortonandon. Sherry will exhibit and perform in Summerhall’s white cube space, the Corner Gallery, while Ortonandon have installed their video installations in the unusual Basement Machine Shop – previously a metal workshop. Both shows reject a reverential treatment of the artworks: Sherry will allow visitors to wear his work (a light switch and chess piece costumes) and Ortonandon encourage a similar engagement with their props.
Elsewhere in the building, an artist, who wishes to be referred to as ‘the thermos museum curator’ for the purposes of the show, will take visitors on a guided tour of Summerhall while offering a humorously digressive commentary on the history of Thermos Flasks. The Thermos Museum will be an insightful, warm and witty experience for anyone looking to spend an interesting 30 minutes. A quote accompanying the exhibition description simply reads: ‘It’s about flasks – Ben, aged 7.’
The exhibitions A Lady’s Not A Gent’s and After A.D delve into art history, disrupting its accepted narrative. The first gives substance to bold claims first made in the 80s that were largely ignored: that the famous Fountain signed R.Mutt by Marcel Duchamp was in fact the first great feminist work of art by Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. The latter will take place in Summerhall’s Laboratory Gallery and will undoubtedly be the highlight of the visual arts programme. Derrick Guild’s After A.D pays tribute to Albrecht Durer’s Young Hare (1502) and will feature Guild’s exquisitely crafted sculptures and paintings that reveal a fascination with naturalistic painting. Ideas brought to light by the show will be amplified by accompanying music from musician Marty Hailey who will also perform live in Summerhall’s Anatomy Lecture Theatre.