19th edition of Edinburgh Art Festival draws to a close after first year under direction of Kim McAleese

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Saturday, June 22, 2024


19th edition of Edinburgh Art Festival draws to a close after first year under direction of Kim McAleese
Gemma Cairney, EAF chair and EAF Director Kim McAleese.



EDINBURGH .- Edinburgh Art Festival 2023 closed on Sunday 27 August, the first festival under the direction of Kim McAleese, presenting 55 ambitious exhibitions and events, in partnership with 35 of the city’s visual art community and a wide range of partners and venues. This edition saw the festival move to a new, shorter length format, taking place on new dates aligning closely with the other August Edinburgh Festivals. EAF’s 2023 dates were 11-27 August. EAF 2023 focussed around three weekends - special events and projects punctuated the run of the festival, including readings, screenings, parties and live performances alongside the wider offering of exhibitions and commissions across the full period. A sold out series of festival-led commissioned performances and events this year offered a sliding scale ticketing structure for audiences, alongside a majority-free exhibition programme across the partnership. There were over 125,000 attendances across the programme.

From queer histories in brutalist tower blocks; to tracing peace lines and borders through sound, moving image and music; and the festival’s continuing commitment to support structures, the 2023 festival-led programme featured artists, thinkers, writer and performers who move through this world deeply connected to feminist and queer practice.

The new format festival foregrounded reasons to come together, and saw collaborations with many gallery partners in the city including National Galleries of Scotland, Collective, Jupiter Artland, Fruitmarket, Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh and Sierra Metro; as well as new local and global partnerships with Edinburgh International Book Festival, Edinburgh International Film Festival, Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive, Waverley Care, The Common Guild, Forma, TULCA Festival of Visual Arts and Horizon Showcase. During the festival we delivered Community Engagement workshops and events (which also take place all year round), including DIY art kits for children in Edinburgh, Visual Description tours in Leith, a collaboration with Barnardos Ukrainian families group, a workshop with Jesse Jones at Talbot Rice Gallery for young women of colour aged 8–13 and events for parents to experience the exhibitions in North Edinburgh child-free. Events also took place in Wester Hailes and in the city with the Community Wellbeing Collective and Lebanon based feminist collective Haven, as well as an in-conversation with Turner Prize-winning Belfast based Array Collective.

The festival was a call to action to explore Edinburgh, looking at the city a-new through the lens of visual art and across a diverse range of the EAF partner galleries, museum presentations, and newly commissioned works. Over 400 artists from across Europe, Asia, Australia & Oceania, Africa, North America took part in this year’s edition, including over 100 based in Scotland.

Kim McAleese, EAF Festival Director, says, “We wanted to create a festival that felt rooted here in Edinburgh and connected to people in the city but which was also balanced with a critical and nuanced global dialogue. This year we worked to deliver a festival focussed on mutual support, in platforming artists, individuals and communities who can find alternative ways to resist. I believe in the generative process of collaboration and this was truly a feeling we all felt with EAF this year, by connecting, amplifying, promoting and sharing individuals, organisations, and projects that have an intimacy with these values. Thank you to all the people across Edinburgh and from further afield for joining us for EAF this August; it was wonderful to have so many artists, audiences, and partners come together for my first festival in the city. The new dates and format allowed us to deliver something in a new way; by punctuating the festival with weekend events, we opened up to new audiences, and formed dialogue with other art forms, partners and other festivals across the city in a warm spirit of collaboration. I look forward to welcoming everyone to the 20th edition of the festival in 2024, and beginning conversations to meaningfully begin to organise this soon.”

EAF highlights included:

·Sean Burns’ Dorothy Towers showed the story of the legendary Clydesdale and Cleveland Towers, two residential blocks in the centre of Birmingham, UK. Completed in 1971 as a social housing development and located adjacent to the city’s Gay Village, the towers’ proximity to the community means they have long been a haven for LGBTQ+ people. In Edinburgh, the work catalysed a series of discussions and events tracing the themes present in the work to concurrent histories and realities in the city. This coincided with workshops and discussions on Edinburgh’s queer histories throughout the festival with partners, including the Lothian Health Services Archives and Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive.

·The world performance premiere of History of the Present, where Northern Irish writer Maria Fusco, with Scottish artist film-maker Margaret Salmon and composer Annea Lockwood collaborated on a hybrid opera on stage and screen that featured live improvisation from percussionist Angela Wai Nok Hui. It is a new experimental opera-film forefronting working-class women’s voices to ask: who has the right to speak and in what way?

·Alberta Whittle: The Last Born – making room for ancestral transmissions - a newly-commissioned performance, presented by EAF, National Galleries of Scotland and Forma, took Alberta Whittle’s most recent moving image work, Lagareh – The Last Born as inspiration. Anchored around theories of abolition, rebellion, ancestral knowledge and love, the film melds a collection of scenes that give focus to the strength of contemporary Black womxn, whose individual acts of resistance are bound together through the artist’s conceptual storytelling.

·Haven for Artists is a cultural feminist organisation based in Beirut, Lebanon, a community of many people, working together to organise, support, campaign, nurture and create in a country in a multi-dimensional crisis, through cultural programming. EAF invited Haven for Artists, to spend time in-residence during the festival with a programme of activities, connecting with local organisations and initiatives.

·Jupiter Artland joined forces with EAF for this year’s edition of JUPITER RISING, one of the biggest one-night only parties in Edinburgh curated by artist Lindsey Mendick and collective Bonjour, a queer workers’ coop based in Glasgow.

·For its 9th edition, Platform: Early Career Artist Award celebrated early-career artists working in Scotland, with the opportunity to make and exhibit new work. This year’s artists selected from an open call were Aqsa Arif, Crystal Bennes, Rudy Kanhye, and Richard Maguire. The artists came together to address a diverse set of concerns spanning race, climate change, and food justice, to cultural identity in Scotland.

·Edinburgh-based poet Nat Raha presented the first iteration of a performance work epistolary (on carceral islands) addressing the history and development of island prisons across the globe through the colonial project of the British Empire.

·EAF and Collective presented BEAST! a performance work by the French artist and poet Tarek Lakhrissi, exploring bestiality as a philosophical and political concept by drawing on the stigma that historically frames queer people and people who belong to the global majority as monstrous.

·Initiated by The Common Guild, EAF co-presented an illuminated artwork by Rabiya Choudhry at Leith Library.

For an opening party at Edinburgh’s Biscuit Factory on 11 August, there was the launch of Belfield Brewery’s no-alcohol beer, Fire Island IPA in collaboration with EAF and Waverley Care. It was named in memory of the celebrated, pioneering gay nightclub that opened its doors on Edinburgh’s Princes Street in the late 70s. Fire Island holds a significant place in the history of Scottish nightlife and the LGBTQ+ community and its impact continues to be celebrated and remembered fondly.

Partner galleries also presented a range of exhibitions, the majority of which will be open to the public for free for the festival. Many remain open into the Autumn after EAF closes.

Old Town and Southside

In the Old Town, Talbot Rice Gallery presented Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s film 45th Parallel, which considers structural divides in the Haskell Free Library and Opera House – a unique municipal site that straddles the jurisdictions of Canada and the United States, dividing the library collections and creating the only cross-border theatre in the world, where the audience and actors are in different countries. This was shown alongside a solo show by Jesse Jones. Jones’ The Tower calls us back to a moment of feminist possibility before the European Witch trials by channelling 13th century mystics in a monumental, durational performance installation. Meanwhile, a display at the National Library of Scotland was Blood Sweat and Tears: Scotland’s HIV Story. Co-curated by the National Library of Scotland and Waverley Care, the display looked back at the earliest stages of the HIV outbreak in Scotland in the 1980s. It shows the fear, stigma and heartbreak that followed, as well as the emergence of effective treatments that shifted the focus to living well with HIV.

Delving into the ideas of space and architecture at Fruitmarket was Portuguese born, Berlin based artist Leonor Antunes (born Lisbon, 1972). Antunes makes space for the contemplation of modernist art, architecture and design through sculpture made and displayed with the specifics of a given place in mind. The forms and materials of her sculptures reference a history of modernism embedded in the work of its less visible protagonists; overlooked, often female, artists and designers, many of whom were immigrants in the countries in which they lived and worked. Stills displayed a significant solo presentation of Prague-born photographer, Markéta Luskačová (b.1944). Considered one of the most critically acclaimed Czech social photographers to date, she has photographed children in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and also Poland since the 1960s and this aspect of her practice will be a focus in this show, her first ever solo show in Scotland. Meanwhile, a major retrospective of one of the UK’s leading figurative painters, Peter Howson, took place at City Art Centre. In 1993 he was appointed British War Artist for Bosnia. The exhibition brings together around 100 works spanning the artist’s career, many never seen before in Scotland. A new exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland will deconstruct the little black dress, examining the radical power of the colour black in fashion. From design classics to cutting-edge catwalk creations, Beyond the Little Black Dress brought together more than 60 striking looks from collections and designers around the world. Also at the National Museum of Scotland, Rising Tide will showcase artistic responses to climate change in Oceania.

Yet more on the Southside of the city, included a showcase of work by graduating students takes place at the Edinburgh College of Art. The show combines new work from the schools of Art, Design and Architecture & Landscape Architecture. Also at ECA The Sounds of Deep Fake, curated by the Institute for Design Informatics, brings together exciting experimental artists including Martin Disley and Theodore Koterwas who are working with sound and emerging technologies to explore deep fake audio. Dovecot Studios presented their major exhibition Scottish Women Artists: 250 Years of Challenging Perception with The Fleming Collection, with works by over 45 pioneering women artists including Rachel Maclean, Sekai Machache, Joan Eardley and Alberta Whittle.

East to Leith

At Collective, on Calton Hill, and coinciding with their EAF performance, Tarek Lakhrissi presented I wear my wounds on my tongue (II), exploring desire, language and queerness. Inspired by the work of the late poet, essayist and performance artist Justin Chin, the installation features newly commissioned sculptures and sound work. Also at Collective, Rabindranath X Bhose’s installation work, DANCE IN THE SACRED DOMAIN, was a bog made up of sculpture, poetry, performance and drawing, emerging from time spent meditating on bogland in Scotland.


Further into Leith, at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, a new presentation, tense, by Glasgow based Adam Lewis Jacob was displayed alongside A New Face in Hell, in which Sebastian Thomas draws inspiration from the mythological fable of the Golem, a being constructed of inanimate material that often ends up becoming uncontrollable. Travelling Gallery, a contemporary art gallery in a bus, presents a new exhibition by Gabecare, a collaborative art project between Rachel Adams and Tessa Lynch investigating the domestic mess of 21st century living, which will travel across the city for the duration of the festival. Sierra Metro presented an exhibition of new work by award winning Australia-based artist, illustrator and animator, Haein Kim. For Kim's first solo show PAIN2POWER the artist presents a series of prints exploring the modern woman’s psyche, materialism and puppies for a show that captures her unique use of colour, humour and honesty

To The West

To the West of the capital, Jupiter Artland hosted Lindsey Mendick as the artist for their 2023 season in SH*TFACED. Characterised by their hyperreal appearance and intense attention to detail, everyday scenes are crafted in ceramic as larger-than-life tableaux. Mendick creates a diptych of nightlife; one that draws inspiration from the gothic novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Like an anxiety dream come to life, there is a sobering mirroring of contemporary binge drinking culture and gender-based shaming presented in the work.

Near Haymarket in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh Printmakers presented artist Christian Noelle Charles' solo exhibition WHAT A FEELING! | Act I. Transforming the gallery space into a beauty salon, this unique presentation of new screen prints by Charles is the first part of an exploration project discussing the topics of racial identity, inequality and care through the Black Female Lens.

In Wester Hailes, Community Wellbeing Collective (CWC) began in 2021, as a collaboration between EAF and WHALE Arts, after being brought together by social-practice artist Jeanne van Heeswijk. They are a growing group of 30+ people from, and connected to, Wester Hailes – practising mutual care, responsibility and solidarity. Together they created the Community Wellbeing Space building belonging and creating access to wellbeing as a radical act. Expect a warm welcome, free wellbeing activities run by members, and find your own way of participating. This is an ongoing collaborative process imagining and cultivating a more just and caring world. CWC alongside the festival’s collective-in-residence Haven for Artists held a day of conversation, food and an open mic – exploring what urgencies, desires and offerings can be shared across borders, and how to care collectively and create spaces of safety and respite in a world of precarity.

New Town

Back over in the New Town, the largest yet show of work by Grayson Perry covering his 40-year career, took place at the Royal Scottish Academy, organised by National Galleries of Scotland. Perry has gone from taking pottery evening classes to winning the Turner Prize, presenting television programmes on Channel 4 and writing acclaimed books. Pottery allowed him the opportunity to indulge his fascination with sex, Punk, and counterculture, amongst other things, in the most unlikely and polite of artforms. Today he is one of Britain’s most celebrated artists and cultural figures. Photography was also seen in the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, one of the most prestigious photography awards in the world, celebrating the very best in contemporary portrait photography and will take place at National Galleries of Scotland: Portrait.

Wonder Women comprised three exhibitions of internationally acclaimed artists who are all closely associated with The Scottish Gallery. Dame Elizabeth Blackadder (1931-2021) | A Celebration is the gallery’s headline exhibition and a major memorial celebration of the late artist. Running alongside the Blackadder retrospective is Wendy Ramshaw | The Early Years (1939-2018); a rare opportunity to see the archive work of the international champion of modern jewellery. Additionally, Bodil Manz at 80 will celebrate the internationally recognised Danish ceramist. Arusha Gallery will present new work by three emerging artists - Plum Cloutman, Georg Wilson and Zayn Qahtani - in celebration of the festival, and Andrew Cranston's solo exhibition at Ingleby will be on view, which will include a selection of small scale paintings on hardback book covers, and a number of new and highly seductive large scale paintings Considering geographies and environment, Keg de Souza will present the work of a year’s residency as part of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s Creative Programmes. Shipping Roots is a striking exploration of colonial legacies through the movement of plant types between the UK, India and Australia transforming Inverleith House into a series of installations immersing visitors in sound, plants and play. A series of events will also take place to coincide this summer.










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