After a year away, festivals make a tentative return to the Scottish capital this August with a mostly pared-down programme of events and exhibitions. Among them, the Edinburgh Art Festival is back in full force, with a programme of commissions and partner exhibitions across the city. We pick six shows not to miss.
Emeka Ogboh at the Burns Monument
On 29th January 2020, the sound of Robert Burns' Auld Lang Syne rang through the European Parliament in Brussels, as MEPs joined together in song to mark the UK's imminent departure from the European Union. Less than two weeks later, in response to their singing, the Nigerian-born artist Emeka Ogboh stood inside the Burns Monument in Edinburgh and planned his commission for the Edinburgh Art Festival.
The resulting work, Song of the Union, is a seven-channel sound installation placed inside the monument. It features a Scottish-based singer from each of the 27 current EU member states, as well as one from Scotland, each singing Auld Lang Syne in their mother tongue.
The Burns Monument was designed by Thomas Hamilton, and was built on the slopes of Calton Hill to house a marble statue of the poet by John Flaxman that now stands in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Song of the Union was commissioned by the festival with Talbot Rice Gallery, part of the University of Edinburgh.
Christine Borland at Inverleith House
'In Relation to Linum' at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is part of a wider project by Argyll-based artist Christine Borland and looks at the life-cycle of flax, specifically in relation to the 350-year history of the Botanics. After her exhibition at the venue was postponed last year, Borland sent out the flax seeds she had intended to plant there as part of the show to 34 volunteer gardeners. The flax that was grown in community gardens, allotments and public spaces around the country now forms part of this year's exhibition, which also looks at the processes of making and growing, and how they relate to care.
Borland has previously worked and collaborated with a number of other organisations and individuals, largely in the fields of science, medicine and anatomy. After a True Story – Giant and Fairy Tales, which Borland created for her 1997 Turner Prize show, was based on research carried out in several different anatomy collections that used human remains for medical research.
Isaac Julien at Modern One
This ten-screen film installation at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art by filmmaker and installation artist Isaac Julien explores the life of Frederick Douglass, who was born into slavery in Maryland, USA, but escaped and spent the rest of his life campaigning for the freedom of others. From 1845–1847, Douglass made several visits to Scotland, delivering hundreds of public lectures during his anti-slavery tours of the country, in venues from Aberdeen to the Borders, and also challenged the Free Church over its links to slavery.
Lessons of the Hour draws on some of Douglass's most significant speeches and highlights their contemporary relevance against the backdrop of the present day. The work, presented by the festival in partnership with National Galleries of Scotland, was filmed in Edinburgh, London and Washington D.C. and is accompanied by Julien's tintypes and photographs.
Donald Smith at the City Art Centre
A partnership between An Lanntair in Stornoway and Museums & Galleries Edinburgh, 'Islander: The Paintings of Donald Smith / Eileanach: Na dealbhan aig Dòmhnall Mac a' Ghobhainn' is the first major retrospective of Donald Smith, an artist and teacher born in Lewis in 1926 who trained at Gray's School of Art. His powerful work looked outwards towards Europe and America but always reflected his heritage and strong sense of connection to the Western Isles, despite him living on the Scottish mainland for much of his life.
The subjects of crofting and fishing dominated Smith's work after he returned home to the west of Lewis in 1974, where he created rich compositions based on the lives of local fishermen and women until his death in 2014.
Rachel Maclean at Jupiter Artland
Glasgow-based artist Rachel Maclean presents a new permanent commission at Jupiter Artland for this year's festival, alongside a solo exhibition of earlier film works installed in buildings around the site. Nestled in woodland at the sculpture park outside Edinburgh, upside mimi ᴉɯᴉɯ uʍop takes the form of an abandoned high-street toy shop, filled with the upside-down and sinister world of a cartoon princess.
As well as Maclean's work, Jupiter Artland also presents RESET by Alberta Whittle, following on from her recent installation for Glasgow International. Filmed in Scotland, South Africa and Barbados, RESET responds to the Black Lives Matter movement in the context of the climate emergency and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jock McFadyen at Dovecot Studios
Earlier this year, Jock McFadyen worked with weavers at Dovecot, Edinburgh's tapestry studio, to create The Mallaig Commission – a new large-scale textile collaboration based on his painting Mallaig 2,depicting the Lochaber fishing port of the same name. The work, which took aound seven months to complete, is on display as part of the festival at Dovecot Studios alongside a selection of the artist's paintings.
'Lost Boat Party', curated jointly by Dovecot with The Scottish Gallery, includes more than 20 large-scale, enigmatic paintings by McFadyen exploring the Scottish landscape alongside his characteristic depictions of urban decay and dystopia.
Rhona Taylor, Commissioning Editor, Scotland, at Art UK
Edinburgh Art Festival runs from 29th July to 29th August 2021