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Edinburgh Art Festival 2023

When considering the list of festivals that occur in Auld Reekie in August, it’s rare they are all on the radar of every tourist. The Fringe, the International Festival, the International Book Festival; tend to take more prominence than others. The Edinburgh Art Festival is one that over the years tends to fade into the background. However, 2023 felt like a real pivot, with Festival director Kim McAleese commandeering the Festival to become the most innovative, visceral, queer and feminist, as well as inviting Jupiter Artland’s festival, Jupiter Rising, into the fold. 

Though not quite attending all 55 projects and exhibitions, scoping a few notable ones I found the EAF to be a haven away from the noise in the city’s busiest month. It’s the festival to attend if you’re looking to avoid endless queues, heckling and (most) audience participation, and seeking to engage with art in all its forms, whether it be film, performance or more traditional modes of art (there were most definitely the likes of Redpath and Eardley on my artistic discovery around the city also). 

Maria Fusco and Margaret Salmon’s History of the Present at the Queen’s Hall was is operatic film that has already made the rounds in places like Belfast and Art Night Dundee before hitting Edinburgh. The film co-directed by Salmon and Fusco considers working class women’s identity in Northern Ireland to commemorate the 15th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. And, with a new composition from Annea Lockwood, it’s a unique premiere, as the live music and visuals intertwine and liaise with each other throughout to add to an unnerving and unsafe air about Belfast during The Troubles.

History of the Present Still

Leith’s Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop screened the frenetic film work of Adam Lewis Jacob where we got to witness a newly commissioned video, tense, which is chaotic in more ways than one. Adam’s filming of percussionist Ryosuke Kiyasu is rhythmic and fast-tempo, imitating the work of the drummer as he unleashes his energy on the drums. The film is a beguiling symbiosis of disorder and speaks of a relationship between filmmaker and musician that is not harmonious. It’s a non-conformist and uncommercial piece of work from both Adam and Ryosuke, and yet there are hints of a music video to this art film too, syncing with the anarchy of the music. 

Jupiter Rising was a first for me and for EAF as they filled an evening with performance art and music, curated by Lindsey Mendick and Glasgow-based queer collective Bonjour. The notion of indulgence, sinful eating and drinking, the copious and the needless is all present in the Jupiter Artland space. The evening began with the highly anticipated Pig’s Sausage Party (a bold performance of artists in pig costumes making sausages) before delving into Mendick’s exhibition SH*TFACED, a show that unravels uncomfortable truths and mirrors binge drinking culture, inspired by the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Mirrored ceilings, grotesque ceramics, and grubby club loos all populate Mendick’s work. 

JUPITER RISING X EAF Credit: Neil Hanna

With spoken word by Guy Oliver and then the Slug performances that celebrate the virtues of the molluscs by neuroqueer clown An(dre)a Spisto and artist Joana Nastari (intense, to say the least). There was already a sense of a varied programme; the Slugs being the most hilarious and physical performance of the evening. 

Before we went back over to the house for performance-collective STASIS (Aniela Piasecka, Paloma Proudfoot, Olivia Norris and Isabel Palmstierna) for a cake-related promenade piece, where confectionary was casually handed out (and thrown) into the audience. The Cloud Tent had all manner of music, including a set by Keziah Ziah. Bonjour curated the stage in the woods away from the Mendick exhibition and the Cloud Tent, decorated with banners from this year’s Glasgow’s Pride. A night of indulgent performance art, it felt more than a treat to spend this eve in the Artland, and one I encourage you all to partake in next year, where it’ll be back as a full weekend festival. 

Beyond these one-off performance nights, there were several exhibitions of note dotted around the city. The Dovecot’s Scottish Women Artists: 250 Years of Challenging Perception is a stunning curation of traditional and contemporary works, ranging from Elizabeth Blackadder to Sekai Machache. Including more than 70 pieces, this is an extensive exhibition that you will want to take in. 

Sekai Machache Lively Blue Cutting Ceremony, Courtesy of Dovecot

Stills hosted the photography of Prague-born, UK-based artist Markéta Luskačová, which explores the innocent, poignant and sporadic lives of children. Raw, gritty, but occasionally peppered with pathos and humour, her work is entirely in black and white and adds innocence to the lives that we as adults fill with baggage. Stark yet playful, there’s a real variety in Luskačová’s photos, though they all tend to give enough space for you to add narrative to each of these, with the composition and framing of the subjects.

EAF gulps up the entirety of Edinburgh, including Leith. Sierra Metro commissioned and presented the work of Haein Kim, in an exhibition titled PAIN 2 POWER. The Australia-based artist’s work explores modern women in a capitalist context, using bold colours and shapes to evoke joy as well as pathos, communicating liberation as well as oppression. Vibrant and fresh, Kim’s work is incredibly distinct and playful. 

Though there is much more to discover across the city, the pieces I did encounter added peace and vibrancy to an already fragrant August. Though sometimes drowned out in the bustle of the noise, much would be lost without the EAF for the moments to reflect while the likes of the Fringe are sometimes trying too hard to grab your attention, shoving flyers in your hands. The subtleties of the EAF combined with a more cohesive approach to the programme is one which I will relish for years to come.

Edinburgh Art Festival

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