enlightenmentLet there be light

Tying in with the theme of this year’s International festival, Enlightenments will see you criss-crossing the city in search of insight.


Part of this year’s International Festival will be an exhibition that winds across the city from one side to the other, presenting artworks in galleries, singers on balconies and stories transmitted via Blutetooth, all devoted to the idea of Enlightenment. Curator Juliana Engberg explains.

“It struck me, when I spent some time in Edinburgh, that now is an ideal moment to look at enlightenments. I wanted to tie in with Jonathan [Mills, EIF director]’s themes. He and I had spoken at some length in an early phase about some of the things he was interested in for his performing arts programme.

I didn’t want to restrict the programme to the 18th century Enlightenment, and that quite philosophical position. The enlightenments that I’m gathering have multiple destinations: some of them spiritual; some of them philosophical; some of them technological; some of them superstitious. There’s not a serious academic plank in there that everything sits on.
The starting point is Joseph Kosuth’s The Reference Room in the library adjoining the Talbot Rice Gallery. Joseph’s a conceptual artist who does a lot of work with text, with language, exploring meaning. He often works with collections, in spaces that are already loaded with objects and meanings. This is the least neutral of the ensemble of spaces, as it has architecture, decoration and other objects already in it. It’s where Darwin apparently mulled over the ideas of Origin of the Species, it’s where the specimens were once displayed, so it was an ideal space for Joseph to create something in.

Then in the Collective we have Susan Norrie with Enola [a video work picturing a world that has been mummified as a result of nuclear trauma] and a new work called Shot, which she filmed in Japan where they launched a satellite to do ecological research. It’s a sublime looking film because it’s the night sky with the stars, where the rocket goes. It’s a sort of eye in the sky, an omnipotent, omnipresent looking device that takes the Panopticon, the idea that you can monitor all from a single point, way up into the cosmos. The Panopticon was such an Enlightenment kind of device, the idea that you could see all and empirically understand everything. Susan takes the Enlightenment to the next phase: highly developed and technological.

Running through and between the venues is Juan Cruz’s Mensch. It exists in the ether, through another device of technology. If you have Bluetooth activated on your phone as you go around our venues and various other Festival venues a little message will pop up asking if you want the next instalment. Each one is a short text piece, a sort of comedy of manners that fits within that farce genre that was popular in the 18th century. They’re all stories of professional men with failures and flaws. They’re very precise, extremely concisely delivered. But they’ve got a nice ambiguity in them as well.

At the Dean Gallery we have five projects upstairs from Tacita Dean, Joshua Mosley, Lee Mingwei, Greg Creek and Nathan Coley, then there’s Gabrielle de Vietri downstairs with Hark! Every day she writes a new song drawn from the news of the day, which is then performed by a group of singers on the portico of the building. It’s a very engaging process, one that visitors really love.

The Dean is an exciting venue in terms of this year’s theme because it isn’t a white clinical space, it’s a building with interesting architecture and a history as an orphanage. Greg Creek references that in his drawings, combining Edinburgh’s architecture with histories and stories he gathered while living here. He came over and spent a couple of months drawing the city and exploring, following his nose. He went down to London and interviewed and drew the man who was the very last orphan to leave the Dean Orphanage. It’s a sad story really: this one remaining boy who was about fifteen was walked to the gate by the warden and sent on his way because they were closing it down. That’s included in the work.

For the exhibition, Greg’s made a vast panoramic drawing in the corridor spaces, metres and metres long. It’s the link that runs between the two sides of the building, along the balcony. He uses neologisms and poems, which can be quite scatological and strange within a structure that is rather classical and beautiful, using the architecture of Edinburgh.
Tacita Dean’s work is a film about the Presentation Sisters. They’re the last remaining members of an order based in Ireland, who live this very devoted existence, but also do very mundane things like watching soccer and pottering around the garden. Like almost all of Tacita’s work it’s patient. Her patience is their patience. Most filmmaking is quite zappy these days, quite fast-paced. Hers is very slow. Nothing much happens, but in fact everything happens. You have to allow yourself to go with that, to have this very large, and in a way transforming, experience.

The film is literally about the enlightenment that comes into the nuns’ lives through their own devotion and faith, demonstrated by Tacita through all these beautiful passages of actual light that come through the windows and so on. I hope people question it, and think “wasn’t the enlightenment about no religion, about the fight between religion and reason?” Well yes, but there are some aspects of Christianity or whatever religion it might be, that might actually have a role to play in the enlightenment of people. I wanted to make something that intersected with a number of those thoughts, and to build out of the Enlightenment and enrich upon and reengage with some of those ideas that were quite fundamental to its creation.

Enlightenments, various venues, 7 August to 27 September, 10am-5pm, Free, 0131 473 2000

If you like this, try Andrew Ranville at the Corn Exchange Gallery, 31 July – 10 September

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