Edinburgh Art Festival returns for 2021

Edinburgh Art Festival returns to the city's art spaces this summer with exciting new work (Isaac Julien, Emeka Ogboh, Sean Lynch), retrospectives (Ian Hamilton Finlay, Christine Borland, Karla Black) and the annual Platform showcase

Article by Jamie Dunn | 03 Jun 2021

One of the joys of an Edinburgh summer (a typical one anyway) is escaping the hubbub of the Fringe to venture into the city’s many great galleries to soak up the wild and wonderful work at the annual Edinburgh Art Festival.

After the 2020 edition stalled thanks to COVID-19, this year's Edinburgh Art Festival will take place from 29 July to 29 August in a variety of visual art spaces across the city, with an additional online programme of events and digital presentations also planned. The 17th Edinburgh Art Festival will feature over 35 exhibitions and new commissions – some directly address the seismic changes brought about by this past year of pandemic, while other exhibitions were in the works long before anyone had heard of COVID-19.

“Festivals have always offered a space for gathering, and this year more than any, we are proud to come together with partners across the city to showcase the work of artists from Scotland, the UK and around the world,” said Sorcha Carey, EAF’s director. “The past year has revealed how precarious things can be for artists and creative freelancers, as well as for the institutions and organisations that support the production and presentation of their work. As galleries begin to reopen across the city, and we look forward to welcoming audiences safely back to the festival and our city, now more than ever we need the space for community and reflection that art and artists can provide.”

Isaac Julien's Lessons of the Hour

Of the brand new work coming to EAF, we’re particularly excited for the UK and European premiere of Isaac Julien’s Lessons of the Hour. A ten-screen film installation, Julien offers a poetic meditation on the life and times of the great African-American writer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, with a particular focus on the two years he spent based in Scotland’s capital in the 1840s during his UK campaign for freedom and social justice. Find it at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, opening at the start of the festival and running until mid-October.

Edinburgh Art Festival have invited Glasgow-based artist, filmmaker and programmer Tako Taal to commission six young artists living and working in Scotland for a response to Lessons of the Hour. Chizu Anucha, Sequoia Barnes, Francis Dosoo, Thulani Rachia, Camara Taylor and Matthew Arthur Williams are all involved in the project, titled ‘What happens to desire…’, which will present new work in public and digital spaces around the Festival.

Edinburgh’s iconic Burns Monument at the foot of Calton Hill will be the site of Song of the Union, a new sound installation from Nigerian sound artist Emeka Ogboh co-commissioned with Talbot Rice Gallery. The neoclassical pavilion, erected in 1831 to honour the Bard, will host Ogboh’s seven-channel piece, which sounds like it’ll be a rousing and compassionate response to Scotland’s forced exit of the EU. The piece will feature voices of citizens from each EU state who are currently living in Scotland singing Burns’ Auld Lang Syne in their mother tongue.

Edinburgh Sculpture Workship, Collective, Talbot Rice

History and legacy is also the subject of Sean Lynch’s Tak Tent O' Time Ere Time Be Tint, a new EAF co-commission with Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop. It sees the Irish artist turn his spotlight on Edinburgh’s public monuments and sculptures. Lynch, we’re told, will explore “the use of folk traditions, the making of sculpture and the parables held inside monuments themselves, which can empower social change and produce a public realm implicitly open to everyone.”

Also at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop this summer is Ashanti Harris with Dancing a Peripheral Quadrille, a series of sculptural and dance works concerned with the metamorphic nature of cultural identities and how they are formed. Alison Scott, meanwhile, will be at Collective’s gallery in the old City Observatory on Carlton Hill with new, integrated sound and print works that explore the hillside arts space and the possibilities of ‘meteor-ontology’.

Of the works directly addressing the COVID-era, we’re particularly drawn to Talbot Rice’s group show The Normal, which is described as a “vivid reflection of life during the 2020 pandemic”. Hope, grief, survival, violence and solidarity are among the emotions expressed in the works from Larry Achiampong, Anca Benera & Arnold Estefan, Gabrielle Goliath, Kahlil Joseph, Tonya McMullen and Sarah Rose among others. The exhibition is open now, and runs until the end of the Festival.

Fruitmarket reopens with Karla Black retrospective

Those keen to check out the new spit and polish applied to the redeveloped Fruitmarket will get the first chance to do so when Karla Black: Sculptures (2001­–2021) opens the gallery. We’re assured this won’t be your typical retrospective, and the exhibition will spread across both of Fruitmarket’s gallery spaces as well as into the brand-new warehouse space.

Other survey shows that catch the eye at EAF this year include The Galloway Hoard: Viking-age Treasure at National Museum of Scotland; Victoria & Albert: Our Lives in Watercolour at The Queen’s Gallery; Joan Eardley at The Scottish Gallery; and Archie Brennan at Dovecot Studios. You’ll also find solo presentations of Christine Borland at Inverleith House; Rachel Maclean and Alberta Whittle at Jupiter Artland; Frank Walter at Ingleby Gallery; Ian Hamilton Finlay at The City Art Centre; Sekai Machache at Stills; and Sonia Mehra Chawla at Edinburgh Printmakers.

If it’s new talent you’re keen to seek out, you should of course make a beeline to Platform, EAF’s annual showcase of early career Scotland-based artists. The quartet of artists selected from an open call (Jessica Higgins, Danny Pagarani, Kirsty Russell and Isabella Widger) have been supported to create new work which will be presented in the group show titled – you've guessed it – Platform:2021.

This is just a fraction of the exhibitions included as part of EAF this summer. Head to edinburghartfestival.com for more details, with the full programme available on the festival website from late June.

29 Jun-29 Aug, various venues