EAF 2017: Pester and Rossi and Walker & Bromwich

Edinburgh Art Festival includes two artist duos who each make use of celebratory and collaborative performance – Pester and Rossi, and Zoë Walker and Neil Bromwich.

Feature by Adam Benmakhlouf | 27 Jul 2017

This year’s Edinburgh Art Festival includes two artist duos known for their major interactive outdoor art events – Pester and Rossi, and Zoë Walker and Neil Bromwich. For the Festival, each of them respond to historical writings or alternative value systems using large costumes, props and joyous performance. Both twosomes work with diverse communities, handmade props and costumes, as well as large and iconographic sculptures.

On 26 August, Pester and Rossi bring their Lunarnova Campout to Jupiter Artland for one night of entertainment and camping. They’ve got planned a night of collective actions “running from dusk til dawn.” Thinking about their choice of the overnighter format, they mention that they’ve “both recently been reading Rebecca Solnit’s book Hope in the Dark and thinking about… finding ways to embrace and celebrate the ‘unknown’ and the ‘unknowable’ together.”

With these ideas in mind, they’ve made the "whole event… as collaborative in spirit as possible and so [we] have invited collectives or artists, musicians and friends.” They mention each of them excitedly, including Fallopé & The Tubes, the “Glasgow-based DIY punk/weirdo siphonophore that [Pester and Rossi] are both a part of.” They promise that they “will be spending some quality time together at Jupiter to plan some collective magic for sunset and sunrise.” Throughout the evening and night, they have scheduled "live actions [which] will explore nocturnal rituals and notions of destruction and renewal that come with cycles of the moon and the sun.”

Lunarnova Campout comes after over ten years of their collaborative work. “Last year we took a decade’s worth of costumes and props to Supernormal Festival in Braziers Park, inviting people to wear them with us and parade around the fields together. Some children bounded off wearing our giant gut sculptures straight into a mosh pit chanting ‘We are guts.’” When it comes to working with new groups and participants, Pester and Rossi see them as “integral to our practice; bringing collective energy, redirecting our direction and creating a totally new one-off experience together."

Just as important as it is for them to work with new people and audiences, they mention the importance of the one-off event to their work. “Over the last ten years we have worked in and out of different artist groups and collaborations. It feels like the work only really exists when we are all together. The way we work doesn’t seem suited to spaces within traditional galleries; it tends to lose its energy and feeling when things are left on their own in a big white space. We’ve felt this recently when putting work into a gallery setting. It can be a bit deflating.

“One-off temporary events provide us with a much more energetic and active place where our ideas can have life. There’s something about making live work that is both thrilling and terrifying: it could go to shit at any moment, and there’s something in that energy that keeps it alive. The temporal nature of things is always enticing and invigorating and usually whatever happens is fascinating – you never know what will be until the moment happens and then the moment is gone and will probably never be recreated again.”

For Walker and Bromwich, they have combined an exhibition at Trinity Apse with their opening performance. Speaking to The Skinny in mid-July, they describe their plans for a procession that will take place along the High Street, beginning at Trinity Apse at 2pm on 27 Jul. They’re planning this as the first outing for the dragon sculpture that’s at the centre of their exhibition. On one side, this sculpture is emblazoned with the phrase 'Profit Private Ownership' and 'Corporate Greed' on the other side. “It’s inspired by a Northumbrian Mineworkers’ Banner. We’re reimagining that symbol and using it again now.”

Speaking of this symbol of the dragon, Walker mentions that “it’s been used a lot in anarchist pamphlets from the 19th century.” In particular, they reference Walter Crane, an illustrator famous for the Workers’ Maypole. This is the second maypole in the EAF, with Pester and Rossi already looking forward to the artist collective Babawaltz’ “quintessential maypole dance for uncertain times”. For Walker and Bromwich, they will reproduce this iconography on the back of a banner they have made, with the same original accolades that were included in Crane’s: “aspirations like health and education that we achieved postwar and are now being eroded at the moment.” They have also included the Miners’ Banner within the exhibition alongside a number of videos made largely in Ashingdon, where much of the symbolism of their project originates.

Walker mentions Patrick Geddes as another important figure for their work. “He’s mainly known as a town planner but we’re interested in his eco-anarchist leanings, that isn’t written so much about in those terms. We’ve been looking at a grouping of ideologies around that time.” This research also relates to the themes of this year, as the organisers look to the origins of the Edinburgh Festival and the rebuilding of society through the arts and the “reflowering of the human spirit.” Walker also mentions that EAF organisers looked further back too towards the beginning of the 1900s when Patrick Geddes was socially reforming as “two pivotal times in Edinburgh.”

Using these older archives of social reform, these imageries and texts appear as signifiers of loss. “We’re interested in looking at historical precedents in the place we’re working in and how they resonate now, and how you conjure them back up through making artwork, and taking them out into the public realm.” For example, they built a Patrick Geddes saying into the initial procession, “by leaves we live, not by the jangling of coins,” to be chanted by children dressed as leaves. These young participants are some of the locals from Wester Hailes, an area of postwar development to the South West of Edinburgh. This is one part of the project that points obviously “to other economies that are important that aren't money, for example the natural world, that are as valuable as private profit.”

Speaking of some of the sculptures and their references, Walker agrees that “there’s a bit of protest methodology. It’s important for us to take our work into the public realm, into the city, so that it butts up against the real, outside world. It doesn’t stay within the art world bubble, it goes out into the rest of society and can – in an ideal world – have a wider effect on the way people think about social structures. We see them as protest meets celebration.”

Walker also describes the play they have made to show as part of the procession for the Edinburgh Festival Opening. It’s taken from a Patrick Geddes pageant, “he was described as a serial pageanteer, he used them as an educational tool. We’re following in that line, and it’s taken from a traditional [telling] of George and the Dragon … but we’ve woven in some socialist, ecologist ideologies from the 19th century. That’s a really interesting time when those ideologies are strong and that questioning of society and what we can take from it now in this very difficult political climate we’re in, and this time of change.”

Pester & Rossi: Lunarnova Campout, Jupiter Artland, 26-27 Aug, 8pm-8am (overnight), £30
Zoë Walker and Neil Bromwich:
The Dragon of Profit and Private Ownership, Trinity Apse, until 27 Aug