Platform 2017: Emerging Artists at Edinburgh Art Festival

Platform returns with a new crop of selected emerging artists, this year including those working diversely with alternate histories, 'retrofutures', large scale and functional sculpture (a fold-down bell tower) and science fiction filmic forms

Feature by Adam Benmakhlouf | 27 Jul 2017

This year, the four artists share certain common threads and overlaps, each of them variously interested in invented science fiction, better or lesser-known histories and defunct 'retrofutures' (more below on this odd contradiction), or an interest in monumental scale and its subversion. Nevertheless, there’s an ostensible diversity to the kinds of practices and work that will be showcased

Speaking to Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, the work that she’ll be showing is still fresh in her mind as it’s only been installed one week earlier from our discussion mid-July. Coming from a photographic background, she describes this “as the first opportunity to show work that involves photography but also has other elements.” Displaying photo etchings and over 200 beeswax sculptures, she has created a “fictional archive of migration that never happened, but is based on writings from 100 years ago by a Lithuanian diplomat and geographer Kazys Pakštas.

In between the First and Second World Wars, due to Lithuania’s tense geopolitical situation, he proposed that the country would establish “a peaceful colony somewhere far away, where the whole nation could move.” Though it never happened, Pakštas travelled between “Belize, Madagascar, Quebec, and Brazil, [where he] met the local people and tried to see if the land was suitable, and how much it would be to rent or buy it.”

“That never happened but his writings still remain, and I was imagining what it would be like if it had happened and if they had moved, and what kind of artefacts and what kinds of museums they would have.” These don’t mark the strict parameters of the Platform work, but do mark its beginnings conceptually. Specific ideas or sensations began to emerge as interesting for Kiliulyte, “it became this thing that has these romantic notions of landscape. When you arrive to a new land and landscape, how does that feel? Are you looking at the landscape or is the landscape looking back at you?”

Bringing these different elements together, Kiliulyte will include beeswax artefacts shown in a museum display case, and photoetchings give the impression of being older photographs, as the process combines newer technology with much older printing processes. There will be some video work included, too, on the process of digitisation, as well as a larger fabric flag-like work.

Though this last large hanging piece mentioned is more abstract than the rest of the work, it still relates to the experiences of migration that define her practice currently. “It looks like an abstract gradient of cyan colour. It’s something I imagined as people arrive to new land through water, being that liminal space and that becoming the flag, the identity that rejects national identities and choosing something fluid and transitional.”

By different means, fellow exhibitor Uist Corrigan also seeks to complicate senses of place, location and site. Corrigan himself identifies this similarity in their mutual exploration of “narrative, using a piece of work to explore various stories.” His work in part takes the form of a travelling, fold-down bell, which is rung at different locations around Scotland, displayed alongside documentation in the form of photographic prints and audio. “The work explores making bells, and how that translates into a landscape. I built a belltower out of wood and cast a bronze bell, all of it folds down and sits in the back of my girlfriend’s Micra. I’ve taken that to various sites across Scotland that I’m interested in exploring. There are some near where I live in Aberdeenshire, then a few down in Iona, Mull where I spend quite a lot of time, and a few where I’m from in Angus, Kirriemuir.”

In a lot of ways an interactive project, Corrigan has had some good reactions during the time he’s been travelling with the fold-down belltower. “I put it up in a pier on Carsaig, which is at the bottom of Mull. There were some walkers in the distance that were there as we were starting to put it up, but by the time I was ringing it they were quite far away but I could see they were hearing something and were turning around, knowing it was just us and them. Then some seals appeared after that, as well.” Laughing, he says, “I like to think that had something to do with me.”

And he’s been directed by locals as well. “I told a few people when I was on Mull that this is what I was doing and they told me I had to go up to a place called Kilvickeon, which is an old church just out of Bunessan, which is at the bottom south corner – a wee town on Mull. It was quite nice having them react to the project and telling me sites they thought were good.”

Speaking more broadly of some of his motivations, he mentions his interest “in functional sculptures, that have a function outside of being a piece of work. My work was originally based on making tools and learning skills, and a lot of this fits into that.” Not necessarily thinking of a bell in these terms, he does think of them as useful for “exploring different narratives, stories and landscapes."

For Corrigan in particular, there is a particular importance of being able to show at the heart of the capital during its busiest and most international moment. “I’m interested to see who comes to the openings, because I work and live in a rural location not in the Central Belt. Especially during the festival, I like the idea that I might open a little door to a part of Scotland that wouldn’t be explored so much as so many tourists pass through Edinburgh.”

For Rebecca Howard, the show is an opportunity to present an ongoing body of research that has spanned the previous two years. At the time of interview, Howard’s keeping her cards close to her chest, wanting to save details for the exhibition, but nevertheless divulges a few details. Drawing upon her knowledge of the supernatural and the metaphysical, Howard will be showing a self-made “science fiction film based around a series of objects that have been reproduced as sculptures.” Within the film, she explores “supernatural and metaphysical events that these objects induce but are never visually represented in the film.” So it is that Howard sets up an “interplay between narrative and visible fiction as well.”

Giving some more teasers, when it comes to the importance of the objects included, Howard tells us “they become the central characters themselves, and the film is told from the perspective of the room they’re in. There aren’t any human characters as such in the film.”

Originally, the work began as a spoken word performance with still images. As the project and research grew more interdisciplinary and multimedia, so the style became informed by different influences. Howard mentions the movie “steals from a lot of filmmaking techniques”, including an overlaid narration, animated elements and location shooting. Based in Glasgow, some parts would be shot in her studio, then going further afield to Mull and Iona. Here, she was intending to make “strange natural landscapes”, incorporating them into the sci-fi narrative.

Locating her own work in the show, Howard thinks about the strong connections between herself and the other artists that she observed from the beginning of the process as they shared site visits. “As we learned more about each other's projects, it was really interesting to see the relationships, whether that was in an exploration of objects or developing research from truth, or fictional worlds or staged set-ups. I think we all sit really nicely along one another.”

For Howard, it has also been an important moment for producing her own work concentratedly. For the last two years, she has “primarily been working on producing projects for other people and other artists.” She speaks of the especial importance of having “the support of the festival, both critically and financially, as well, and to produce an exhibition as part of the Festival and to see the show in this context.”

Corrigan also sees an aesthetic relationship that bonds the exhibitors together, in particular between the different approaches to large sculptural installation. Adam Quinn will be exhibiting a large platform with a monument on it, some wooden flats and bollards. “It’s been dropped into the space, and I’ve really tried to make it look as though it’s been there for a while, or that it has been built there specifically. So there’s a certain element of trickery involved in that, convincing the viewer it is this concrete platform and [have them question] how did it get there?”

These gestures of installation and sculpture extend from his interest in ”that consciously clichéd formal vocabulary and that ubiquitous art and architecture from the post industrial era and sculptures.” He thinks of “those monuments you find out were swimming pools or what were new office blocks.” This includes “the role of... brutalist art and architecture, and certain utopian ideas of the artist within that, and comparing them to a bit of a trickster. And from that, employing different techniques of theatrical scenic construction and use of mise en scene within that.” By these means, he frames his work in the language “of theatre and artifice.” The title gives some of this influence away, Dais 17 – 'dais' being the technical word for raised platforms for lecturing or performance.

It’s important that the viewer is able to step on the platform exhibited, as “it allows that engagement with proposed utility, and playing with that in the environments you would find… in a public place.” In this way, he proposes a slight alteration of the artist-audience relationship. This relates more generally to his interest in considering public spaces and the coexistence of different identities. However, concretely, he also thinks of the process “of developing practice skills as well, how to build things in a certain way that are convincing in a certain way but give away their secrets, and how they’re held.”

Speaking to each of them, they mention their surprise at unexpected moments of recognition and rapport between their work during install. While there might be points of reflection or corresponding approaches, each of the artists’ presentations for Platform 2017 represent a moment of refinement and (for the moment) resolution of their practices so far. Though perhaps not a tangible theme, this does make for a highly anticipated group show.

Platform 2017 runs until 27 Aug, The Fire Station, 76-78 Lauriston Pl, part of Edinburgh Art Festival 2017