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Tuesday 3 April 2012

Interview with Edinburgh Art Festival Director, Sorcha Carey

Text by Bethany Rex

Edinburgh Art Festival announced its programme for its 9th edition last week. Taking place in more than 30 of the city's museums, not-for-profit and commercial galleries, EAF will feature over 45 exhibitions, with further pop-up shows taking place in artist-run spaces and outdoor venues across the city. The festival runs from 2 August - 2 September so there's plenty of time to get your head around the programme which is packed by any standards. If that's too much of a stretch, we spoke to the Director of EAF, Sorcha Carey to find out more.

BR: First of all, congratulations on the 9th edition of the festival! I’d like to go back to the beginning. How did it all begin?

SC: We're the youngest of the summer festivals, founded in 2004 and now in our ninth year. Visual art has always had an important presence in the festival programme since the foundation of the International Festival in 1947, and the Art Festival came out of a recognition of the richness of work on display, and desire to ensure that viusal art was at the heart of the Edinburgh summer festival experience.

BR: How did you get involved with the festival? Do you come from a festival background?

SC: I was appointed as Director last year. I was working as Senior Arts Adviser at British Council Scotland at the time, but having worked on 3 editions of the Liverpool Biennial, festivals were/are in my blood, so when the job was advertised, I leapt at the chance to rejoin that world.

BR: Could you talk us through the highlights of this year’s programme?

SC: Where to begin? We have an amazing array of new or previously unseen work by leading international artists in galleries across the city, along with our most ambitious programme to date of commissions by established and early career Scottish artists. Dieter Roth's diaries - never seen before - will be exhibited at The Fruitmarket Gallery as part of a major solo retrospective of the Swiss/German/Icelandic artist.

The American presentation this year is particularly strong, with Inverleith House bringing Philip Guston to Scotland for the very first time, with an exhibition of his acclaimed late paintings; Talbot Rice will show Donald Judd, and Tim Rollins and K.O.S, which includes new work made especially for the exhibition; while Rachel Mayeri's Primate Cinema commissioned by Arts Catalyst, and featuring footage shot at Edinburgh Zoo, will be screened in the expansive space of Edinburgh College of Art's Sculpture Court.

New EAF venue Summerhall brings Polish artist Robert Kusmirovski to the city for the first time, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art brings us the iconic greats of the Twentieth Century, with Picasso and Modern British Art; and Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Symbolist Landscapes at the Scottish National Gallery.

BR: It’s great to hear that the festival will feature new commissions by Susan Philipsz, Andrew Miller, Kevin Harman and Anthony Schrag. How did you select which artists to work with on this element of the programme?

SC: Our 2012 commissions programme will be series of publicly sited works which unfold a promenade through the city, and encourage residents and visitors to see the city and its architecture anew. All of the artists we have invited to propose new commissions have an interest in exploring this in their practice, and are united by a playfulness of approach, as well as an ability to draw out hidden stories that are lying dormant in the city. Susan Philipsz' distributed sound installations, for example, are inspired by Edinburgh's famous one o'clock gun, and an electric cable which used to connect this to the Nelson Monument on Calton Hill, and will use sound to reflect on time and place.

BR: There are some big names featuring as part of the festival this year, but the programme also gives exposure to early career artists. Who should we be most excited about seeing in the emerging section?

SC: Kevin Harman and Antony Schrag are both making new work for the festival programme. But I'm equally excited to see some completely new spaces emerging on the scene which are dedicated to working with young artists and curators. Rhubaba, a relatively new studio complex and gallery in Edinburgh are developing a very interesting show in response to the work of Slovakian artist, Julius Koller; and Superclub are another new space on the city scene - they have a consumer riposte in the work of John Brown; GARAGE (literally a garage in Edinburgh's New Town) is also returning to the festival with its micro-residencies, and I will be particularly interested to see the work of Holly Fulton and Rebecca Key there.

BR: What strikes me most about the festival is the successful pairing of international visual art alongside talent based in Scotland. How have the Scottish artists responded to the architecture of Edinburgh in their work this year?

SC: The commissioned artists are developing a range of responses, from artists who are responding to the historic fabric of the city (Susan Phillipsz), to those who will play much more with the vernaculars and oddities of architecture and how we relate to it. Andrew Miller's The Waiting Place, our festival pavilion in St. Andrew's Square, is a kind of playful importation of summer architecture into a city where summer is by no means guaranteed. Anthony Schrag, on the other hand, will be our Tourist in Residence for the duration of the festival, and will lead 'alternative' architectural tours of the city centre.

BR: You’re a visitor to the EAF and you only have 24 hours in Edinburgh. What would you do with your day?

SC: For me, coffee is essential to start the day, so I would pick up a coffee and go and sit in Andrew Miller's pavilion in St. Andrew's Square, while planning my must-sees for the rest of my day. I'd definitely book onto a tour with Anthony Schrag; and depending on the weather, either enjoy the promenade commissions in the sunshine, or spend a pleasurable morning sheltering from the rain in the many galleries in and around the city centre. Dovecot have a great cafe, so I'd head there for lunch, enjoy their Weaving the Century - a celebration of 100 years of leading artists working with the studios - and then go on to the other spaces on the south side - Talbot Rice, New Media Scotland, and over to Summerhall. I'd make sure to time my visit for the 23 August, which sees a special programme of late night events and tours taking place across the art festival venues. And our Festival Detours programme allows visitors to enjoy some key performers from the other summer festivals, without every leaving the Art festival!

The 9th Edinburgh Art Festival takes place from 2 August - 2 September at various venues across the city. Further information and a full programme is available on their website:  www.edinburghartfestival.com

Aesthetica in Print

If you only read Aesthetica online, you are missing out. The April/May issue of Aesthetica is out now and includes a diverse range of features from Bauhaus: Art as Life, a comprehensive survey of one of the most influential schools of thought from the 20th century, Growing Up: The Young British Artists at 50, which centres on Jeremy Cooper's examination of the illustrious career, and the phenomenon that was the YBAs and Behind Closed Doors, an intimate portrait of family life in Cuba from photographer David Creedon.

If you would like to buy this issue, you can find your nearest stockist here. Better yet, subscribe to Aesthetica for a year and save 20% on the printed magazine. To subscribe visit the website or call us on +44 (0) 1904 629 137.

Dieter Roth
(Solo Szenen) Solo Scenes, 1997-1998
Video installation; 128 monitors, video content on 131 CF card media players
Dimensions variable
© Dieter Roth Estate
Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

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