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The bold and the beautiful

Tracey Emin I Lay Hear For You image

Art producer Michael Whitham looks ahead to the return of Edinburgh Art Festival in 2022 and chooses his highlights of the programme

Although the Fringe and EIF typically capture the lion’s share of media attention each August, since its inception in 2004 the Edinburgh Art Festival has intelligently and sensitively programmed some of the most exciting international exhibitions and commissions in the country. Now a mature and diverse mainstay of the nation’s cultural calendar, a fresh perspective on offer from new director Kim McAleese in 2022 offers an exciting approach to both historical exploration and bold, provocative commissioning. Balancing a global outlook with moments of national introspection, the programme features a range of international names as well as the most exciting artistic voices from Scotland and the UK. 

This year’s festival places at his heart a programme which responds to and investigates the rich and important past – and present – of the Union Canal, which in 2022 celebrates its 200th anniversary. Associate Artist Emmie McLuskey has commissioned a programme which encompasses a wide range of creative responses to the site and which ask us to consider how changing landscapes of commerce, capital and trade impact communities and individuals. 

The Community Wellbeing Collective have created Watch This Space, which considers what health and healing look like when centred around a community, rather than an individualised approach to care, while the fascinating multi-disciplinary artist Nadia Myre explores the canal through lens of migration, using archival research, poetry, prose, print, installation and sound to elucidate stories of colonialism, power. Myre shines an inquisitive light on which of us in society are allowed to be the authors of history, and why.

Performers Hannan Jones and Janice Parker will be part of a drop-in programme using sound and  movement to offer audiences fresh ways of seeing the spaces around the canalside and recontextualising its storied history, pushing us to experience the place in a new way.

Elsewhere, the fantastic Platform is back, providing a much needed showcase for emerging talent. This year it has been curated by Lucy Skaer and Seán Elder, alongside Director of Dundee Contemporary Arts, Beth Bate and showcases a fascinating and intriguing range of materials and ideas.  Video combines with textiles and traditional crafts in Saoirse Amira Anis’ installation which explores ritual and tradition while Emelia Kerr Beale takes the speculative history of The Major Oak Tree as their starting point, creating work which opens our eyes to the ways in which disabled people are denied a voice and are actively disempowered, even on the subject of their own conditions.  Jonny Walker’s lambs, placed across a large metal, patchwork blanket in varying states of decay offer confront the viewer with the imminent dangers of ecological collapse, as well as our own impermanence here on earth.

Across the city, a programme of partner exhibitions form the rest of the festival offering. Taking place in institutions large and small, the breadth of the work this year is truly impressive. 

Tracey Emin’s large bronze sculpture accompanied by film, paintings and drawings at Jupiter Artland is sure to impress. Her work continues to find moving and powerful ways to explore the perennial issues of the body, family, feminism and selfhood. Issues of the body and the self  in relation to others are central to Daniel Silver’s work too, which will be on show at the ever excellent Fruitmarket Gallery.

Meanwhile, The Scottish Gallery is celebrating its 180th birthday in 2022 with an exhibition by Australian ceramicist Kirsten Coelho and Arusha is bringing together the work of Rosa Lee, Shelagh Wakely and Barbara Levittoux-Świderska creating an intriguing juxtaposition of textiles, paintings and installations.

The urgent topic of environmental change is being explored in various ways throughout the art festival and beyond this summer. A unique approach comes int the form of Yan Wang Preston’s work, which charts the changing life of a love-heart-shaped rhododendron bush in the Royal Botanic Gardens. Art institutions are sometimes a little slow to embrace technological advance, so Dovecot Studio’s  use of VR to bring the power of Raphael’s work to life will be another unique festival highlight.

The Art Festival will not be the programme which grabs your attention with flyers as you wander the city or featuring on late night BBC comedy coverage, but if you take time to explore it you are guaranteed an journey through the beauty, wit and wonder of some of the country – and the world’s – most exciting minds. 

Art Producer Michael Whitham has collaborated with some of the biggest names in music and fashion, commissioning and producing visual art projects for Coldplay, Dua Lipa and Lily Allen. Last year he worked with artist Katie Scott to create a series of floral artworks inspired by Victorian botanical drawings for Sam Smith’s Love Goes and with painter Dan Craig to create a bespoke oil painting of Olly Alexander as a merman for the cover of his number one album Night Call


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