It’s difficult to overstate the heights Edinburgh’s arts centre Summerhall has scaled, in seemingly only a few years, even allowing for recent temporary closures due to Covid restrictions. A former veterinary college, it’s now home to an award-winning array of performance, contemporary art, live music, ceilidhs, talks, workshops, cinema, and refreshment all through the day and evening; it is also home to Richard DeMarco’s European Art foundation. With its hushed, wood-panelled entrance space, it retains a local feel, at one remove from the city centre, and overlooking the city’s popular Meadows open green space; and it’s easily large enough for the exhibition spaces – far-flung up stair and along corridor from the busy café – to feel solitary, modest and contemplative.
Kicking-off this year’s exhibition programme are four exhibitions:
Iain Patterson: Balance is something of a highlight, being the first public exhibition to take place since 2018 in the newly-reopened Lab Gallery, which has retained its extensive cabinetry (and, intriguingly, a fume-extractor) which bounce light from the massive windows.
Iain is a former lecturer in drawing and painting at Edinburgh College of Art, across the Meadows, which the Gallery overlooks. His work is abstract improvisations carried out within self-prescribed technical limitations. Close-up inspection reveals a very meticulously-precise, repeated, which lends detailed texture to the more expansive acrylic grounding, which shifts and meanders in finely-judged spontaneous lines, patches and knots in an exploratory, organic reflection of the rhythms of both the natural world, and, intriguingly, of improvised music.
Abigail Simmonds’ Space Becomes Time – her first solo exhibition – continues upstairs in the smaller Meadows Galleries: an imaginative variety of materials and objects such as lifebuoys, corrugated sheeting and table tennis balls are painstakingly covered in untold numbers of sequins. Each work represents a radical transformation and has an underlying narrative concept referencing the passing of time, often incorporating tv and film references – for instance the violins of It’s The Depression Dearie, derive inspiration from the Hollywood musical Gold Diggers of 1933 (pictured at top).
Former Head of Photography at Edinburgh College of Art David Williams is an experienced and widely-exhibited photographer. His piece Cedar Tree – Tofuku-ji Zen Temple comprises eight triptych photographs of the one cedar tree on the one day, from dawn to dusk, at a temple in Kyoto, Japan. The theme of nonduality – universal one-ness – is explored, for instance, in the triptych form, which swaps left and right flanking ‘panels’, to suggest time turning back in on itself.
Like the cedar tree piece, the three photographs Kyoto and flow…(extracts) are from his 2003-2009 series, one taste: (n)ever-changing, – a series of 76 images from Kyoto’s Kamo river banks, reflecting daily life in the orbit not only of the water, but of the country’s Buddhist culture and wider Japanese life.
Downstairs in the War Memorial and Sciennes Galleries, James Sinfield and Radoslaw Liwen’s Remote Control offers two visually-contrasting takes on the Anthropocene – the geological era we find ourselves in, in which humankind exerts an influence on the course of natural processes.
Sharing an Edinburgh studio, and now an exhibition, both express the intervention of humans on their environment: James’ heavily-textured, semi-abstract, multi-layered dystopias are bereft of people, taking their detailed visual language from the unattended, unpretty, functional ‘edgelands’ on the urban outskirts. In more optimistic times this could be a celebration of a brave human-tamed future; but these are not optimistic times. Likewise Radoslaw’s slightly-unsettling tiny surreal figures, backgrounded by vast, pristine dreamlike azure skies, could be innocent bystanders or workers in a functional built environment, but labouring under the clear glare of a seemingly-unsetting sun, their roles could be seen as or a human counterpoint to our age’s ever-increasing urbanisation.
With thanks to Emma and Samantha from the Summerhall team for their assistance.