Director of Edinburgh Art Festival
Having previously worked on the Liverpool Biennial and as the Senior Arts Advisor for
British Council Scotland, Sorcha Carey (b. 1972) takes on the task of directing a large-scale artistic
experience for over 250,000 visitors. From 1 August until 1 September, Edinburgh Art Festival plunges
the city into a celebration of contemporary art and international talent. www.edinburghartfestival.com.
What makes this year’s Edinburgh Art Festival unique?
This year feels especially unique as we are celebrating our 10th anniversary. We’ve grown from a relatively small offering to become the UK’s largest annual festival dedicated to the visual arts. This year we’ll have over 50 exhibitions, and an ambitious programme of 10 new publicly sited commissions.
You exhibit international artists and celebrate Edinburgh’s art spaces. Is one more important than the other?
I think they go hand in hand – it’s not just the work that is on show; the quality of the presentation will also determine the experience of the art. Our festival is special in allowing people to encounter the best contemporary pieces alongside major survey shows from historic periods. We offer not only a really broad-ranging approach to art and artists but also an entry point to understanding the different ways in which art can be showcased. The event is truly a celebration of the multiple possibilities of art in the city.
How did you choose the artists involved in the commissioned projects?
This year’s commissioned programme is called Parley. This was inspired by Enrique Miralles, who designed the new Scottish Parliament building, which shares its 10th anniversary with the festival, and he talked of wanting to create not a building but “a forum for gathering.” This statement seemed to me to speak equally well of what art outside the gallery can do – provide a means to stimulate, prompt or attract lively debate within a city. All of the artists who we have commissioned embrace or reflect “parley” in their practice, whether in pieces that directly evolve in conversation with another artist or even the public, or work which provides a space for conversation.
What is the significance of Peter Liversidge’s Flags for Edinburgh?
I hope it makes people think again about the power of the flag as a means to communicate. I think flags have lost a lot of their power in contemporary society. Most of us in the UK have been privileged to live a relatively peaceful existence, in which flags seem more like a traditional form of communication. In war zones, or even in places living with a contested sort of truce, flags are extremely powerful symbols. Liversidge’s Flags for Edinburgh says “Hello” in lots of different registers – in some ways it’s almost as if the flag poles are trying to remind us that they are there and they have something to say, as well as saying “hello” to the hordes of visitors who come through the city.
Robert Montgomery, Kenny Watson and Ross Sinclair all use words within their art. Was the juxtaposition of their work intentional?
I suppose the theme of “parley” made the inclusion of language inevitable, but they all use text in different ways. Words in Robert Montgomery’s hands become physical things that have influence over the space around them. In his Fire Poems, language assumes an extraordinary presence, the words becoming even more visible through the very process of their destruction. Ross Sinclair’s project plays with the kind of dialogue that we commonly encounter in public spaces, like advertising and “top 10” culture, to generate a debate about how we choose to talk about our cities. Kenny Watson, on the other hand, is subverting a form of text by bringing it out of its usual context. The Days is a collection of over 365 billposters, all brought together into a single space. The cumulative effect of all of the sensational headlines shouting at you is quite overwhelming – it really makes you reflect on how cities talk about themselves.
Is there a particular theme that runs through the exhibitions?
It is interesting to note how themes do always seem to emerge almost accidentally. This year there is a very strong photography strand, with the show from the Condé Nast archive at the City Art Centre as well as Man Ray images at the National Portrait Gallery. There are also quite a few exhibitions that look at the idea of collaboration: Mostly West: Franz West and Artist Collaborations at Inverleith House looks at West’s many projects with other artists; Jupiter Artland has an exhibition exploring Jeremy Deller’s longstanding collaboration with Alan Kane; Dovecot looks at a work that depended on a partnership between art and craft for its construction. It forms a nice counterpoint to the theme of our commissions programme, which is very much about conversation and debate.
What do you want audiences to take from the event?
A sense of pleasure in discovery – in taking time to experience some of the best art in the world in one of the best cities, to encounter artists and spaces which are entirely new to us, as well as to revisit things we already thought we knew.