Edinburgh Art Festival: Looking at art from a new angle
- 2 August 2012
- From the section Scotland
"I think that art can seem quite distant in a gallery. People feel detached from the whole process of how it's made. I hope I can help demystify art and help them become part of that process again."
So speaks artist Anthony Schrag. And since he's perched on the top branch of a tree in St Andrew Square, his aim of offering people a new angle on art seems quite plausible.
South African-born Schrag has lived in Edinburgh since 2007 and his role at this year's Edinburgh Art Festival is to lead a series of art promenades through the city. Or as he bills himself, a tourist-in-residence.
Although the festival map highlights 45 exhibitions in 30 galleries - with work from everyone from Picasso to Harry Hill, this, says Schrag, is about the stories of hidden art.
"St Andrew Square for one. Even this area, which was designed by James Craig, when he was just 24, was a construction site all the way along here for about 75 to 100 years. So even the Edinburgh, which presents itself in an old or regal way, is constantly changing."
Also in the square, the first of a number of special commissions.
The hoarding has only just come off Andrew Miller's Scandinavian-style wooden pavilion but it looks like it could have been there for decades.
This is the antithesis of angry Brit art - a gentle, sloping space built round a young oak tree whose branches reach through the roof.
"The festival is always full of noise and flyers and people running around", Miller says.
"I wanted this to be a quiet more reflective space. A waiting room, where you wait quietly and nothing much happens."
Sound also features in Susan Philipsz's festival commission.
The Scots-born artist was the first specialising in sound installation to win the Turner Prize.
Timeline is her response to Edinburgh's famous One O'clock gun, or more specifically the time ball on the city's Calton Hill which is synchronised with the gun, and once kept time for every sailor on the Firth of Forth.
Calton Hill, to the east of the New Town, is home to a number of famous Edinburgh structures such as the unfinished National Monument, which is modelled upon the Parthenon in Athens.
"When I came to Edinburgh looking for a location, I came to Calton Hill, and everything just fell into place," she says.
"The gun, the time, the sounds, the Greek ruins. Sound has always been important to Edinburgh.
"John Robison - the inventor of the original siren - studied here.
"It was originally developed as a musical instrument, imitated the human voice and could be played under water, hence the name (in Greek mythology sirens were dangerous females who lured sailors to ruin on the rocks with their enchanting music)."
As if on cue, an ambulance screams past, with siren blaring.
Then a test of Timeline.
Three harmonious notes, barely five or six seconds long boom from speakers at the top of Calton Hill's Nelson's monument, then in quick succession from six other sites around the city.
A bemused student looks up. "Was that a train horn", he asks?
Philipsz giggles. It is her own voice, recorded many miles away in her Berlin studio, and now installed in Edinburgh for the duration of the festival.
It is one of her shortest and most subtle works - but also one of her biggest commissions - and her first on home turf since winning the Turner Prize. It's also potentially one of her most accessible.
"I hope so," she says.
"I hope people just happen upon it when they're walking around the city."
Finally, it is on to Princes Street Gardens where Edinburgh College of Art alumni Emily Speed is trying to build her latest work.
No mean task, since Human Castle is, as the name suggests, made of performers dressed in sculptural costumes who creep out of the bushes and climb on to each others shoulders to create a castle beneath the real castle.
Speed, like the other artists, is happy to poke fun at the process, even if she's serious about the finished work.
"I love the way their feet stick out under the castle walls," she says.
She agrees the Edinburgh Art Festival - now the biggest in the UK - is the perfect place to both show new work and encourage a wider appreciation of an often misunderstood art form.
Back in St Andrew square, Anthony Schrag is now carefully walking along a garden fence.
As well as his promenades, he'll offer climbing tours, alleyway tours, afternoon nap tours ("We lie down for half an hour and dream our way round the city") and art pub crawls.
So if you encounter a bunch of people clambering over fences, closely examining the pavements or rolling about city parks, they may well be on an art festival promenade?
"Or they may just be having fun," says Schrag.