Edinburgh Escapism

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I recently moved to Edinburgh and am still configuring its layout and exploring the city almost a month later. I feel this sense of exploration will be constant the whole time I am here. Edinburgh is one of those cities where you are never stuck for things to do, or places to see, or areas to explore. For someone who enjoys long head clearing walks as much as me, it is the perfect place. Yes, during tourist and Fringe Festival season the streets were packed; people crammed against each other on the pavement unable to overtake or cut through the crowd to cross the road. It was heaving. Now that the Festival is over, it has quietened down somewhat. Much to my relief, as I am not a huge crowd fan. I am however, an architecture lover and here in Edinburgh, everywhere you look there are beautiful buildings! There’s the Castle on the hill, there is the quaint area of Stockbridge which was so picturesque I didn’t mind getting lost! There are streets filled with older buildings, the  Scottish National Galleries boasting proud pillars at their entrance, the train station even sits nestled opposite Princes Street Gardens. I feel like I am having an affair behind the back of all the other cities I have visited given Edinburgh is all so breathtaking!

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It is a truly beautiful place and having visited Berlin this summer and been so consumed by its incredible culture, I can’t help feeling that a bubbling city like this is the creative starting point for me. It’s the energy, it’s the atmosphere; both of which are infectious. I’ve visited Edinburgh for countless day trips in the past, so it’s strange having to remind myself I am now a resident needing to commit an Edinburgh postcode to memory! Although it’s going to take some adjustment and I am still settling in, I am of course very excited by it all. Who isn’t with a city move?I feel as if the city has been waiting for me. As if this was the place I was meant to come back to. It’s funny how humans can have such an affinity with a place, but I feel with the countless art exhibitions and the constant creativity, this city could not be more perfect for someone like me. It’s picturesque and it’s peaceful. I have recently spent a lot of time sat reading in the Gardens, just people watching and absorbing the city and it’s occupants.

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I think contemplation is incredibly important during times of change and transition. Fortunately I have had the time for that this summer. Usually life is so busy and consuming that we forget to stop and think. We forget to put our phones down and not check them constantly. We forget to look out the window instead of choosing a playlist. We forget to be dreamers and instead glue ourselves to screens. People in airports, people on trains, they are all frantically typing away, scrolling down their tablets. I often feel saddened by this, because with all the days in our diaries crammed full of meetings and appointments, it’s difficult to slow down and tear yourself off the rollercoaster of life. Which is why I think this move has been so good for me. I am guilty of being consumed by the pressures of modern life; of forgetting to eat lunch and running from one meeting to the next. Yet I feel Edinburgh is a place where I can still balance a crazy, wild schedule, yet also make time for myself within the city.

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I feel that the amount of greenery everywhere in Edinbrugh provides a refreshing escapism from the rooms we occupy. Glancing round, there isn’t just granite and infrastructure, but vast expanses of nature serving a reminder that our busy lives are just a tiny microcosm in the universe. Little streams that gush and flow, the roses in the Gardens, the bees humming through the trees and the squirrels tamely venturing out all exist quite happily alongside the dull thrum of traffic and trams. All of the natural elements provide a reminder that we can stop and look. We can breathe in and think. We can sit down and we can start again.

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Beautiful Berlin

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It’s been a long time since a city has inspired me as much as Berlin. Amsterdam was absolutely fantastic – there was so much to see. Our art-orientated sightseeing ranged from seeing traditional artwork at the Van Gogh Museum to more contemporary works at the Stedelijk, Amsterdam’s equivalent of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). However with Berlin, it’s different. You’re not just entering buildings and spaces to look at the art; it’s everywhere. It’s in the buildings, not just physically, but inherently. It’s ingrained as part of the architecture, it’s on the street, down alleyways, on subway routes, it’s even encapsulated by people’s eclectic mix of clothing. The city seems to pulsate with this artistic aura, which threatens to overwhelm you it’s so inspiring. You feel as if you’re going to burst with this creative warmth brewing in your stomach as you take it all in!

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The history of the place seems to enhance this sense of creative energy, particularly given the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. With the fall of the wall, came the fall in both political systems and social barriers. Berlin realized a new kind of freedom that had never been felt before and consequently aspects such as the music scene flourished as people endlessly celebrated the reunification. Given their history it seems people in Berlin have something to say; it’s as if the years of oppression made them realise that they want to be heard. With transient chalk-based artworks on the pavement, alleyways bursting with colourful graffiti, the life and soul of the city can be found anywhere and everywhere. I think this is why it had such an impact on me. The creative culture of the city was not confined to sketchbooks and galleries, or exclusive artistic spaces. Instead it was living and breathing on the street, trickling into the galleries from outside.

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Walking through this cultural hub that is Berlin really focuses your mind. Because there is so much to absorb, you realise what it is you want to pinpoint and fixate on; what explorations you want to further. I’ve always been fascinated by graffiti, however in the past it was more of a subconscious fascination. It was only as we walked through Berlin and I was catching glimpses of it in places and on the facade of big buildings that I became aware of how interested in it I actually am. Now that I am more aware of this interest I reflect and realise that there have been very poignant moments that fueled my interest in street art. One of those moments was years ago when I was walking behind Edinburgh Waverly station and I came across this wall absolutely crammed with colour and bubble shaped writing, graffiti creatures curling out of the wall. There was someone spray painting and I remember thinking how free they must have felt in that moment. To have no paper or easel, no barrier between their spray can and a permanent site. They were leaving their mark in a space that didn’t belong to them and I thought it was beautiful. Joseph Beuys once said that anyone can be an artist if they realise their potential and find the necessary form in which to communicate their ideas. This sentiment has caused a lot of debate and I am in agreement with him to an extent. However I am more of the belief that art is everywhere. Even though we don’t necessarily see it, or aren’t necessarily looking, it is still present. It’s present in the black polka dots of a lady bug climbing over a green leaf,  it’s present in the synced rhythms of our breathing and living bodies, it’s present in the way we gesture as we speak. Art is everywhere and it is the ability to take the things we see; to capture them and their essence and translate them into an entirely new form, that I believe makes you a true artist.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

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It’s weird, but sometimes the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is the thing that makes me feel most Scottish! That’s not because there’s a bunch of Scottish memorabilia in it – far from it! Instead there’s an impressive collection of artworks ranging from Francis Bacon, to Andy Warhol, to David Hockney, to one of my favourite artists Samuel John Peploe (part of the Scottish Colourist movement). Having lived abroad most of my life, there are moments where I struggle to find places where I feel truly at home or have a strong connection with. This Gallery has become one of those places of nostalgia. I remember visiting it for the first time when I was seventeen, living back in Scotland for the first time. Sixth Form was what I’ll call my ‘art awakening’; the period in which I realised what kind of art I wanted to be making (Barbara Kruger was a key influence at this point). So the combination of this revelation along with several art trips to this Gallery during that time have made it a very sentimental place for me. 

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This of course is partially due to the sheer beauty of the place. The gallery’s architecture in itself is stunning (I think it’s safe to say I have a crush on Edinburgh architecture!) and the lush greenery surrounding it only enhances the feelings of tranquility. As does the presence of water, which on a beautiful sunny day like last Friday, sparkles and dances in the light. 

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Walking around this landscape is an incredibly serene experience and although it is still relatively central to Edinburgh’s center, the hectic bustle of the city seems distant and far removed. Almost as if you are stood in an art filled bubble of peace. This swirling blend of land and water can’t help being viewed as an impressive Land Art piece, which for me brings to mind the works of Richard Long and Robert Smithson with his iconic ‘Spiral Jetty‘. 

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In the grounds there’s also works by Henry Moore, who in my opinion is the father of all sculpture. His ‘Reclining Figure‘ series, one of which is pictured above, was a huge inspiration to me at the time I discovered it. I was and still of course am, fascinated by the blend of abstraction and figuration; by the way in which he has designed his pieces to allow the eye to travel smoothly along the figure. Barbara Hepworth is another sculpture pioneer who I greatly admire and on my list to one day visit is the Yorkshire Sculpture Park! Although I greatly enjoy modern art, I also love stepping away from it and looking to older masters. Particularly given my interest in the human body; there is nothing more exciting than exploring how body art has evolved throughout the decades.

Current Work; thinking site-specifically

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I haven’t posted about my work in a while and seeing as I’ve been doing lots of it recently, I have a lot to talk about. Starting with this shoot. As I’ve slowly begun to enter the realm of performance art I have had to become increasingly aware of location in relation to my body. Where I place myself is just as important as the actions I carry out in the space. So I’ve been looking into site-specific art and reading various takes on the notion of the ‘white cube’ gallery space; how does placing your work within four white walls limit it? Does this impose an unwanted constrain? It depends on the work of course, some pieces thrive in a gallery setting, others need to expand beyond that. So this is what I’m playing with here. 

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It was an instinctive decision to take my work to a natural based environment in place of the studio. Taking it to other buildings and artificial places such as shopping malls or car parks bring in too many connotations of capitalism and commercialism. Not my intentions by any means. Nature on the other hand sits well alongside my focus on the human body. So when I was back home I took myself to the gardens near my house and played around with the ideas of the artificial within nature and the obscurity of self. 

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I’d actually forgotten that the bridge was painted blue and was really struck by how it stuck out in among the otherwise natural landscape. It was actually the bridge my parents had their wedding photos taken on so as well as complimenting the intentions of my shoot, it also holds a historical attachment for me. This brings in the element of time which I have  been looking at a lot recently, particularly in terms of viewing it as a medium and artistic concept in itself. There are several layers to my exploration of time in my current work which I won’t go into in depth, but a very simple aspect of it in the case of these photos is simply my choice of clothing; it’s very much a 1960s style dress which reverts back to a past era.

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Time also comes into play when we photographed in the graveyard. There are a lot of things present in this, most obviously is the sensitivity of photographing in such a sacred place. Respect is something therefore that plays a big part in this as I was not wanting to be disrespectful in any way. Instead, I wanted to bring out the beauty in a place that is more often associated with grief and pain. Given the conventional associations of a graveyard, it was quite difficult to avoid what felt like an eerie scene. Unlike the gardens which were bursting with life; where there were children playing on the swings, ducks swimming in the pond, water flowing, etc. There were also a lot of people wondering the gardens as we were shooting.

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In contrast to the gardens, the graveyard was empty; completely devoid of life. This felt very poignant as the two settings both reflect what it is they represent. The graveyard was quiet with nobody present, apart from the deceased. Whereas the park was full of youth and water. Water of course is the key to life and represents vitality. It is also another thing alongside time that I have been studying. So although from the outset the shoot kind of looks like I plonked myself in two settings for effect, that is not the case. They are highly considered. Nothing in my work lacks purpose, because otherwise I do not see the point in creating it. By formulating something with meaning, it allows the work to be more emotive and therefore better received. Or at least I hope so as emotive art to me is the most touching and consequently, the most effective.