Edinburgh Art Festival 2023: from bog dancing to binge drinking

What to see at Edinburgh Art Festival 2023, championing women and queer artists, whether exploring Scottish bogland on film or casting hedonism in ceramic

Edinburgh Art Festival 2023 Lindsey Mendick
Lindsey Mendick, ‘SH_TFACED’ (2023), installation view at Jupiter Artland
(Image credit: Photography: John Mckenzie)

Edinburgh Art Festival (EAF) is running throughout August in its 19th edition, with a new director and many changes in its format. Championing women and queer artists, the programme spans independent venues and local institutions, and encompasses film, sounds, performance, installation and painting, ceramic, tapestry and sculpture across 35 venues throughout the city. While the curatorial approach addresses socio-political issues being tackled at the cutting edge of the art world, these intersect with more traditional exhibitions. 

Rabindranath X Bhose’s Dance in the Sacred Domain

Development for Rabindranath X Bhose’s Dance in the Sacred Domain (see the film at the end of this article)

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist)

Festival director Kim McAleese, who took on the role a year ago, has put together a collaborative programme that brings together Edinburgh institutions of all sides, hosts visiting collectives and provides space for the commissioned programme.

Tarek Lakhrissi, Edinburgh Art Festival, tongue artwork

Tarek Lakhrissi, I wear my wounds on my tongue (II) at Collective, 2023

(Image credit: Eoin Carey)

From Rabindranath X Bhose’s Dance in the Sacred Domain exploration of the ambiguity of Scottish bogland through their identity as a trans man and Tarek Lakhrissi’s twisting resin tongues and soundscape I wear my wounds on my tongue – both installed at Collective, at the top of Carlton Hill overlooking the city – to the dreamlike paintings of Andrew Cranston at Ingleby Gallery in New Town, you have the full swathe of Scottish contemporary art if you choose to seek it out. 

Lindsey Mendick ceramic installation of boots, cigarettes and a toilet

Lindsey Mendick, ‘SH_TFACED’ (2023), installation view at Jupiter Artland

(Image credit: Photography: John Mckenzie)

‘You can come up here and have, a lovely time walking about these beautiful, cobbled streets,’ McAleese explained to Wallpaper*. ‘But if you look at the public space around you and where that money has come from… I guess I want the role of the festival to be very much entangled with that. I'm not saying that we’re going to answer all those questions, but at least bring artists in, and work closely with them to make space to ask them.’

Edinburgh Art Festival, Andrew Cranston canvas

Lindsey Mendick, I tried so hard to be good (2023), installation view at Jupiter Artland

(Image credit: Photography: John Mckenzie)

Lindsey Mendick’s ‘SH*TFACED’ at the stunning Jupiter Artland is a wonderful, unblinkered, hilarious and moving look at hedonism and alcoholism and the art party scene.

The sculpture park and gallery will host its Jupiter Rising festival, the 2023 iteration being a series of live events curated by Mendick, from 19 – 20 August. 

Haven for Artists’ executive director Dayna Ash and creative director Yasmine Rifaii,

Haven for Artists’ executive director Dayna Ash and creative director Yasmine Rifaii, ahead of the festival’s opening

(Image credit: Courtesy Edinburgh Art Festival)

In a concerted effort to combine local issues with the international, Haven for Artists, a queer-led multi-faceted artists’ space in Beirut, has been invited to take part in a residency at EAF and participated in a talk looking at art space and social politics with the 2021 Turner Prize winning Belfast based-collective Array

Alberta Whittle film still

Alberta Whittle, Lagareh - The Last Born, (film still - single channel video), 2022

(Image credit: Photographer Jaryd Niles-Morris, © Alberta Whittle. Courtesy the artist, Scotland+Venice _ Forma, London)

Looking at colonial issues is Barbadian-Scottish artist-on-the-rise Alberta Whittle’s exhibition ‘Create Dangerously’, at Modern One. Her largest show to date, it looks at issues of race and identity through the mediums of tapestry, film, photography, print and mixed media.

Pink batiks at Keg de Souza exhibition in Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Keg de Souza, Green Hell, 2023. Installation view in Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

(Image credit: Photography: Ruth Clark)

Also looking at these themes is Australian artist Keg de Souza, in her sensory and thoughtful show ‘Shipping Roots’, the culmination of a residency at Inverleith House in Edinburgh’s Botanical Gardens. Drying branches of heady-scented eucalyptus hung with terracotta fabrics, and interactive batik works and drawings illustrate the journeys and histories of certain plants in this educative and interactive exhibition.

Sean Burns Dorothy Towers film still with hairless cat

Still from Sean Burns’ Dorothy Towers

(Image credit: Sean Burns)

Another highlight of EAF is Sean Burn’s film Dorothy Towers, which shares a venue with Haven for Artists at the French Institute. The film explores a pair of residential tower blocks in Birmingham, next to the city’s Gay Village neighbourhood and a haven to its community. In presenting the stories of people who lived in and frequented the towers, including LBGTQ icon Twiggy, Burns seeks to create a record for future generations, as well as an artwork for today. 

‘These stories contain knowledge that future artists, writers, students, and young queer people will hopefully find as vital, funny, fascinating and moving as I have/do,’ he explained. ‘As assured as I am in recording histories, I am sensitive to how that information enters different spheres and the politics engaged in it becoming material for an artwork. I want my work to articulate its material’s complexity – and opacity, if necessary.’

Grayson Perry, Sponsored by You artwork, green racing car

Grayson Perry, Sponsored by You, 2019, woodblock print

(Image credit: © Grayson Perry. Courtesy the artist, Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd and Victoria Miro. Photo Jack Hems)

Politics and social issues touch every corner of the festival – from ‘Smash Hits’, Grayson Perry’s survey at the National Galleries of Scotland, to ‘Scottish Women Artists: 250 Years of Challenging Perception’ at Dovecot – and this is complemented by the commissioned schedule of younger or emerging artists to offer a rewarding programme. 

Sekai Machache artwork of woman in nature

Sekai Machache, Light Divine Sky 2, 2021, from the exhibition ‘Scottish Women Artists – 250 Years of Challenging Perception’ at Dovecot

(Image credit: Courtesy of The Fleming Collection.)

As McAleese looks to the future of the festival, she wants to build up a longer-term commissioning side and deepen partnerships locally and internationally, building on the long history of the festival with a concrete curatorial focus that extends bridges and supports Scottish artists at a time when resources are being cut. Next year should be interesting…

Until 27 August 2023, edinburghartfestival.com

Watch Rabindranath X Bhose’s Dance in the Sacred Domain

Amah-Rose Abrams is a British writer, editor and broadcaster covering arts and culture based in London. In her decade plus career she has covered and broken arts stories all over the world and has interviewed artists including Marina Abramovic, Nan Goldin, Ai Weiwei, Lubaina Himid and Herzog & de Meuron. She has also worked in content strategy and production.