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Message from the Skies

Various venues, Edinburgh
Four stars

How did we allow this to happen? This is the question asked by historian William Dalrymple regarding the UK’s impending departure from Europe in his contribution to this six installation city-wide series of love letters to the continent which 62 per cent of Scotland’s voters chose to remain part of. Commissioned by Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and Edinburgh International Book Festival, and running from dusk to late evening from now until Burns Night, this is resistance in monumental fashion.

Dalrymple’s rich evocation of the two-way traffic between Scotland and the rest of Europe is writ large on the wall of the Tron Kirk, where a window on the world is brought to life by Double Take productions as a simmering score by RJ McConnell threatens to explode. The umbilical connections between nations are rolled back even further to ancient times atop Calton Hill. Here, Kapka Kassabova’s words declare how ‘migration is our inheritance’ as shimmering animations by Bright Side Studios flit across the pillars of the National Monument and the keening chorales of Pippa Murphy’s score pierce the night air.

Other writers give more personal reflections. At Leith Library. William Letford’s reminiscences sees artist James Houston projecting each word with the same staccato rhythm as they might be delivered orally. At Custom House, Chitra Ramaswamy looks back to childhood holidays across continents, with Daniel Warren’s accompanying film reflected onto the Water of Leith in a way that ebbs and flows with similar freedom of movement. At the already futuristic looking Tech Cube beside Summerhall, Louise Welsh explores the international language of words themselves, Emlyn Firth’s restless typography contracting and expanding like the seismic jigsaw it illustrates. 

It is Stef Smith’s moving short story that lingers the most, as it charts love’s first fever to its plague and the agonies of loss that go with it. Shown at the Cowgate entrance of the Bongo Club, which already resembles a tomb, Smith’s words are both intimate and heartbreaking. Accompanied by Eleanor Meredith’s images of washed-up pebbles and MJ McCarthy’s yearning string-led score, there’s a greater metaphor at play here, however. This is about the devastating emptiness a parting leaves on any level, and the need to fill it in the desperate shadows of the unforeseen emptiness left behind.

The Herald, January 2nd 2019


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