Refugee Tours

An artefact, whether a painting, vase or samurai sword, will inevitably have a multitude of stories to tell, stories of miners in times long past, forgers’ furnaces, battles, artists’ workshops, aristocrats’ houses, temples, churches and so on.  And then there are the stories of modern recovery and interpretation, often involving imperialists or archaeologists, communities, maybe the odd chancer with a metal detector or perhaps more excitingly the Russian Mafia.

We can of course focus on materials and techniques, but mostly what draws the crowds in are the human stories associated with these inanimate objects, whether ancient or modern – whether we are facinated with the sexual exploits of Cleopatra or the series of ominous events which befell so many members of Howard Carter’s team after discovering Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1923.

Last week was Refugee Week and one of the most interesting efforts to mark it I read of was in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.  They want more stories told about and around their collection, and on Sunday the BBC reported that the V&A held a series of events to mark Refugee Week including inviting refugees to give personal tours of their collection, reflecting on their own experiences and journeys, discussing and reacting to the collection as they go.  It’s a facinating article and a wonderful idea, which all museums could consider implementing.  Not only would visitors gain insights into the lands from which the various items were pilfired and the experiences of people from those places, but there is also a lot of integrative and educational potential in such an idea.

It would be great to see this rolled out in Scotland.  The Royal Museum in Edinburgh had a related event, Travelling Tales, but this had a more limited scope, being concerned with children and fimilies as part of Storytelliing Week also.  I’d love to see an event which involved old-time Highlanders and Islanders, for example, reacting to the material culture of the Kingdom of Scotland exhibit in the National Museum in Edinburgh.  Imagine how much they could potentially have to say on the materials, crafts and fishing techniques, for example, evidenced there.  The fantastic collection in the Kelvingrove in Glasgow also has huge potential with respect to Glasgow’s culturally diverse population.  Plenty of potential here.

Antony Gormley’s friends haunt Edinburgh and are foiled by the Bikini Vandal

Many in Edinburgh will already have noticed Antony Gormley’s 6 Times, a series of six cast iron, life-sized figures positioned along the Water of Leith (a river, in case you hadn’t heard) between the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art and the sea at Leith Docks.  The exhibition, commissioned by the National Galleries of Scotland, optimises the beauty, fecundity and occasional seclusion of the Water of Leith along its most well-trodden section, taking the participant through the natural beauty of the glen and it’s busy, green banks, into the picturesque Dean Village, under the magnificant Dean Bridge and eventually through neighbourhoods and some fantastic disused industrial architecture before arriving at the Port.

There’s no doubting that the walk itself is well worth doing, Gormley or not, but the presence of these firgures adds a certain mystique, a feeling of connectivity with the city and other walkers (and of course the many gawkers and photographers the figures are attracting daily) as well as an odd feeling of loneliness and longing which is inevitable given the characters’ isolated nakedness and distant gazes.  The tall, slender bodies are characteristic of Gormley’s sculpture, but each of the six has its own personality and orientation.

Gormley's figure looks up towards the bridge in Stockbridge, Edinburgh

Gormley is well-known for his figures, particularly the Angel of the North, but Edinburgh’s 6 Times is more reminiscent of Another Place, which places 100 similarly pensive characters along 3 kilometres of foreshore at Crosby Beach outside Liverpool, integrating them into the natural flow of water and distantly interacting with recreational visitors.  6 Times has been well received in Edinburgh overall, receiving a welcome review in the Scotsman.

I strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t seen it yet to do so, if for no other reason than to drag you down the Water of Leith, one of my very favourite things to do in Edinburgh (okay, maybe without the dragging).  And while you’re at it, spare a thought for the now infamous intervention of the mysterious Bikini Vandal, whose addition (pictured below) has now unfortunately been removed.  I’m not advising you to steal a traffic cone and place it on one of the heads, but let’s just say that if you did, I would find it hilarious.  Suggestions for more interventions welcome.

Diane Arbus and RSA New Contemporaries, or Seeing Putin in Jesus

RSA New Contemporaries – a mixed bag (of treats)

Omar Zingaro Bhatia

As mentioned here earlier this month, the Royal Scottish Academy brought together highlights from fine art and architecture degree shows across Scotland at this exhibition, which is running until Wednesday 21st April. (That’s this Wednesday, so hurry hurry hurry if you want to catch it!)

We thought it was good overall, a mixed experience in places, but then it promised art and architectural projects from those at early stages in their careers, so we should be understanding, especially at £2 per person!

It’s interesting in some ways to see how architects present and propose projects, and we could all learn a lot from some of the impeccable work here in terms of design and presentation, but I do tire of purely theoretical architecture after a point, and find that despite the artistry of it all and the possible brilliance of the proposed building or urban space, it just doesn’t deliver the profound reflection and unbridled aesthetic pleasure we get from art.

But criticisms aside, at the upper end of the ‘mixed’ is, of course, the ‘great’!  And there was a lot of great.  I was accused of deciding that I liked Omar Zingaro Bhatia‘s work before I ever saw it properly, and that’s partly true, as evidenced by this blog.  However, while his painting may not be as accomplished as some of the other artists’ works here, I felt that he emerged strongest in terms of overall concept (the ‘junkshop’) and he distinguishes himself by integrating his own real-time persona and life into that concept.  His junkshop is not as random as it first appears and a closer look reveals that the assemblage of bits and bobs is actually carefully considered so as to reflect relationships, places, thoughts and memories from his life to the present.

Only until Wednesday, so quick!

Diane Arbus, Dean Gallery Artist Rooms

This exhibition of the photography of Diane Arbus runs until 13th June so feel free to indulge your procrastination glands.  It’s a little self-indulgent of me to blog about this because a) it seems as though most people I know in Edinburgh have already seen it and made their own mind up about it; and b) you can do an image-search for Diane Arbus (give it a go) and lots and lots of her photography will appear before your eyes in an instant so that YOU TOO can make up your own mind without my whimsical intervention.

So I’ll limit myself to a couple of brief observations.  We had the pleasure of my parents’ company on this particular outing and we all agreed that the photography is great.  And there is a lot of it, giving you a fantastic, broad idea of the photographer’s interests.  These tend to focus on strange, unique and just bizarre individuals, often on the edge of society – epitomised by her Eccentrics series – or unique perspectives on ordinary people.  But here’s my perspective (thanks to Arbus) on a world leader: did you know that Vladimir Putin occasionally masquerades as Jesus?  Have a look at Arbus’s Christ in a Lobby!

Do you remember what other interesting character, not so popular with religious leaders, looks like Putin?  Find out here.

Klook-Klook it’s the Art Bus!!

Art is on wheels in Edinburgh this April

Fate (and the Travelling Gallery) has smiled upon our pursuit of art in Edinburgh this month.  The Comely Banking Crisis was stumbling around in his uncomfortable disguise in the vicinity of George Square in the University of Edinburgh and for a moment was convinced that he’d walked right up to the Go! Team‘s tour bus. 

Luckily it wasn’t, because it would have been extremely disappointing not to have promptly boarded said bus, which I did.  This was the Art Bus, or Travelling Gallery, which is as the name suggests an art gallery on a bus.  And a treat it was.  If you see this bus, GET ON!  You won’t be disappointed.  Obviously being perennially bus-sized, there’s not a whole lot to be viewed, but this is a good thing.  Think of it as bite-sized quality: as with a lot of art, less is often more, especially if you’re not realistically going to spend more than fifteen minutes aboard. 


This current exhibition is a collection of works by a number of contempory artists and is all about the relationship between humans and animals.  Through my quick peruse I clocked about a dozen well chosen, engaging works.  I’m a big fan of Charles Avery’s Islanders project, so his Hunter was a highlight for me.  I also loved Prayer Monkey (below) by Kirsty Whiten.  You can check it out (along with the rest of her collection) on Flickr here.

prayer monkey

It would be amiss not to mention that Klook-Klook has a major bird theme, and the piece that lingers in my memory is Kirsty Whiten’s deceptively, mind-bendingly simple Blackbird Menagerie.  If watching an installation piece of a blackbird on a screen watching a blackbird on a screen is your thing, then let it be another reason to hop aboard.  My question is: are the hands on the screen making the weird mechanical blackbird that’s watching the hands on the screen making the weird mechanical blackbird… Ok, that’s enough!  Watch below and enjoy.

But first a favour.  Complete the following, if you don’t mind:

The art on the bus goes …

As well as Edinburgh and Lothians, Klook Klook will be touring Dumfries and Galloway, South Lanarkshire, Boarders, Moray, Perth and Kinross, East Ayrshire and Aberdeenshire.  For details see

Smoke and Duelling in Fife: it’s Edinburgh in time-lapse

It was a pleasure today to watch this stunning, award-winning time-lapse film of Edinburgh by Ewen Meldrum from a couple of years back. 

I take it the distubing smoke rising out of the landscape across the Firth of Forth is the power station in Cardenden, Fife, close to where the last duel on Scottish soil (!) apparently took place.  Exciting stuff.  You can see the waterfront and harbour in a few of the shots, which is of course VERY exciting because that makes this my first post which relates directly to Leith!! 

Created using thousands of photos taken over the course of two years, this film beatuifully captures the intensity of the atmosphere and environment of Edinburgh, without even touching on the haar.  I love the way he moves into occasional close-ups of houses and tenements during the night-time part, continuing to emphasise the link with human patterns of behaviour.  That’s you in there, sleeping, blogging, watching Shameless!

Ladies and Gentlemen, Koya Moments.

Art in Edinburgh this April: The Printmaker’s Art

Beer is for winners: Beer Street (left) and Gin Lane.

Art is good in Edinburgh this April.  At the top of my list is the Royal Scottish Academy’s New Contemporaries exhibition, showcasing the work of recent graduates from across Scotland and hand-picked directly from degree shows.  I’ve been told that one to look out for is Omar Zingaro Bhatia’s unique brand of ‘junkshop’ madness, as well as Jamie Fitzpatrick’s avant-garde taxidermy or whatever you want to call it.  More on that and on Diane Arbus in the Dean Gallery later this month.

On Saturday the Comely Banking Crisis took in The Printmaker’s Art in the National Gallery on the mound.  If you’re willing to brave the soporific, sweaty 1970s dungeon that lies beneath the gallery, you’ll find this exhibition amidst the Scottish Collection. 

Let’s be honest: prints aren’t everyone’s thing.  While the media of wood and copper plate printing have been used to produce colour or in combination with other technniques by contemporary artists and in asian printing traditions such as Japanese Ukiyo-e, the National Gallery’s exhibition is generally limited to the shadowy, black-and-white European style, epitomised by Albrecht Dürer’s engravings.

Don’t let this put you off.  This exhibition is free and well worth a visit.  There’s a great diversity of work here despite the medium and the relatively small number of pieces.  Besides, I think less is definitely more when you’re dealing with intense and detailed works such as Dürer’s The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Needless to say there are works by plenty of other great artists here too.  Highlights for me were Rembrandt’s Christ Crucified between the Two Thieves, the impression here being an especially dark rendering which works excellently with the contrasting light and darkness of the picture, and Goya’s A woman and a horse, let someone else master them. (Lovely!)

However, our favourite experience by far was William Hogarth’s pair of prints Beer Street and Gin Lane (pictured), extolling the virtues of beer (yes please!) against the total disaster of gin culture in 18th-century London.  Maybe they hadn’t discovered tonic at that stage, but Hogarth really has it in for gin, which is foreign, slutty and disease-ridden, but apparently great for the pawn-shop industry.  Beer, though, is thankfully very English.  Have a closer look and enjoy.

Art and Claymation pave the Road to Hell in Aberdeen

Sorry I missed you: Wallace and Gromit

Intentions, intentions, what is it they say about them?  The Comely Banking Crisis drifted north along the granite-paved road to Aberdeen for a weekend in the glimmering Silver City, taking a turn (just the one is required) about Union Street, and the same for Belmont Street.

I really won’t have a bad word said about the place.  (Well, one or two maybe, but that’s it.)  There’s plenty there to entertain, and to prove it, here are two notable things I didn’t do:

1. Frances Walker – Place Observed in Solitude,  Aberdeen Art Gallery

You’ve got to hand it to Aberdeen Art Gallery.  Even if you’re just running in for an urgent usage of their toilet or a last minute panick-bought birthday card, you can’t help but notice that this a beautiful space, well managed, with a magnificent collection.  I really like the way their contemporary collection is the main focus of the building and the first thing that greets you as you enter, despite a decent collection of older works.

The gallery is worth a visit just to look at Francis Bacon’s disturbing but brilliant portrait of some pope or other (a study after Velázquez’s Portrait of “Innocent” X – see what I did there?) or the sublime horror of Ken Currie’s Gallowgate Lard.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s well worth the day-trip to Aberdeen from Edinburgh or Glasgow just to see these two paintings.

The temporary exhibitions here also tend to be outstanding.  I was recently blown away by Ron Mueck’s giant or tiny but otherwise freakishly accurate human figures lounging around in their underwear or pajamas.  The current special exhibition is a celebration of Frances Walker’s 80th birthday and is apparently the first showing of works from all the periods of her career.  So going by this background, the Walker exhibition promised a lot.  I never made it.

2. Wallace and Gromit ‘Animated Adventures’, Satrosphere Science Centre

OK, it looks as though this one is aimed at the kids, mainly, but a couple of points should defy any reason-toting adults who may wish to claim this is anything less than great.  You get to see real hand-made sets from Curse of the Wear-Rabbit – no mean promise.  And Satrosphere also promises to provide an interactive experience which allows visitors to create and animate their own characters and a special exhibit on the process of stop motion animation.  It’s sponsored by Shell, but – hey – this is Aberdeen!  I never made it.

Excuses? I had to go to a wedding and a birthday dinner, so really, duty called and won the day over art.  But I’m not afraid to admit that I spent some time poncing about in the new-ish Peckham’s on Union Street with a notebook and a coffee and, much worse still, sauntering around a certain new shopping centre near the train station.  I wasn’t even waiting for my train while doing the latter, so shame is in the air.  Oh, mañana!

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