The Scottish contemporary art scene is a competitive place for emerging artists – there are a handful of opportunities that we all go for, with glossy titles and low fees, that paint the picture of a climbing ladder. It is a breeding ground of individualism, one “solo” artist pitted against another.
Like so many things, the pandemic painfully exposed all that was wrong with this without providing many meaningful solutions. Coming out of lockdown 3.0 with so many artists having work and exhibitions cancelled, and when considering the space I took up as a cis white artist, I had a lot of uneasiness around this concept of “solo”.
As luck would have it, An Tobar and Mull Theater in Tobermory were going through a similar process of re-thinking and restructuring. I had an exhibition due to open there this spring, but as I voiced my concerns with the curator, Mike Darling, he offered me space to extend my platform and share it with others. And so, with the encouragement of Mike and Rebecca Aitkinson-Lord, An Tobar and Mull Theatre’s artistic director, I decided to expand my exhibition into a festival to include the works of artists who inspire me, artists who reminded me why I am an artist during the darkest periods of lockdown.
For me, festivals are when art comes alive. I have always cited //BUZZCUT// contemporary performance festival in Glasgow as being my artistic baptism; hours spent putting together Glam outfits to stand in a Govan backstreet clutching a warm Red Stripe whilst a performance artist conjured Judy Garland accompanied by a noise band – it was the space I craved most during the lonely days of lockdown. Not just because of the work, which was always great, but the sense of community. The thing was, we were all there in our glam outfits in a Govan graveyard, we were all collectively clutching warm Red Stripes.
For audiences too, there’s something special about seeing and experiencing art in a festival context. Some of the most profound experiences that have had a lasting impact on me are those that I’ve had within a festival environment. It’s one of the things that I’ve missed the most about engaging with art during lockdown, because as much as going online and being digital was needed, it was like a little nugget of what we were really craving. There’s something very specific about engaging with works in a festival context, because you feel like you become a temporary little family with the audience that are there.
I have had all of these things in my mind when programming the new An Tobar Festival – Daughter of Cups in the North. It is a multidisciplinary arts festival, a curated weekend of radical work that explores possibilities for ways of inhabiting space and those we inhabit them with. The festival program is deeply connected to ancestry, seeking to engage with our spiritual histories as a way of seeking guidance on how to navigate the present time.
Running over a long weekend from 29 April to 1 May, the program features artists from around Scotland as well as further afield. There will be exhibitions, workshops, performances and artist film screenings, all packed into one weekend.
I chose to program the festival for a concentrated weekend instead of spread out over a month or two months, because it allows for that sense of festival community to come together. The festival has grown out of a residence at An Tobar and Mull Theater and during my three month period here I am fully embracing island life. Having grown up in Glasgow, I thought I might find challenging aspects of rural life, yet the slowing of pace and sense of connection with both the people on the island and the landscape has been a breath of fresh air.
I’m mindful, too, that a festival on an island needs to be of the place and for the people in the place, and I hope this is reflected in the slowness at the heart of the festival programme. Working in visual art I’m used to the idea of people going into a gallery and spending 30 seconds to a few minutes looking at an artwork before moving on. Both my installation and the exhibition by Peruvian artist Daniella Valz Gen have been made to encourage people to feel comfortable and open to stay a little longer. In fact, the entire program encourages contemplation and relaxing into the space to allow visitors to be fully immersed in the works.
The festival presents artworks in the form of films, sound installations, sculptures, music, performance and dance. Daniella Valz Gen is presenting a new exhibition in the form of woven sculptural works which are informed by the landscape alongside a weekend of expanded tarot workshops. Hannah Catherine Jones is facilitating deep listening and sounding workshops in response to her research on healing sound frequencies. Mele Broomes is presenting a new live version of her digital dance work Wrapped Up in This which explores connections to ancestry whilst Scots singer Quinie explores historical Scottish traveler communities in her songs by Ella. Alongside this, our moving image program presents works from Sophia Al Maria, Linda Stupart, Evan Ifekoya and Grace Ndiritu. Across all of the works there are environments that encourage your spirit to travel, to open and to feel connected to those around you.
That’s why I feel this festival and others happening across Scotland this summer are so important. While everything is still dependent on Scottish Government guidelines for the pandemic, An Tobar Festival – Daughter of Cups in the North feels like we are at the beginning of a new chapter.
Daughter of Cups in the North is the card that presented itself to me when I asked the tarot for guidance on the festival. I use a tarot deck that was passed down to me by my late mother, and it illustrates the daughter of cups as St Brigid – goddess of poetry, prophecy and divination and historically Goddess of the Celts. St Brigid was born at sunrise, neither within or outside a house; she was born on the threshold. It is this notion of the threshold, the space between, that the festival seeks to begin.
An Tobar Festival – Daughter of Cups in the North is at An Tobar and Mull Theatre, Tobermory, Isle of Mull, from 29 April until 1 May; Bobbi Cameron: without time, without distance, without mind is at An Tobar until 18 May, see www.antobarandmulltheatre.co.uk
A message from the Editor
Thank you for reading this article. We’re more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.