By Alan Holligan, Chris Coatham, Joel Davidson, Victoria Rankin HND Contemporary Art Practice, Edinburgh College.
Earlier in the year I was approached by the Edinburgh International Film Festival to manage the install of a major new installation work by the creative team behind the ‘Inertia Variations’ a documentary by Swedish filmmaker Johanna St Michaels about the life and work of THE THE’s Matt Johnson.
As well as giving me the opportunity to brush up on some skills working on a live project three of our HND Contemporary Art Practice students were also able to get involved and gain valuable practical experience working with internationally renowned artists & designers from across the creative industries.
The large scale interactive multi-media work which features multi-screen video projections, sound works and 8m tall Radio Cineola: Radio Tower was developed in collaboration between Johnson, St Michaels, award-winning architect Jacob Sahlqvist, lighting designer Kate Wilkins, and poet John Tottenham is being presented alongside St Michaels documentary as it travels the world.
Before coming to teach at the Granton campus I worked in a dual role as fine art lecturer, and Installation / site manager for the Exhibitions & Events dept of Edinburgh College of Art. The work was always varied and challenging but most importantly it was linked to, and supported my practice as an artist. I met some incredible artists and developed a variety of skills. So, when I was approached by my then manager and now Assistant Director of the EIFF, Diane Henderson, ‘to put the band back together’ I jumped at the chance to get involved and share the experience with students.
As well as gaining work experience the students also received passes to the EIFF and invitations to the opening premier and party. A fine return on a job well done!
“EIFF was delighted to work with students from Edinburgh College on the
Inertia Variations exhibition at Summerhall. The students brought a
wonderful enthusiasm to their role and were an enormous, knowledgeable and
skilled resource. Alan and his students worked extremely hard over a very
short period of time to install this fantastic exhibition, which in the
end, was a brilliant highlight of EIFF in its anniversary year. We
couldn¹t have done it without them!”
Dianne Henderson Assistant Artistic Director Edinburgh International Film Festival
To capture the experience for their Professional Practice Portfolio the students, Victoria, Joel and Chris developed a series of questions and responses to help log the experience.
Summerhall project interview questions:
Briefly describe the exhibition/project you were involved in:
Victoria Rankin: Help setting up an exhibition/installation called Inertia with our lecturer Alan Holligan, the artists and installation crew.
Chris Coatham: The project, named Radio Cineola: The Inertia Variations, was a collaboration between musician Matt Johnson, filmmaker Johanna St Michaels, architect Jacob Sahlqvist, lighting designer Kate Wilkins and poet John Tottenham. The collaboration resulted in a film and interactive installation based on the ideas and imagery featured in the film. The Summerhall gallery/art space in Edinburgh hosted both the exhibition and film as part of the 71st annual Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Joel Davidson: Radio cineola is a unique installation bringing together the work of musician Matt Johnson, filmmaker Johanna St. Michaels and architect Jacob sahlqvist. Michaels film the inertia variations blends into a conceptual multi media installation that spread throughout the dissection room of summer-hall.
What was the role of Edinburgh college students in the project?
V.R: Our role was to help set up the installation manually. We helped by carrying a lot of the necessary equipment to the dissection room & the other connecting rooms. We sealed the windows in every room to prevent light getting in and also helped construct the radio tower. We also set up lighting in one of the connecting rooms.
C.C: College students were on hand to assist with the installation; our duties included moving equipment and materials into the upstairs space, preparing the space itself including hanging blackout curtains, and assisting with the erection of a tall central “radio mast” which was the centerpiece of the exhibition. We also hung three large projector screens and assembled beds and other props, and hung signage to guide visitors to the exhibition.
J.D: Our role mainly consisted of supporting the needs of the artists by setting up parts of the exhibition as well as helping to erect a 8 metre tall radio tower. The work was rewarding but challenging as we approached certain hurdles when setting this exhibition up in a new setting.
What new skills/experience did you gain?
V.R: I gained work experience in terms of setting up for an exhibition – experience which will be vital in my career as an artist. It was also a pleasure to meet everyone involved. It was definitely a good way to make connections with fellows in the same industry.
C.C: This was our first time helping to install an exhibition that a) was not of our own work and b) was outwith the college. Therefore it was very much a new experience for all of us and it was great to meet the Summerhall and Film Festival staff and work with them.
J.D: This opportunity to work in an exhibition like this was a first for me but hopefully not the last. It gave us an opportunity to learn new skills working in a team along side musicians, filmmakers and designers to help realise an ambitious installation.
What challenges/problems did you face and how did you resolve them?
V.R: There were various challenges when setting up but only minor issues – miscalculations in measurements when we were sealing up all the windows with light-tight fabric. We also had to move a few tonnes of volcanic sand up one floor but we didn’t have the right equipment for the job so it took longer than we expected. These were only minor issues in an otherwise smoothly running operation, I think.
C.C: At times it was hard work to get a task finished on time; for example where a lot of manual handling was involved or where it was difficult to continue without direction from a supervisor, however with initiative and teamwork we overcame these small obstacles to get the job done.
Was the experience what you expected it to be? Why/why not?
V.R: It was tougher physically than I thought it would be but overall I was very pleased with the time I spent there. As mentioned, it was really nice to meet the people involved – the artists and the installation crew. It was such an insight into what goes on behind the scenes of setting up installations. A lot of work goes in – more than I realised. I have definitely benefited from the experience.
C.C: I think I went in to the project expecting it to be quite stressful, and though it was hard work at times, it was not stressful at all and in fact was very rewarding and fun to be involved in.
J.D: The experience overall was what I expected and more. I did not expect to be working as close to the artists as we did. Helping them tailor the exhibition to a new space and overcome the challenges that this presented will be valuable in the future and was a welcomed break from any heavy lifting.
How did it feel to see the finished exhibition knowing that you had been involved?
V.R: It was an extremely proud moment as the exhibition was extremely interesting in itself.
C.C: At first I found it difficult to visualise how the exhibition would look once it was finished, but as the week progressed and we got closer to being finished it really came together and it was great to see the fruit of our labours (and that of many other people) resulting in such an impressive installation.
J.D: Seeing the final exhibition was a satisfying experience as I believe the work we all put in was vital to the show being ready on time for its opening.
Do you feel that the experience has been a valuable one in terms of gaining work experience? Would you do it again?
V.R: I definitely feel that it has been very valuable and I am so happy to have been involved. I most definitely would do it again, because there is so much to experience and learn from helping to set up an exhibition. It the kind of thing that would be different each time as well, which i find very intriguing and beneficial to my growth as an artist.
C.C: The experience was definitely a positive one and I would certainly do it again. The experience of working together under pressure to achieve a common goal was really rewarding and I would encourage any current or future students to get involved in any similar projects, should the opportunity arise.
J.D: This experience has given me valuable knowledge when it comes to working behind the scenes in a exhibition. The overall process of helping alongside artists, architects etc was a new experience and one that will serve me well in the future if the chance to work in similar conditions comes up again. The free lunches and party was a nice treat too.