The frantic activity of outside swells against the windows of Institut français d’Écosse in Edinburgh. The glass acts as a kind of membrane—an amnion—protecting the gentle stirrings inside. This is a resting place for Platform: 2022, for which artists Saoirse Amira Anis, Emelia Kerr Beale, Lynsey MacKenzie and Jonny Walker were selected by Beth Bate, Seán Elder and Lucy Skaer. The artists’ work has been assembled under the curatorship of Laura McSorley; curious murmurs float through the first room.
Jonny Walker’s haunting soundscape, part of ‘I slipped through the veil’ (2022), propels passers-by into a strange, bucolic version of childhood. His 3D-printed sculptures of lambs occupy a transitional state between solid form and disintegration—leaning less on horror and abjection, though, and more upon imaginative foray into child’s play. Walker’s work has all the ingredients of the grotesque—spillage and leaks, halved bodies—but there’s something about pressed flowers in a lamb’s head that registers pleasure in these nested beings. Walker’s work is a compendium of deep time: petal fossils, tender excavation, the temporal lobe of the brain, where counting sheep turns sleeplessness into dreams. While it undoubtedly whispers about collapse, this is art that remembers how to frolic.
Hanging from a horizontal pole nearby, three knitted garments with long, trailing arms bear arrows, swirls and spirals, ‘trust for support’ (2022): this is the name of Emelia Kerr Beale’s piece. The looping arms remind me of winter—the act of pushing your hand into a friend’s sleeves to warm up so that you become grafted entities sharing warmth. (I should add that Emelia is my sibling; my hands have often sought comfort in theirs) Wool blurs the ‘end’ bit of one thing and the ‘start’ bit of another, so that it no longer seems relevant. In this way, the work aligns with Walker’s: boundaries are renegotiated in the name of communal care. Carolina Ongaro encourages perceiving care as something with ‘constantly expanding ‘threads’, and here the threads are apparent.
Kerr Beale’s moving image work, a constituent part of ‘trust for support’, was produced in collaboration with Finn Rabbitt Dove and Clara Hancock. Sharp metal lines lacerate the limbs of a slow-moving tree; the viewer witnesses its state of quasi-imprisonment. The accompanying sound occupies waves of intensity. There are clicks and screeches, hallmarks of mechanical violence, but they soar into an enchanting chorus, when, as the closed captions proclaim, ‘strings resume dancing’. The work bears a certain optimism, but it’s not a verdict for survival; Kerr Beale’s work affirms the presence of breath, roots and air—even amidst pain. Rather than looking ahead to some utopic image of wellness never quite reached, the bound tree revels in steady aliveness, absorbing, releasing and growing despite a disabling environment.
I walk upstairs to Lynsey MacKenzie’s animated paintings, all of which leap from the pistachio cream walls. There are sweeping strokes upwards in ‘Daydreams’ (2022), echoing the importance of leaning, and having something or someone to lean on. The wooden frames holding up the canvases buttress the work to a structure of support—a kind of trellis. There remains a negotiation of boundaries, but MacKenzie’s work chooses dizzying enthusiasm as methodology in place of Walker’s effusion of tranquillity. Here, painting is a verb akin to dancing; everything that happens seems to happen simultaneously, a delicious compost of moving parts.
Juice, fibre and flesh: this is ‘Holding Barzakh’ (2022). Saoirse Amira Anis casts a love spell in a room that feels distinctly ‘inside’, walls padded with dyed fabric and twinkling fairy lights. Am I inside a body or a galaxy? Disembodied words filter through the room’s pulsing tissue: ‘you are the air that touches you, and as it touches me too, we are the same’. Care is secreted as practice and potion, so that separateness is questioned, and the interstitial contact zones between humans and plants celebrated. Anis reveals there is safety in abundant love, where smothering is a ‘covering entirely’, and small, illuminated jars form an apothecary of desire. Once again, boundaries dissolve.
The exhibition is not thematically organised, but there is a loving kinship that proliferates and eddies through the building. Accompanying texts found on walls and seats merge towards a perfect, collaborative refrain, folded into my pocket and carried onwards through the day.
Bestow your love upon your beloved. Trust for support. I’m still flesh. I’m still living.
Carolina Ongaro, ‘Personal Notes: To Care Among the Cracks,’ in ON CARE, ed. Rebecca Jagoe and Sharon Kivland (London: Ma Bibliothèque, 2020) p.81.
Alice Hill-Woods is a writer, editor and researcher based in Glasgow. Her poetry pamphlet, HOTHOUSE, was published by Salò Press in 2021, and her research on avant-garde trauma ecologies is forthcoming from the Journal of Literature and Trauma Studies. Her practice is cross-disciplinary and she is the poetry and nonfiction editor at SPAM Press.
Platform: 2022 at the French Institute was a part of Edinburgh Art Festival, 28 July–28 August 2022. In recent years it has offered an annual opportunity for emerging artists to make and present new work in a dedicated showcase.