VESSEL is an innovative programme of ecological public art commissions that connects Portobello’s coastal ecologies with global questions relating to water, fracture and care in response to the climate crisis.
VESSEL embraces a wide range of subjects, including collective consumption, climate-induced migration, aridity and drought, tourism, waste processing, resiliency and more. Water, or the lack of it, has been an underpinning factor through the curation of this year’s programme. From Portobello beach, we stand looking out across a seemingly endless sea. Yet we are also aware how contested a resource water can be. Water covers 70% of the earth’s surface, yet one in three people globally lack access to clean, safe drinking water.
At the time of writing and preparing for this year’s festival, many places across the world are engulfed by extreme weather events. There are heatwaves in South Korea and wildfires on the island of Rhodes. Here in water-rich Scotland, drought warnings have been issued despite heavy rainfall. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s latest water scarcity report details how areas of Fife and East Lothian are continuing to experience low river flows and dry ground conditions, which mean that many areas remain on alert. Such considerations bring home the sense of connectivity and fragility of our environmental system and the importance of careful navigation.
It brings me to consider two main conceptions of the vessel form that have been emblematic across this project. The first is the idea of the vessel as a shell that is liable to fracture. A shell has the capacity to provide temporary shelter, comfort and safety. In being breakable—and also repairable—a shell is also representative of a need for constant shifting and adaptation to change. The second is the conception of a vessel as one part in an enormous circulatory infrastructure that sustains our cities, and also our bodies. These infrastructures often only become visible when they break. When such fractures occur we require resilience and knowhow to keep going.
Such a moment, analogous in many ways to our current situation with the climate crisis, is embraced by many of the artists involved in the programme and their engagement with the ideas, forms and implications of the vessel itself. For some artists, the vessel is a carrier of water, a flow, and an act of journeying. For others, it is a connecting force that transports sewage, feeds growing organisms or distributes nutrients around the body. It is a safe haven, a holder and provider of security, a means for care through precarious times. A vessel represents a slower pace, that converses and shares time.
This year’s Art Walk Porty festival programme features a range of place-specific and participatory interdisciplinary artworks and installations, often collaborative in nature, that include sculpture, sound, film, workshops, walks and discussions. We have some special opportunities to engage with unique sites such as Aberlady Nature Reserve as part of a two-day focus of DELUGE project events, and also Seafield Water Treatment Plant, a rare chance to experience a working water management site.
Additionally through our Art in Shops and Art Houses programmes, visitors can experience the creative community of Portobello with 39 locations open over the two weekends of the festival, many including responses to our VESSEL theme.
Art Walk Extended is a new, additional part of our programme this year, extending our reach both in time (right up to early October) and in space, with an exhibition hosted at mote102 in Leith and other events taking place in Craigentinny and Craigmillar. We hope you enjoy this year’s Art Walk Porty festival and that it enables a space for discussion, conversation and sharing across its many intersecting parts. We look forward to welcoming you!
Rosy Naylor is a freelance curator and artist who lives in Portobello, Edinburgh. She set up Art Walk Projects in 2016 commissioning social practice and environmentally-based public art projects around Edinburgh’s north eastern coastline, often working with lost, forgotten or under-visited outdoor sites. Rosy’s background lies in site specific art and walking. She graduated from MFA Glasgow School of Art in 1998.
Art Walk Projects and MAP are delighted to continue our editorial partnership, working together to support contemporary art writing through experimental approaches to commissioning and publishing.
Texts growing out of these commissions will be published on mapmagazine.co.uk and will feature in a printed publication, issue two of Art Walk Journal, in early 2024.
Dr Isabel Pérez-Ramos
Dr Alycia Pirmohamed
Dr Maria Sledmere