Nicky Bird & Art Walk Projects, Portobello

How much do we really know about our surroundings? Living in towns and cities, there are fragments of past lives and clues to how the environment has changed scattered all around us, if we look carefully. That careful looking, backed up by detailed research is how artist Nicky Bird is spending her LAND MARK residency with Art Walk Projects, based in Portobello. The starting points for her project are the two bottle kilns close to the shore (dated 1906 and 1909), the only fragments left of the large Buchan Pottery complex, which dominated the area close to the shore, but closed in the early 1970s.

One of the bottle kilns, an alien industrial fragment adrift in a sea of new builds

Portobello is a seaside town between Leith and Musselburgh, east of Edinburgh city centre. It’s a beautiful walk along the promenade, more a place of leisure than of work, but until relatively recently it was an important industrial hub – there was a paper mill and a chocolate factory all within easy reach of the Pottery.

Today a small group, led by Bird, helped to revive a memory of that recent industrial past, through a walk event which told the decorators’ stories. These were the women who painted the ceramics before they were fired in they kiln, who occasionally raked through the spoils to try out their own designs and have them fired on the sly. Like a band of investigators searching for clues we walked around the area and examined maps from different phases of the area’s history.

Classic Buchan Portobello pottery, set against the backdrop of the beautiful kiln bricks

We also looked at examples of the pottery the women had decorated, and two fellow participants told me they recognised the design – it used to be sold in all the tourist shops in the 1970s, but they had never realised it had been made in Portobello itself. It felt good to participate in reviving that part of the town’s story, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for pieces of Buchan pottery in Edinburgh’s shops from now on. Even the most everyday objects can be brought to life through giving a voice to their past, which is why art projects like this one, which evoke memories that have been lost, are so important, especially for communities that have changed as much as Portobello.

Nicky Bird’s residency with Art Walk Projects is culminating with an event in February, so this walk was really a launch for her project. The completed work promises to be one that shakes off the dust that has settled on Portobello’s recent history, and I’ll look forward to seeing what else is revealed.

Edinburgh Art Festival is here

It’s been a bit quiet on the blog recently while I’m trying to knuckle down and get my dissertation done. Apologies! However, Edinburgh Art Festival has just opened and I’m going to try and see as many of the exhibitions as I can and write about them on here over the next couple of weeks, so watch this space.

So far, the only things I’ve booked are both related to the same work, Night Walk for Edinburgh by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. My slot for the walk is next Sunday, and it sounds like an unusual and immersive experience. From what I can gather, the artists have created a site specific work which you carry with you on a walk around the streets of central Edinburgh, using a tablet and headphones. They become your tour guides in an experience which mixes reality and fiction. The artists are delivering the keynote lecture at the National Gallery of Scotland this evening, which will cover what it was like to make the work in Edinburgh, and will touch on their art practices more generally.

I’ll be back with more updates as and when I get to more Art Festival exhibitions and events. In the meantime, here’s a photo of some excellent curation I noticed recently at the National Gallery in London, pairing two recent works by Sean Scully, Landline Star and Landline Pool (both 2017) with the work that inspired them, The Evening Star (1830) by J. M. W. Turner.