Mr and Mrs Reid's Study_cropped.jpg

Mr and Mrs Reid's study at Lauriston Castle
Mr and Mrs Reid's study at Lauriston Castle

In their third year of study, students from the Intermedia - BA (Hons) programme at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) are asked to create work for a particular context. In previous years, this has seen them collaborate with Historic Scotland at Stanley Mills, and the Comrie Development Trust at Cultybraggan Prisoner of War camp. This year, the students have been working with the Edinburgh Museums team at Lauriston Castle. Here, Natalie Nadja and Niklas Gustafson talk to ECA web team intern, Eva Cameron Coutts, about their work in progress…

As far as the history of art practice goes, Intermedia is a fairly contemporary discipline. Students who enrol on the BA (Hons) programme here at ECA investigate a broad range of techniques and platforms, such as installation, video, zines, publications and performance. So teaming this new practice with one of Edinburgh’s oldest preserved buildings may have seemed like an unconventional match.

Lauriston Castle was built in three stages. The initial ‘Scottish Keep’ dates back to 1593, and its last inhabitants, Mr & Mrs Reid, took utmost precision in decorating their home, leaving it in pristine condition to the City of Edinburgh when they passed away in the 1920’s. The castle is full of sumptuous and decadent furnishings from all corners of the globe.

Third year Intermedia students have been given the opportunity to use this incredible resource as part of their studies. To develop a true understanding of environment-based art, they have been asked to use the castle as an exhibition space for a piece of work inspired by a series of visits to the Castle.

Bringing different working techniques to a shared piece of inspiration

This project is two-fold; for many students, it will be the first time they’ve displayed their work in such a public space, let alone a very specific and established setting which brings its own constraints and considerations.

Additionally, the students are bringing very different working techniques to a shared piece of inspiration, hoping to create a display in which each component will be compelling and unique in its own right, but also create a cohesive show which is respectful and reflective of its environment.

Natalie Nadja explained how the class had made their initial visit in November. She found herself interested in the light each room possessed and the experience she felt upon entering.

She returned by herself in December and then again with her class group in January, each time taking new ideas and inspiration from rooms in the Castle. “Having a real brief makes things more interesting, and more challenging. It makes you think outside the box”.

Natalie was fascinated by the little coasters she found in some of the rooms and the focus of her project is on small, clay tiles which she’ll display throughout the Castle in various places.

“It’s amazing how different the ideas are across the class, one person is looking at doing a performance piece. We’ve all had the exact same brief but yet have completely different interpretations.”

‘Why am I interested in that?’

Highlighting this variety in approach is Niklas Gustafson’s project. On the students’ initial visit, Niklas brought a camera so that he could explore the castle through a lens. He explained how this made him actively aware of what he noticed and retrospectively he could look back and think ‘why am I interested in that?’

One notion which he was fascinated with was the idea of preservation and why the castle was so well conserved. “It’s almost like its own little theme park, the main intention is to educate the public but there’s definitely a sense of [art] appropriation amongst the rooms.”

Gif by Niklas Gustafson

Gif by Niklas Gustafson

The Castle is exactly as it was when the Reid’s passed away in the 1920’s and is full of opulent artefacts. This idea of opulence really caught Niklas’ eye too. “There is such widespread luxury, it does a great job of selling the lifestyle, selling the myth.”

Not only are the students’ outcomes very different, their working styles are incredibly unique. Using his original photographs for inspiration, Niklas uses his hands whilst he gets his head around the idea.

He describes his process; “I try to extract the symbols which reflect the feelings of my primary inspiration, and then think about where these exist today. So in this case, the displaying of wealth through media.”

“I tend to start with a collage which I can anchor my thoughts to, but my general technique is video, I find the process really rewarding. You can tell a completely different story with the same image.”

With just a matter of months left before the final exhibit, we can sit with baited breath to see how this castle, which has sat in its flawless state for almost a century, will come alive as a canvas of splendour.

Eva Cameron Coutts will be writing for the ECA web team for the remainder of the academic year. She is currently in her fourth year at Edinburgh Napier University studying Journalism. 

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