Open Close is a collective of artists, architects, academics and web developers united by an interest in how to make better creative use of the public spaces in cities. During the summer of 2017, the group used art to transform some of Edinburgh's famous Old Town closes.

We spoke to Architecture graduate Eileen Hall who, along with Architectural Design alumna Tamsin Cunningham, founded the group, which grew from a common interest in public space and urban environment discovered during their car-share commute to work.

How it began

During my second year at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA), I became curious about what constitutes our perception of space and place, and started exploring phenomenology and sensory experience, mainly through my research and essay writing.

Later the Art and Architecture Diploma was especially formative to my work. Our tutor encouraged us to explore ideas which we would like to take out into practice, and I chose to study the intersection of art and architecture in installation art, coupled with the science of how we perceive space through the senses and the brain (Place Awareness). The concepts I explored in my dissertation had a direct influence on my reasons to set up Open Close with Tamsin. We had met while working for WT Architecture, and it was on our commute to work that we found common interests in the importance of public space and our urban environment.

After a year of fundraising for our ambitious project, we were ready to take part in the 2017 Architecture Fringe festival.


"We felt that by working collaboratively a richer, more purposeful and effective vision for the Closes could be delivered. Artists and architects can benefit from learning from one another."

Eileen Hall, Architecture graduate and Open Close co-founder

Collaboration

Tamsin and I were drawn to starting Open Close in order to experiment and push the boundaries of what we think of as public space and public art, and the opportunity to learn from different approaches between disciplines became a core aspect of the project. We felt strongly that by working across disciplines allowed participating artists and architects to benefit and learn from one another.

We approached artists and architects whose work we admired and thought would work well together. All collective members share an interest in site-specific work with a focus on crafted fabrication so it made sense to have them collaborate in the project. By using public space to exhibit the project allowed the collective to reach new audiences, including those not traditionally exposed to contemporary art installations or architectural discourse.

What we enjoyed the most was the design and development process. It was of huge benefit to be able to connect with and learn from the various organisations. We also enjoyed being able to connect to a wider international network of creatives looking to experiment with art and architecture in the same way. This happened initially in Edinburgh through the Citylink Festival in 2015, an event that inspired us and played a big part in pushing us to create Open Close.

Scintillators by Toby Paterson
Photography by Eoin Carey
Scintillators, Chalmers and Carrubbers Closes by Toby Paterson
The now permanent Echo Chamber, Trunks Close by Tommy Perman
Photography by Eoin Carey
The now permanent Echo Chamber, Trunks Close by Tommy Perman

What’s next?

During the exhibition, we were asked by the residents of Trunks Close to permanently install ‘Echo Chamber’. and left in place the smaller concrete interventions in Chalmers Close. We are currently in talks with Edinburgh World Heritage and the Council about keeping Michael Davidson's Bench at Chalmers Close and investigating the possibility of installing Toby Paterson’s 'Scintillators' permanently.

Following the exhibition in the summer, we were asked to create an installation for the celebration of the new Queensferry Crossing in South Queensferry, this time a collaboration between Tommy Perman and Tamsin Cunningham who created a colourful design on the steps facing the water.

Alongside the Open Close art installation project, the collective have been developing an online survey titled ‘Open Close: Exploring the Value of Urban Space’. The survey has been designed to explore people’s emotional experience of the built environment and how creative use of space can transform that experience. Created in partnership with St Andrews University, the survey will gather responses and compile research on people’s emotional experiences of the spaces before, during and after the exhibition.


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