Fresh from reviewing The Scottish Endarkenment: Art and Unreason 1945 to the Present, History & History of Art - MA (Hons) student, Eve Ryan, has interviewed its co-curator, Professor Andrew Patrizio. Here’s what he had to say about one of the highlights of this year's Edinburgh Art Festival…
Eve Ryan (ER): The Scottish Endarkenment brings together many of the most important and innovative Scottish artists of recent generations. How did the exhibition come about?
Andrew Patrizio (AP): Like most good ideas for exhibitions, the show evolved out of an ongoing conversation between friends, in this case between Bill Hare - an Honorary Fellow in History of Art at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) - and myself.
Bill and I have been teaching and researching different ways of looking at Scottish art for decades, but the standard histories don’t really capture this sense we had that Scots artists, post-1945, seemed to have something vivid and dramatic to offer that spoke to the aspirations of Enlightenment ideals.
We were interested in the fact that ’the Endarkenment’ clearly flipped the comfortable narratives that Scotland, particularly Edinburgh, likes to tell itself about the Enlightenment. For example, is it too strong to say that, in effect, the Enlightenment merely supplanted one form of violence and domination with another, coded differently but still as pernicious and dangerous?
We knew that we weren’t going to choose artists to merely illustrate this idea but we could at least create a new kind of grouping, using both familiar and emerging artists, to pose a very rich set of questions.
ER: What was the main sentiment you wanted to convey to visitors at this exhibition?
AP: We might say that we wanted people to work (in an enjoyable sense, clearly!) with the word ‘Endarkenment’, which isn’t really a widely-agreed term but immediately seems to say a lot about art and culture.
We appreciate that this puts a lot of emphasis on visitor interpretation, and we’ve emphasised this in the accompanying interpretation and in the tours - basically asking ‘What arises in you when you go around the exhibition that helps you critically assess ‘Enlightenment' through the darkened lens of these artists?’
Good artists usually have this great ability to complicate what seems simple or simplify what seems complicated, and we believe these artists do this with the Enlightenment ideals we seem to have set up for ourselves (or have had set up for us) in the West over the last 250 years or so.
I think most people, having seen the show, get it (each in their own way). We have recently heard that the exhibition visitor figures are fantastic, so something is clearly striking a chord.
ER: Did you come across any obstacles in your pursuit of this?
AP: Not really, although that’s not to downplay just how complicated and intractable exhibition curating is, particularly when you are working in uncharted territory with a brand new idea! This show has been in development for over six years, believe it or not.
Some visitors (and critics) may have struggled with the very open-ended nature of the curatorial approach. They might have wanted more direction, which we’ve tried not to give. But I think most Dovecot visitors have plenty to bring to their visit from their own experience, which is fantastic.
Visitors, in the main, have also enjoyed the fact that this is a premium ‘fine art’ exhibition in a premium ‘craft’ space. So new audiences have likely mixed and got to know Dovecot either for the first time or in a new way. So we hope that Dovecot, ECA/Edinburgh University, the lenders, the funders and the artists feel the project has been worthwhile.
In practical terms, any obstacles have been hugely mitigated by Dovecot’s hosting. The team there is incredibly warm, professional, positive and proactive. They’ve really been behind us and a joy to collaborate with - and I think the artists have found the same (the living ones at least!)
The last point is probably on legacy. Due to funding, we couldn’t produce a full catalogue (though there are some publishers very keen to work on the idea of a book). And it’s not touring. We wondered (and are still wondering) about whether an Endarkenment website might emerge as a legacy of the project, a kind of Frankenstein’s Monster made up of the fragments of the show and its ideas. Or more academic outputs (based around a very spirited conference we hosted in June).
We think the idea has longevity, so we did think there was a benefit from holding off from doing a book/catalogue to coincide with the opening. But the question remains, how to cast a dark shadow now…?
The divided legacy of the Enlightenment era
The Scottish Endarkenment: Art and Unreason 1945 to the Present is on at Dovecot Gallery in Edinburgh until 29th August 2016 (10am - 6pm). The exhibition is supported by Creative Scotland and the Dovecot Foundation.
Andrew Patrizio is Professor of Scottish Visual Culture at ECA. He teaches on our History of Art - MA (Hons) and Modern and Contemporary Art: History, Curating and Criticism - MSc programmes, looking at some of the most recent and vibrant decades in Scottish art. He is also a PhD supervisor.