At the entrance to this year’s Society of Scottish Artists’ Annual Exhibition, visitors are faced by a pile of vintage luggage, opened to reveal video screens that take us on a variety of intriguing journeys.
You find this timely reminder of art’s ability to take us on travels of the imagination at the august Royal Scottish Academy, right at the heart of Edinburgh on Princes Street.
Once more, it is hosting the SSA’s showcase of nationwide artistic talent, with a fair representation from Courier Country.
This suitcase-based installation has been devised by Tayside’s moving-image collective CutLog, showing with the Society for the second time.
The video group have invited artists from around the world to contribute to their shared work Essential Travel.
Its name comes from pandemic-imposed restricted movement, though participants have been inspired in many different directions.
Kraftwerk in the mix
Local artists Gair Dunlop and Lucy Smith, for example, have set German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk’s track Europe Endless to the incongruous sound of handbells for an ambiguous paean to our continent.
Cancelled last year due to lockdown, the exhibition provides a platform for both established members and newcomers.
Among the youngest entrants are recent graduates from Scotland’s five major art schools, including Duncan of Jordanstone School of Art and Design.
DJCAD graduates from last summer
For 2021, organisers have awarded slots to ex-students from the past two years, so DJCAD is also represented by last summer’s graduates, including Dunfermline-raised Ellen Mitchinson.
Finishing her course under Covid conditions proved a particular challenge she remembers, and not just for practical reasons.
“It was hard to find motivation when thrown completely out of your usual routine,” Ellen says.
“It really showed the importance of having places to create and being around creative peers both in and out of education.”
Mitchinson’s large, colourful canvases that focus on the female form dominate opposing walls of one of the Academy’s high-walled ceilings.
Taking a different perspective on our physical selves is Newport ceramicist Jill Skulina, who in another room displays her deformed pots on a collapsed table.
Rather than the result of accidents in the kiln, Jill’s bulbous forms arise as the artist uses her own body to misshape her handmade pots.
While playing in her studio, Jill remembers she developed an urge to poke a finger into one of her creations.
From there, the artist felt she could explore feelings about her body and personal trauma she had recently begun to examine through counselling – hence the work’s title Yet to be Explored.
‘This body is all we have’
Jill says: “I wanted to give the pots a sensual bulbosity reminiscent of fleshy body parts and made in such a way as to show appreciation of the lumps of fat, muscle and bones that carry us through the world.
“This body is all we have and it’s an incredible waste of brain power if we don’t do anything other than love it in spite of its pains, physical limitations, fatty bits, hairy bits or weird bits. By working towards better mental health we can love our physical selves better.”
For several years now, Skulina, a member of Dundee Ceramics Studio, has been based at Wasps Studios in the former Meadow Mill jute works.
One of her neighbours, Calum Wallis, took advantage of an empty space there to apply his drawing skills on a huge scale.
Given access to a disused room in April, he used its walls to create a work inspired by his love of Arbroath’s famous red cliffs.
Raised in Ross-shire, Wallis graduated from DJCAD in 2017. Still based in the city, the Angus coast has long provided an escape for him, he explains.
Inspired by Arbroath cliffs
“There is sea and wind and waves, and such visual variety of rocks, which are really grippy and so nice to run around on,” Wallis says.
“From Dundee they’re a fantastic nearby spot to get blasted by the elements. Everything about those cliffs appeals to me.”
Wilson used the industrial space to create 86 Bricks, a portrayal of his memories of the cliffs based on photographs he has taken on many visits there.
The title refers to the many panels of canvas and paper he has built up, a third of which is finally on show to the public at the Academy.
The SSA Annual Exhibition runs at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, until November 23