The Observers’ Walks were the inaugural commissions for Collective’s new space at the City Observatory on top of Calton Hill: a series of downloadable audio guides, specially created by artists to be listened to on Calton Hill, reflecting on its extraordinary character and history.
(Outset Scotland also supported Collective’s fundraising auction in March 2013, which raised £67,000 towards their redevelopment of the City Observatory.)
Memorialmania, Outwith, and The Artist and The Gravedigger: After D.O. Hill are all available from the Collective gallery, located at the top of Calton Hill. They are also currently free to download from Collective’s website, along with maps showing the route of each walk.
Ruth Ewan and Astrid Johnston, Memorialmania, 2013, 54 mins
Launching the series, Ruth Ewan and Astrid Johnston presented Memorialmania, their guide to the monuments and geology of Edinburgh’s Calton Hill, narrated by Tam Dean Burn and Ruth Milne.
Centring on the Political Martyrs’ Monument, this tour reveals the stories behind the glaciated landscape of Calton Hill, and the ‘rocks’ we have placed upon it. The Political Martyrs’ Monument is a large obelisk in the Old Calton Cemetery, which can be seen from the top of Calton Hill. The monument commemorates five campaigners for political reform from the late 18th century who were influenced by the ideals of the French Revolution. The five were found guilty of sedition and transported to Australia in 1794 and 1795.
To accompany their audio work, Ewan created a trio of limited edition prints, informed by research undertaken for Memorialmania, and inspired by political banners and popular banter from the era. Each print was produced as an edition of 20 by the historic Robert Smail’s Printing Works in Innerleithen. A full set was gifted by Outset Scotland to the City Art Centre in Edinburgh.
Bedwyr Williams, Outwith, 2013, 20 mins
Outwith is performed by Scottish actor and writer Hilary Lyon. The speaker issues instructions, prompting the listener to project themselves, disembodied, onto the rooftop garden of a contemporary Scottish hotel (which is visible from Calton Hill). The listener is invited to spy on the hotel’s imagined inhabitants and witness their tribulations and idiosyncrasies. Williams’ practice spans live performance, film and installation. He often observes the banalities of existence, but does so with both tenderness and sardonic wit.
Tris Vonna-Michell, The Artist and The Gravedigger: After D.O. Hill, 2014, 17 mins
The third audio work in the Observers’ Walks series was made by Tris Vonna-Michell. The Artist and The Gravedigger: After D.O. Hill, draws on the history of two significant buildings on Calton Hill – St Andrew’s House and Rock House. Built on the site of the old Calton Jail, St Andrew’s House is the headquarters of the Scottish Government. Rock House is now a residential property, but was the first photography studio in Scotland, established by Robert Adamson who worked their with the pioneering calotype photographer David Octavius Hill.
Central to the work is a tension between lived experience and historical accounts; layered audio weaves together a walking tour of St Andrew’s House with extracts performed from Eduardo Cadava’s book Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History (1998); a meditation on philosopher and theorist Walter Benjamin’s use of the language of photography to inform his conception of history.
Vonna-Michell is known for his performances and story-telling actions, constructing narratives using found photographs and arcane ephemera, and often deploying antiquated technologies of recording and projection. He was nominated in 2014 for the Turner Prize.