Edinburgh Art Festival is running at the moment, concurrently with all the other August festivals in town. I got to the Embassy Gallery today, to see Our Andrew of the Flowers – a solo presentation by Andrew Black, a Glasgow-based artist.
Andy is a friend and I’d been looking forward to this for a while. I knew I was interested in the themes of ‘queerness, gayness, maleness’ that he was thinking and working around, but even so I was swept away by how much in the show there was that I connected with. The piece I spent longest with was ‘A man struggling with a huge faggot of wands’ which combined film footage of Scottish remote coastal landscape with superimposed transcript (rolling film-creditwise) of diary-like pieces in different voices that told a story of a trip made by a group of queers around the Highlands at the time of the Brexit vote.
This piece was the first art I’ve seen that deals explicitly with Brexit, so I guess that being dealt with was an unexpected bonus, in addition to the queer themes I was looking forward to seeing explored, and it all resonated hugely with me because I had been travelling around the same part of Scotland at exactly the same time with some friends, and was able to map and think about and compare my experience with that recorded in the work. I remember waking up in a hostel in Ullapool to find out the news, and the same feelings of wondering who around me had voted what, being angry at perceived ignorance, seeing the EU-funded signs on many rural infrastructure projects….. In the narrative Andy put together, the protagonists wake in a tent that day, and there is talk about their physical sensations on processing the news, passing through Fort William, thinking about communities they’re linked to or with elsewhere and how it all adds up to how visible these elements of their identities might be to those sharing the same landscape.
The question foremost in the piece, of how the queer can exist outside of the urban context is one I’ve thought about a fair bit, and in my experience, many remote livers are happy to see you! The way the outdoors industry markets itself though, can be pretty excluding, with straight stereotypes and expectations abounding in brochures and b&b’s. And even where situations turn out to be receptive, there are many moments of wondering how one is being perceived. One of the diary sections in the piece records a feeling at a Glen Brittle campsite of the circus having come to town.
I’d loved seeing Andy’s Instagram pictures of his time on Skye, of him and his partner and friends swimming naked at the Fairy Pools, as I’d done with my friend Viki a couple of years before. In my parallel trvelling at the time of Brexit news, I’d just come down from participating and reading at a community festival in Orkney, and was still thankfully buoyed by the knowledge that queer-friendly communities can set up and connect in the remotest of places. I feel encouraged too by Andy’s work to keep getting out there and living as I need and desire to. As one of the voices recorded said, ‘the sea is for me too’.
Andrew Black’s ‘Our Andrew of the Flowers’ is on at Embassy Gallery until 28 August 2016. The gallery is open Thursday to Sunday 12–6pm. Go!