© Al Smith
  © Al Smith

Development

Angus Farquhar, Creative Director, discusses the narrative for Speed of Light and how the work has evolved.

“I have wanted to create a work on Arthur’s Seat since I moved back to Scotland in 1989, so it has occupied a special place in my imagination. Living in London for 10 years I travelled back north for holidays, work and to visit family and I realised that I was being emotionally affected by the change in landscape as I came north and that higher ground in particular seemed to lead to a rise in feelings of empathy and belonging to a place. I grew up in Edinburgh and to almost all people who have lived there for some time, Arthur’s Seat has a special place in their hearts or minds.

“It is the rarity of being able to stand above where you live to really get a perspective on the remarkable topography that surrounds you and your place within it. Even as a visitor the same can be true on a more superficial level. When I travel to any new town or city I always run or walk to the highest point to see where I am. Over the years there have been many different performances that I have planned for the hill that have not come to fruition. 20 years ago the approach would have been mythical, 10 years ago spiritual, 5 years ago historical and now, based on something simpler and less interpretive – the ideas are focussing on intentional movement through space, over specific terrain.

“All of NVA’s landscape events have focussed on how perception changes as you move through a particular location and how the public ‘completes’ the work by moving through it. In Speed of Light we combine both walking and running. The running featured is of interest because I soon realised that the runners seen at distance lost their human-ness and familiarity and seemed to represent just pure points of energy, this led to pondering on the shape of different physical phenomena, on micro and macro scale, within the known universe rather than what they (the runners) were in actuality.

“The strange angles that the path lines create in the sunken bowl of Salisbury Crags in the dark, mean that you lose clarity of where they are heading and what direction even means in this setting. From my first observations it looked like runners were actually doing the impossible of moving into and out of the hill, giving the movement an almost hallucinatory quality.

“The combination of a conceptual position and practical experienced reality (what works in the space) is how I usually put an NVA landscape event together. As a ground rule it is the observed reality that dictates the final presentation and the conceptual or ideas-based approach has to bend and mutate with what is seen to be effective and best communicates the thematic content.

“I got excited about running the path networks because I couldn’t believe how many routes there were and how a mass articulation of them might make something I hadn’t visually seen before. I liked the fact that the audience/walkers are able to see from many different perspectives, catching the running shapes first from below and then from above as they ascend the mountain.

“This meant that the choreography didn’t have to continually change to hold an audiences attention, rather the topography could become the modulator of an experience from changing viewpoints.

“Few of these questions or ways of workings could be addressed if the runners and patterns were taking place on ground level. I suppose the most obvious but overlooked point to make is that it is about the articulation of the landscape as well as passing on the reality of a bunch of people just ‘doing what they do’.

“I love that as you’re getting higher up and look down you have this wide arc of space between you and the terrain seen below. At night the eye begins to play tricks and at times you aren’t sure if something is close or far away, massive or small. You can of course, discern a strand emerging here, which is that visual distortion is of interest, the place where things are not as they seem, where you cannot so easily assimilate or literally read what is in front of you.

“The work at best can communicate profound and often unarticulated ideas of how we live, who we are and how we are affected by our immediate environment.”