What is wilderness? How do we delineate what is wilderness and what is not? Is the concept of wilderness a cultural construct, or does it only exist in juxtaposition to civilization? Can it be created? Is it something that can be experienced? The term wilderness is derived from the Old English, 'wild-deor' meaning wild deer, or wild animal. Around 1200 the word 'wilderness' emerged, describing a place that is wild, uncultivated and uninhabited. Yet wilderness might be a state of mind as much as it is a physical type of place, and the boundaries between these definitions, distinctions and histories of wilderness are woven into the fabric of the new exhibition VERGES from The Wild Project at Interview Room 11 in Edinburgh.
The exhibition at Interview Room 11 is the second in a series of exhibitions in the UK assembled after a month-long residency in the summer of 2013.
The Wild Project began as a creative initiative, set up by Alexander Stevenson in collaboration with Stan Coenders and the MeetingInZdonov Arts Space in the North of the Czech Republic. Their mission was to provide an unprecedented hands-on international residency/networking event for contemporary artists in Europe.¹
The exhibition features a short documentary film upon first walking in:
Featuring 11 artists who participated in the Wild Project [Melissa Burn, Roos Dijkuizen, Alistair Grant, Danielle Heath, Nathalie Holbrook, Jacek Hübner, Thomas Keyes, Simone Landwehr, Beth Savage, Bobby Sayers and Alexander Stevenson] the show is a collective exploration and cohesive expression of the artists' interpretations of 'Wild(er)'ness.' The documentary featured above provides a wonderful glimpse at the creative process and the way the artists worked together and also on their own in order to exchange ideas and inform their individual practices. A wide variety of video, photographs, multimedia and performance works converge in an exploration of various natural materials and representations of environmental art, how humans meet and interact with the wild, and ideas of becoming wild or connecting to wilderness.
Much of the work is experiential. One must walk inside of a tent, listen to a cassette tape, view a film, or speak to a performer in order to uncover a real sense of this exhibition, which is why it's worth actually seeing for yourself. It reflects both a collective experience of the residency in the Czech Republic while at the same time exhibiting individual artists' interpretations of wilderness, responses to that environment, and how their perceptions may have changed during that experience. The unified body of work successfully portrays an entire experience ofthe perception of wilderness; the experience had by the artists is then passed on as an experience to the visitors.
Interview Room 11 is a fantastic space for this kind of show, in which a group of artists who have already collectively worked together, are able to collectively curate and exhibit a show together. The space itself has an unfinished look to it with rough floors, plywood wall paneling and an unusual oblong floor plan punctuated by windows (it used to be an office building). While this 'unfinished', transitional quality is unusual and obvious, I would argue its current exhibition is better for it. If one way of interpreting wilderness is as a boundary between the civilized and uncivilized environment, perhaps it's suitably 'wild' that the gallery sits in the ironic context of a converted 1960s office block and contains an exhibition about 'Wild(er)'ness.'
VERGES|The Wild Project is on at Interview Room 11, 38 Castle Terrace, Edinburgh 3-17 May.
¹ Leaflet/Catalog from VERGES exhibition, curated by Nathalie Holbrook, Jacek Hübner and Alistair Grant.