Glasgow based artist, Ellie Harrison’s installation ‘After the Revolution, Who Will Clean Up the Mess?’ was commissioned by The University of Edinburgh’s Talbot Rice Gallery to be exhibited in the non-thematic group show, Counterpoint. Inspired by the exhibition dates which run from August 1 to October 18 2014, over-lapping the referendum on Scottish independence, Harrison wanted to “make a piece of artwork that had the potential to be radically different before and after the event”. To achieve this, Harrison installed four confetti cannons in Talbot Rice’s impressive Georgian picture gallery where they would lie dormant throughout the exhibition, activated only in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote for Scottish independence.
Viewing Harrison’s cannons pre September 18, a quiet sense of suspense filled the gallery. Would they, or wouldn’t they be detonated? As a recently relocated British artist, I was yet to decide where I stood on independence when I viewed the exhibition a mere fortnight ago, but Harrison’s views on the referendum were loaded deep within her cannons, confetti being a symbol of celebration, yet the exhibition title suggesting the complexities of the unknown, after all, who will clean up the mess? Consequences aside, a ‘Yes’ vote was required for this art-party to take place.
Harrison invited the public to apply for a chance to be part of her Referendum Results Party, to take place from 11pm on September 18, continuing through the night into the early, and not so early hours of Friday 19 when the result would be announced, a gallery ‘lock-in’ with the chance to witness the live detonation of the cannons. As a recently arrived Billy-no-mates, keen to get my finger firmly in the Edinburgh art-pie on this historic night, I sent Ellie an e-mail, hoping to be a part of her event. Applicants were warned that the event would require endurance, there would be no way out until the result was announced, possibly ten hours spent in the company of up to 16 sleep-deprived strangers. Perhaps it was the promise of wine and a vegan buffet supplied by Edinburgh’s Jordan Valley that swayed me, but I was 100 per cent up for it. Two weeks later, I was being ushered in from the dark by the Talbot Rice team to meet Ellie and my fellow participants. The walk to the gallery was nerve racking. What was I letting myself in for? Did I really want to talk art and/or politics all night? Hadn’t I had enough of meeting new people these past few weeks, what with Freshers’ Week and my first week at the ECA? Too late, I was in and the doors were locked.
Talbot Rice’s main space became a screening room, one screen showing the live stream from Harrison’s installation and the other, live BBC coverage of the election results. Artist Andrew Miller’s sculptural-bench, part of the Counterpoint exhibition, really came into its own as somewhere for us to perch, set up laptops and place our drinks, a bar of sorts. Name tags on, the twelve of us ranging in age from 25-75 hailing from across the UK, introduced ourselves. One by one, we joined Ellie, alongside her cannons, to have an informal chat, which would be live-streamed on the net. We discussed my reasons for wanting to attend the event and what bought me to Edinburgh before scooping up handfuls of blue and white confetti to fill the barrel of a cannon. A real sense of hope and wonder prevailed; having moved to Edinburgh too late to register to vote, I was allowed a feeling of participation on this historic night. Conversation and festivities continued into the night, which felt like a cross between being stuck in an airport lounge with a long-haul flight ahead before you reach your (Scotland/the UK) destination, and finding yourself in the Big Brother house. Eyes glued to the BBC, with a plateful of hummus and a tumbler of wine, our experience was perhaps not so different to that of the rest of Edinburgh’s, piled into the capital’s extra-late night licensed drinking spots.
As the results came in, we cheered, we wailed, we napped and made friends. Ellie made art. The cannons never did go off, an anticlimax of sorts, but the people of Scotland spoke, and as our unique Referendum Results Party demonstrates, the conversation has crept into the unlikeliest of places and will continue long into the night.