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CEIBA and A Festival of Ian Smith: A Celebration of Death

CEIBA and the four-part collection on Ian Smith are two separate exhibitions in Summerhall’s Festival of Ian Smith: A Celebration of Death. While there are more than two exhibitions in the festival, this review will focus solely on CEIBA and art pertaining to Smith.

The first exhibition, CEIBA, is focused on the Mexican celebration of death. Anything but two dimensional and dull, it is a fantastic sensory overload. Upon entering, there are three large glass encased altars filled with Mexican crafts, objects and artwork that represent the ‘ofrendas’, or offerings, on traditional Altars of the Dead. Each has a different theme, and each showcases a different colour from the Mexican flag: green, white and red. Surrounding the altars are glass cases of artwork and vegetables, as well as piles of pine branches. The walls are filled with colourful photographs of Mexican life and of Dia de los Muertos, or ‘Day of the Dead’.

Fraser McLean’s CEIBA is everything you could ask for: colourful, eclectic yet unified, sensory, nostalgic and reflective. It achieves its purpose in representing the Mexican celebration of death, in transporting us to a place that feels both familiar and strange, and in inspiring respect for the organic, complex Mexican culture.

After the vibrant, almost tactile exploration of CEIBA, the homage to Ian Duncan Smith seems sterile in comparison. Most of the exhibition is much more minimalist in its approach. Two consecutive rooms seem to feature nothing but a few massive portraits of Smith by artist Graeme Wilcox. The sterility of these two rooms highlight Wilcox’s realistic and extremely well painted portraiture. Adjacent is a dimly lit hall featuring a take on Smith’s Good Grief installation, containing three lamp posts plastered with notes addressed to those who have passed.

A last room dedicated to Smith contains a bust of his head and a replica of his Glasgow studio, adorned with curios, David Bowie memorabilia, and knick knacks galore. Like CEIBA, this replica studio gives you an understanding of the subject that portraiture alone cannot convey. It is the most dynamic piece on Smith.

There is a disconnect between the two exhibitions that can’t quite be reconciled. While CEIBA is vibrant and spirited, the following rooms focusing on Smith feel comparatively drab. Perhaps had the exhibition on Smith been placed before CEIBA, moving from personal and less cluttered to bustling and spirited, the experience would have felt a more natural emotional and artistic progression. What is still brilliant art on and by Ian Duncan Smith loses aesthetic appeal due to the boldness of the exhibition that precedes it.

At Summerhall until 23rd December

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