Calton Hill Collective
On a wet Wednesday in November, Calton Hill in Edinburgh’s east end may not be the first place that springs to mind as a go-to destination. The views may be splendid, but what do you do once you’re up there and at the mercy of the elements? The answer can be found in a new arts and culture destination at the restored City Observatory site.
A new purpose-built exhibition space with panoramic viewing terrace and restaurant – The Lookout – are among the buildings which will open together as Collective and bring the observatory back into use for the first time since 2009.
Developed as a partnership between Edinburgh restaurant The Gardener’s Cottage and Collective, the Lookout offers seasonal cooking made from local produce, and fantastic views across the city and the Firth of Forth courtesy of floor to ceiling glass windows.
It is built on a cantilever so that it is partially suspended over Calton Hill’s northwest slope and is destined to become a highlight of the £4 million redevelopment project, funded by City of Edinburgh Council, Collective, Creative Scotland, Heritage Lottery Fund, Edinburgh World Heritage, WREN, Wolfson Foundation, Garfield Weston And Architectural Heritage Fund.
The official opening this weekend, is the culmination of an idea that began in 2010 when Collective, an Edinburgh Arts organisation established in 1984 to support new work by artists, first used the site.
Kate Gray, Collective director, explains: “At the time, no one had a lease on the site and it was on the Buildings at Risk register. We were using it for a one-off project that had an end to it, but we could see the potential and began the conversations that led to what we have now as we developed a longer vision for the site.”
Fundraising to redevelop the site began in 2013 when Collective moved to a temporary gallery space on Calton Hill. The finished product is a unique arts venue, featuring the restored City Observatory, City Dome, and a purpose-built exhibition space.
The first work to be presented at Collective goes under the banner title Affinity and Allusion and features new work spanning sculpture, installation, performance, audio work and text by six artists chosen specially by Collective.
The works are vastly different in nature, ranging from Klaus Weber’s Fagman – a design for a contemporary monument that acts as a counter point to the existing patriarchal monuments on Calton Hill, to Catherine Payton’s Time Capsule – a walking tour set in 2168 after Edinburgh is flooded and all that remains are a series of islands formed of the city’s seven hills.
Weber’s Fagman exhibit: A man (far left) stands observing a monument, but the step ladders (right) look mighty high and the man is diminished. How tall is he and the monument? Answer below (photos by Terry Murden)
What the works have in common is that they invite the viewer to question how we view the world around them, an approach that Collective say is central to their vision for a new kind of city observatory.
Gray is keen to point out that the new venue is not a museum, and instead will focus entirely on new work that responds to and engages with the setting. She says: “We’re looking at the site and objects through a contemporary vision of art. We see art as a lens and a tool to engage with the world. We work with contemporary artists to show new work that does that.”
While the work on display may not be to everyone’s taste, and may not make everyone want to make the journey up Calton Hill to see it, the views from the top will continue to provide their traditional appeal, and with the prospect of excellent food and a warm dry setting to rest and enjoy the views, it’s likely to become an increasingly popular destination for people escaping from the city.
Collective Opening Weekend is at Collective, City Observatory, 38 Calton Hill, Edinburgh from 24 to 25 November from 10am to 4pm on both days. Entry is free
Further information at https://www.collective-edinburgh.art/programme
Weber’s Fagman puzzle: the man is a six-inch miniature model. The monument is about eight feet tall.