There's more to national identity than bawling out 'Flower Of Scotland' at sports events. The International Festival's CULTURAL REFLECTIONS series puts questions about art and Scotland into a bigger picture.
Words: Alan Morrison
So much to do. so little time. It’s tempting to turn August in Edinburgh into a month of cultural cramming, rushing from show to exhibition to show without leaving any time for the art on offer to settle down into a coherent state. Cultural Reflections. the International Festival’s week—long series of discussions and debates, gives the brain some breathing space while also putting into context those diverse ideas about art and Scottish identity that are currently ﬂoating around in the air.
‘The aim was to reflect on notions of nationhood, self and culture,’ explains the Festival’s Sally Hobson. ‘We’ve brought together as broad a view as possible — anthropologists and writers, comedians and football commentators — because all these people say who we are as a nation.’
Among those taking part are composer James MacMillan, author A.L. Kennedy, actor-director Peter Mullan, football broadcaster Bob Crampsey, medical ethics professor Sheila McLean and Deputy Minister for Culture and Sports Rhona Brankin. Topics up for discussion include concepts of Scottish culture and identity as viewed through the modern media, storytelling, humour and cinema. The programme is organised into four events per day, which move through art and academia into more buoyant evening debates, and allow for audience questions and comment.
‘Creativity is not the monopoly of artists,’
28 must 5—12 Aug 1999
'On one hand, it means a huge amount to me to be Scottish; on the other hand, it means so much that it's not worth thinking about'
From top clockwise: A.L. Kennedy, Gillies MacKinnon, James MacMillan, Liz Lochhead and Peter Mullan
says Hobson. ‘Artists are very good at it — that’s what they do for a living — but we’re all in a sense creative. Creativity and art can be seen as being way up there, especially when associated with the Festival. But that’s not true. If you listen here, you’ll hear the humanity behind the big words and the barriers will start to disappear. One of the difﬁculties for us is to get across this idea that what happens on a stage or in a concert hall is about life. It’s about the same life that you take into a supermarket, the same life you take home.’
One of the people taking part is poet and playwright Liz Lochhead who, along with ﬁlm director Gillies MacKinnon, will discuss how ‘being Scottish’ affects her work. ‘Being Scottish is such a big hit of who I am, that I don’t have to do anything about it to do “Scottish” work,’ Lochhead says. ‘If I write a play like Blood And Knives, which is about Byron and Shelley, then it’s still a Scottish play because I’m Scottish — I don’t have to write about Scotland to be Scottish. But on the other hand, if I do write about Scotland, that doesn’t mean it’s not an international bit of work either. On one hand, it means a huge amount to me to be Scottish; on the other hand, it means so much that it’s not worth thinking about.’
The timing of Cultural Reflections — post-Parliament, pre- Millennium — is no coincidence, although Lochhead reckons the questions raised are ones that artists in Scotland have been asking themselves for decades. ‘Identity is a strong subject for any artist in whatever medium,’ she argues. ‘In fact, it’s the one that you probably start off with.’
For Sally Hobson, however, the timing is crucial. ‘I don’t think this would have happened last year - or next year,’ she says. ‘It’s almost palpable at the moment, people questioning identity and their sense of self, but that confusion could be a good thing if all these little crystals of thought come together to create a large picture of who we are.’
Liz Lochhead and Gillies MacKinnon (International Festival), The Hub, 473 2000, 9 Aug. 6.30pm, £5. For other Cultural Reflections events. see Festival Listings supplement.