Talbot Rice Gallery and Edinburgh Art Festival unveiled a new sound installation by artist Emeka Ogboh (b. 1977, Nigeria) at Edinburgh’s Burns Monument on 29 July 2021. The public artwork, co-commissioned by Talbot Rice Gallery and Edinburgh Art Festival, is a response to the ongoing theatre surrounding the UK’s departure from the European Union.
Emeka Ogboh currently lives and works between Lagos and Berlin. His work explores how private, public and collective memories and histories are translated, transformed, transcribed, and engraved in sound; and has been shown in solo exhibitions at Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland (2019); The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, Toronto (2018); Tate Modern, London (2017), as well as documenta 14, Athens/Kassel (2017), Skulptur Projekte Münster (2017) and the 56th Venice Biennale, Italy (2015).
On the 29th January 2020, as the United Kingdom departed the European Union and as a final gesture of farewell, Members of the European Parliament took to their feet in Brussels, held hands and sang Robert Burns’ 'Auld Lang Syne' – a song which has come to represent solidarity, friendship and open doors. The following week, Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh stood in the Robert Burns Monument in Edinburgh and conceived of Song of the Union, a sound installation featuring singers from all 27 EU member states living in Scotland today, as well as one from the recently departed UK. The resulting polyphonic choir gives voice to those who were unable to vote in the 2016 Brexit referendum, and has been created at a time when the post-Brexit reality is still far from resolved.
The recordings were made in Edinburgh and Glasgow in spring 2021, and were programmed and sequenced to create a constantly changing arrangement for a 7-channel sound installation placed inside the historic Burns Monument for the duration of Edinburgh Art Festival 2021.
The Burns Monument provided a resonant site for the work, as further to Robert Burns being Scotland’s national poet and author of 'Auld Lang Syne', the monument is nestled between two significant historical sites: it is adjacent to the Old Royal High School / New Parliament House, the original site prepared to house the Scottish Assembly following the nation’s first (unsuccessful) referendum for a devolved parliament in 1979; and it overlooks Holyrood where the Scottish Parliament sits today.
In addition to the sound installation, an artist’s book was published on the occasion of the exhibition. It includes the 27 'Auld Lang Syne' scores with translated lyrics from all the EU states, alongside essays by musicologist M. J. Grant and Director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations Kirsty Hughes. The book also includes an essay by the project’s curator, director of Talbot Rice Gallery Tessa Giblin, as well as writer and curator Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung. You can purchase it now at the TRG Shop.
Ogboh’s artwork forms part of the commissioning programme for Edinburgh Art Festival 2021, which this year will also include new work from Sean Lynch in a co-commission with Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, a programme of new work curated by associate artist Tako Taal, and the UK and European premiere of Lessons of the Hour by Isaac Julien, in a partnership with National Galleries Scotland.
The new work is commissioned by Edinburgh Art Festival and Talbot Rice Gallery, which is part of Edinburgh College of Art. Supported by the PLACE Programme, a partnership between Edinburgh Festivals, Scottish Government, City of Edinburgh Council and Creative Scotland. With additional support from Goethe-Institut Glasgow, ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen), Reid School of Music at Edinburgh College of Art and Museums and Galleries Edinburgh.