Speed of Light Edinburgh

Arthurs Seat, Edinburgh

August 2012
  • Description
  • Programme
  • Commissions
  • Reviews
  • Partners

In August 2012 Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat was the stage for a remarkable fusion of public art performance and sporting endeavour. The iconic mountain was brought to life each night in a mass choreographed act of walking and endurance running as part of Edinburgh International Festival and London 2012 Festival.

A mesmerising visual display unfolded each night on the ascent to the summit as hundreds of runners wearing specially designed light suits activated the intricate path networks below. The walking audience were part of the work, each carrying portable light sources set against the dark features of the hill.

Each individual performance was a product of collective action, and an interaction between movement, light, sound, landscape and weather, offering a rare perspective on the cityscape, night skies and the sea and hills beyond.

Speed of Light extended across seven of Edinburgh’s Festivals in 2012, investigating the physical and emotional aspects to endurance running and the extent to which the power of the mind can override physical pain. A series of co-commissions, lectures, talks, events, related blogs and web portraits were presented in partnership with the Edinburgh Festivals.

“It’s a very minimal piece, this one, stripped back to a meditation on one of our most basic everyday activities – running, walking, moving through the spaces we inhabit. But it reimagines them, as something magical, mystical, sublime.”

– BBC Culture Show

A Legacy

Presented in partnership with the Edinburgh International Festival, Speed of Light was one of the most extraordinary and high-profile events in the 2012 Festival programme. One of only four national projects commissioned by the Legacy Trust UK’s Community Celebrations programme – which aimed to build a lasting legacy from Britain’s hosting of the 2012 Olympic Games – Speed of Light was featured as a signature contribution to the London 2012 Festival programme, which ran from 21 June – 9 September featuring leading artists from around the world.

NVA worked with seven of the Edinburgh Festivals to create a varied programme of events inspired by the themes of Speed of Light.

Edinburgh Art Festival
The Topography of Memory, Edinburgh College of Art

Speed of Light was one of a number of high profile art projects engaging directly with the terrain of landscape during the 2012 festival. Audiences joined artists Angus Farquhar (Speed of Light), Craig Coulthard (Forest Pitch), Claudia Zeiske, Director of Deveron Arts (speaking about Mihret Kebede’s Slow Marathon) and academics Ed Hollis, Neil Mulholland and Angela McClanahan for a discussion on this area of practice.

Katri Walker
Artist’s Talk, Edinburgh Art Festival Pavilion

Katri Walker’s practice explores the space between contemporary art and documentary filmmaking. As part of Speed of Light’s investigation into the culture of endurance running, Katri was commissioned by NVA in partnership with Edinburgh Art Festival to make a new work creating a document or portrait in response to Speed of Light’s community of runners. This event was an opportunity to meet Katri and to hear her talk about her work and her approach to this major commission.

Edinburgh International Science Festival
Power From the People

NVA worked with the Science Festival from the early development of Speed of Light, researching ways to harvest energy from human movement. As part of Generation Science, the national schools programme, the Science Festival devised a workshop Power From the People – looking at some of the technological challenges we faced. Taking the very real challenges of Speed of Light as a starting point the pupils worked with dynamos, learning how they produce electricity, and explored how power can be generated through human movement. Over 45 Primary schools from across Scotland took part from the central belt to the Highlands and Islands.

Edinburgh International Festival
Athletes and Ideals, The Hub

A panel discussion event on what sport means to us today with Angus Farquhar, Creative Director of NVA; runner and writer Robin Harvie, author of Why We Run, a Story of Obsession; and Professor Douglas Cairns, specialist in the ethics of Ancient Greek society at the University of Edinburgh. Part of Edinburgh International Festival’s Encounters programme.

EISF_Power from the people (111)

Edinburgh International Book Festival
Sport: Mind Games

A series of talks and events that delved behind the scenes of the sporting world to offer both real and fictional accounts of what it’s really like to be at the cutting edge of professional competition, from the highs of winning to the drugs and the cheating.

Scottish International Storytelling Festival
Journeys and Evocations: Arthur’s Seat

Coinciding with the presentation of Speed of Light, the latest in a rich history of responses by artists to the iconic site of Arthur’s Seat, the Storytelling Festival published a collection of writings reflecting on the wealth of folklore and mythology of the hill and the surrounding landmarks. The book was published by Luath Press in August, and launched in association with the Edinburgh International Book Festival. A number of related events formed part of the International Storytelling Festival in October 2012.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe
The Making of Speed of Light, Fringe Central

Members of NVA’s team introduced the ambitions of the work, discussed production and design challenges, creative solutions and shared some of the lessons learned along the way. This event was part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe’s Participants Events Programme, a programme of workshops and panel discussions for artists and participants in the Fringe.

Karti Walker: An Equilibrium Not of this World


An Equilibrium Not of this World was jointly commissioned by NVA and Edinburgh Art Festival in response to Speed of Light Edinburgh 2012, and draws on running and specifically hill-running to reflect on humanity’s complex and highly intimate connection to the land.

The work takes its title from acclaimed geographer, Yi-Fu Tuan, a pioneer in the field of ‘humanist’ geography, who married conventional geography with philosophy, art, psychology and religion, to explore how humans relate to and perceive the space around them.

Walker’s dual projection with surround sound conveys an intensely symbiotic relationship between humanity and the environment, in which the body reveals in its interior all the familiar features of a landscape, and external landscape is transformed into interior experience. The work establishes a strong visual conversation between the internal and external, counterposing extraordinary microscopic timelapse sequences of the interior workings of the body, with views of the Scottish landscape as experienced by a hill-runner. It is a formal conceit through which an interior view of arteries can equally be read as the branches of a bush quivering in the wind; a respiration graph becomes an abstract mountain landscape.

Katri Walker, Speed of Light Edinburgh. Photo: Katri WalkerParley: Katri Walker In Conversation

Artist Katri Walker’s multi channel audio-visual installations are equally at home in the worlds of contemporary art, portraiture and documentary film-making. In this Parley event, the artist discussed the meeting points between visual art, documentary and film with Noe Mendelle, an internationally renowned documentary maker, Director of the Scottish Documentary Institute and research professor at Edinburgh College of Art.
This event took place within a major architectural artwork by Krijn de Koning in Edinburgh College of Art’s iconic Sculpture Court.


Related Content