Edinburgh’s Old Town breathes history, sometimes with a roar, and sometimes with a whisper. Traces of the past saturate Night Walk for Edinburgh, the immersive arts experience from Jane Cardiff and George Bures Miller. It makes for an often unsettling, often captivating and consistently fascinating experience.
an often unsettling, often captivating and consistently fascinating experience
The walk begins at the Milkman coffeeshop at the bottom of Cockburn Street. Furnished with a pair of headphones and a small handheld tablet, attendees are sent on a solitary walk through the cobbled streets and shadowed closes of the Old Town. We're led by a video which plays out on the small screen, and by the haunting dreamlike narrative which is led by Cardiff’s soft Canadian tones.
This is one of a series of walks which the two artists have done in locations across the globe. For the old town, the focus is strongly on the literary, with references to Edinburgh’s Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde sprinkled through the walk. Not to mention a reference to The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, by the Borders writer James Hogg.
It is certainly the latter two works which inform the feel of the experience. The video plays out with Lynchian disquiet as dark grates turn into haunted alcoves, people are laid waste by the touch of an ethereal on-screen finger, and scenes and characters appear and disappear into the night. It encourages a constant feeling of threat, which constantly bubbles below the picturesque veneer. Engaging in the experience is to walk the thin and often blurred line between the two.
Indeed, the whole experience is infused with a focus on liminality - day slipping into night, the live world blending with the on-screen action, imagination bleeding into reality. Even the selection of Old Town vents which house cryptic fragments of text represent that feature of a building which marks a breakdown of the internal and external.
When it works best, the sound of whispers in your ear or the cascading footsteps of runners rushing past really pulls you in. At other times, the reality of the Edinburgh streets both compromises and contributes to the engagement with words and images you’re presented with. The canvas for this art is a live city, and it can throw up interesting and unexpected parallels with the onscreen action.
By the end of the walk, you’re advised to take a moment after removing the headphones to recalibrate to the reality around you. While the words and images of the Night Walk leave you at this point, the haunting feeling of the experience continues to linger on.