I have a choice of two buses that I can take into the School of Education. The 5 is most direct while the 23 follows a prettier and more interesting route through the city. Stepping off the 23 on George IV Bridge I take a right onto the Royal Mile and follow a historic path down to the University.
Turning right onto the Royal Mile this morning
Seen on old maps of Edinburgh, the Royal Mile resembles the skeleton of a fish: a central spine from which extend hundreds of fishbones denoting the narrow closes that were once a vital part of the city’s life and character. Nowadays there are fewer closes, however they remain an intriguing although easily overlooked part of this deeply historic thoroughfare.
Despite having walked this central part of the Royal Mile hundreds of times I continue to encounter closes for the first time as I wander down to the university. If there is a tendency to overlook some of these closes then perhaps they also represent a missed opportunity in the city’s current life. This is the view taken by the Open Close Project which describes itself as 'an experimental art installation project using sound, light, sculpture, design and visual arts to temporarily re-imagine four of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile closes, transforming them into a sensory open-air gallery.' I've recently been reading Kate McLean's work around sensory maps so was interested to find out what was taking place across the four closes providing a temporary urban canvas for the Open Close Project.
Following my normal routine this morning I took the 23 and stepped off at the usual place. On this occasion though I interrupted my walk down the Royal Mile to visit Carrubbers Close, one of the sites that features in the Open Close project. Walking the length of the close I made sound recordings (extractor fans, passing conversation of office workers, the rattle of case wheels going down steps, drinks being delivered to a hotel) and took photographs (graffiti, signage, brickwork and so on). I've pulled together the gathered images and sounds into this one-minute video:
The video captures Carrubbers Close at a particular moment in time: alongside some of its more permanent fixtures and fittings can be seen a pop-up exhibition of work from the Edinburgh Art Festival which in turn points towards the life that these particular spaces can enjoy. At the same time the video inevitably represents an incomplete record of what I experienced, through the inability of my camera and field recorder to capture some of the sensory phenomena I encountered. Whilst accepting that synaesthesia might allow the viewer to perceive some of the sensory qualities of Carrubbers Close through what is seen and heard, the video isn't able to adequately represent the hardness of the floor or the temperature of the air, even if the images and sounds might be suggestive of the same. That said, in this instance I'm actually fine with the inability of digital devices, as yet, to reproduce the distinct odours rising from the pavement and escaping from public houses I experienced whilst taking photos and making field recordings earlier today. All the same, I like the idea that short videos like this can draw attention to these fascinating and overlooked parts of city, even if I'm not about to take the project on myself.
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I am a Lecturer in Digital Education (Education Futures), within the Centre for Research in Digital Education at The University of Edinburgh.