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Alexia Holt on Cove Park's Scotland + Venice journey - from Argyll to the Biennale and back again

It's fair to say that Charlotte Prodger's SaF05 has already made quite a splash at the 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia.

Described as "captivating" (Adrian Searle, The Guardian), the commission is the last in a trilogy of videos that began with Stoneymollan Trail and was followed by BRIDGIT - which went on to win the Turner Prize.

Commissioned by the Scotland + Venice partnership, the work has been curated by Linsey Young with Cove Park: an arts organisation based in Argyll and Bute, whose involvement has been led by Associate Director Alexia Holt.

We are delighted we can tour SaF05 to communities similar to ours in Argyll: those that might not otherwise have the opportunity to see work commissioned by the Scotland + Venice partners- Alexia Holt, Cove Park

Today, Cove Park are celebrating the UK premiere of SaF05, which is taking place at The Tower Digital Arts Centre in Helensburgh. It will then go on to tour Scotland: the only time in the project's history that the newly commissioned work will be shown in Scotland at the same time as Venice.

"The idea to tour the commissioned work across the west coast, highlands and islands simultaneously with the presentation in Venice was part of our original proposal," Alexia explains.

"Charlotte grew up in rural Aberdeenshire and, as Glasgow is now her home, she also has a very strong connection with the west coast.

Patrick Staff

"The landscape in the highlands and across the west coast is very important to her and has featured in earlier works. As Cove Park is based in Argyll, we felt a tour across the west coast, highlands and Islands would reflect both Charlotte’s own experience and interests and our location.

"Ensuring the work can be seen at the same time by an international audience and an audience in Scotland is important to everyone in this project and, from the perspective of an arts organisation based in a rural location, we are delighted we can tour SaF05 to communities similar to ours in Argyll: those that might not otherwise have the opportunity to see work commissioned by the Scotland + Venice partners."

SaF05 in Venice

Prodger’s new work draws upon multiple sources – archival, scientific and diaristic – and combines footage from a number of geo-graphical locations (the Scottish highlands, the Great Basin Desert, the Okavango Delta and the Ionian Islands).

This autobiographical cycle of the work traces the accumulation of affinities, desires and losses that form a self as it moves forward in time.

Thousands of visitors have already experienced it at the Biennale. "The work in Venice is presented in a former boat yard in an area known as the Arsenale Docks," Alexia explains. "It’s an area of work and of everyday family life.

"This context felt very special and echoed our own location in Argyll. Charlotte and Linsey gave a great deal of thought to the design of the exhibition space and the venue itself: the work is presented meticulously and the quality of the sound in particular is just amazing."

A warm welcome for visitors

Alexia notes that the welcoming nature of the space is also key to its appeal.

"The team have also created a very welcoming environment," she says. "Visitors are welcome to sit outside - on benches and around tables designed by Simon Harlow - overlooking the water and to have mint tea made from mint planted at the time the work was being installed.

"The exhibition assistants make a huge contribution to this atmosphere and make sure everyone benefits from a very warm Scottish welcome!"

That warm welcome will no doubt be replicated throughout the Scottish tour.

"Members of the Scotland + Venice team will be present at every screening," Alexia says, "and the exhibition assistants will also be taking part, presenting the work to audiences in their own home communities.

"At each screening we will also show a short film The Making of Scotland + Venice: this film, by the Glasgow-based filmmaker Martin Clark, sets the Scotland + Venice project in to context and focuses in particular on the role of the exhibition assistants and their experiences."

Cove Park's relationship with artists

Working with Charlotte Prodger has been a special experience for Alexia. "Having worked with Charlotte in 2010 immediately after she graduated from the MFA course at Glasgow School of Art, it has been amazing to work with her again at such an exciting moment in her career.

"From my perspective, working at Cove Park, it is so rewarding to not just keep in contact with the artists that have taken part in our programme, but also to support the development of their work in different ways and at different points as their career develops."

"This has been a truly collaborative and project: Charlotte has worked with some fantastic people on the production of SaF05 - including several former Cove Park residents - and I have enjoyed this aspect of the programme enormously."

The Scottish Tour takes place in various venues until 21 November 2019. Full details can be found at scotlandandvenice.com. The work is also showing at the 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. See it at Arsenale Docks, S. Pietro di Castello, 40, until 24 November 2019.

This article was published on 27 Jun 2019