Interviews: Horizon Showcase

The return of the Horizon showcase in 2023 promises another round of boundary-pushing and thought-provoking work from England. Some of the creatives involved in the programme tell us why it challenges the traditional Fringe model

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A Crash Course in Cloudspotting
Photo by Paul Samuel White
Published 27 Jul 2023

After a successful in-person debut at the Fringe last year, the Horizon showcase is coming back for seconds. With the aim of supporting English artists in forging international connections, Horizon brought to the festival some of 2022’s most compelling, challenging works – and this year promises to be no different.

There’s always much talk of what the Fringe can do for an artist’s career. There’s been decidedly less on how the festival we love is increasingly under (rightful) scrutiny as to how it perpetuates inequalities within the arts. Horizon was part of a sea-change last year when its Project Director, Verity Leigh, published a letter titled ‘Working for Change,’ setting out their ambition to ‘positively influence the Fringe ecology’:

"Even when [artists] are paid to participate, as they are with Horizon, for many artists the quick turnarounds between shows, performing in a non-purpose-built venue with limited tech, or sharing a space with seven other shows can present barriers to participating," wrote Leigh. "They (and we) worry about venue staff and other artists being exploited, the space for audience care, and how accessible something of this scale can really be."

But Horizon did not merely pay lip service to the idea of a more supportive, accessible Fringe. Their programme this year bears evidence of their mission to promote brilliant, thought-provoking works that do not conform to festival conventions.

"Horizon is a fantastic opportunity to bring a work to the Fringe that makes absolutely zero sense in a traditional Edinburgh festival financial model," says Rachel Mars, the artist behind FORGE, one of the works in the showcase. Over three days at the Lyceum’s workshop on Roseburn Street, Mars will be welding a copy of the infamous ‘welcome’ gate at Dachau, which was stolen and then replicated in 2014. Though audiences must book a time slot, they can stay and watch Mars work for as long as they like. Similarly, Karen Christopher and Tara Fatehi’s eight-hour durational performance, Always Already, allows their audiences to come and go throughout the day as they weave together song, dance, and textile practices.

Always Already, photo by Jemima Yong

These longer, more flexible runtimes create space for visitors to absorb work in their own time. They also open up new possibilities around relaxed viewings and accessibility – a critical challenge given the festival’s famously gruelling pace. This aspect is particularly resonant in Raquel Maseguer Zafe’s audio performance, A Crash Course in Cloudspotting, wherein participants are invited to lay down and rest while listening to personal accounts of those living with invisible disabilities. "It’s very difficult to bring site-specific work to the Fringe because of the model of many companies sharing spaces with short changeover times," says Zafe. "So site-specific work isn’t well represented at the Fringe, when it’s such an alive art form in contemporary theatre, dance and live art. Horizon makes it possible for us to bring this work that also challenges and resists the fast-paced rhythm of the Fringe."

Given that these works don’t fit the typical festival mould, finding the right venue is "always a challenge," admits Zafe, but "[also] an adventure!" The power of site-specific work so often lies in the unique, mutually enhancing relationship between performance and space, wherein the performance might reshape audience understanding of familiar sites. For example, another showcase highlight, Ray Young’s BODIES, explores ideas around climate justice in a swimming pool.

Such works, which are designed to be experienced outside traditional performance spaces, must take extra pains, with more to risk – but all to gain. "FORGE has certain requirements of space size, natural light, airflow, safety for metal work, appropriateness of site in terms of its history and feeling, etcetera," says Mars. "We've learnt over previous iterations that natural light and access to the world outside is glorious and necessary. This work needs to happen in the world, where you’re watching the metalwork and you can also hear birds, the weather – where you step back into the day having had whatever experience you’ve had. The world doesn't stop when you are with the work."

Forge, photo by JMA Photography

Taking performances outside the black box also allows for the work to be brought into its wider community in new, meaningful ways. As Zafe explains, Cloudspotting has thus far been performed in a library, a gallery, and a studio theatre. "Every space we place the work in affects the audience journey in and out of the piece," she says. This shifting context is particularly vital in a work that’s re-framing how we conceive of rest – as something that’s worthy of our respect, even a creative force; but also essential to our everyday lives. "So it’s a piece that plays with scale, with place and connection. To elevate rest, we want to place the piece in 'high art' contexts, and we want to place it where our community will encounter the work."

Outreach is a similarly important component of Mars’ work in FORGE. "We always host public conversations alongside the work that are about the 'what's up' and 'what next' for memorials in that place." Mars is currently working with the Edinburgh Art Festival to tap into current debates happening in the city, particularly around the capital’s links to the slave trade. "In terms of the Fringe, I think FORGE asks some questions about work and labour – what it is, what compulsion there is to repeat it, who controls it, and who benefits from it. For a festival that has historically exploited the labour of artists for the financial gain of not-the-artists, I think it’s an interesting context."