Art Walk Projects announces SALT, a major year-long public art programme and festival theme

SALT is a new one-year programme of process-led artist residencies and outdoor public art commissions connecting Edinburgh’s coastal ecologies with the global climate crisis.

Each artist has been invited to develop place-specific responses to the ecologies of the coastline of Portobello, paying particular attention to coastal erosion, sea water salinity, local salt marsh habitats, the materiality of salt, and industrial histories of salt production. Together, these residencies and commissions will lead to a range of public art works and community engagement projects across live art, performance, publications, interventions, film screenings, walks, talks, workshops and food events. These will take place across the year, reaching a particular frequency during the annual Art Walk Porty festival (1 – 11 September 2022).

With sea levels set to rise up to a foot by 2050, SALT connects global questions to specific local communities, histories and geographies. In Portobello, salt was manufactured from the 1600s until 1953 using coal to evaporate seawater, and the material traces of these saltpans can still be traced. Nearby, salt marshes provide dynamic and important ecosystems that dampen the impacts of coastal storms. Salt marshes are integral parts of tidal wetland systems, which sequester half of all global marine carbon. These are now being threatened due to rising sea levels, and the ensuing erosion of coastlines and coastal plant ecologies.

SALT consists of five artist residencies. Further new commissions will be announced throughout the year.

Tonya McMullan, co-founder of Infinity Farm – a socially engaged urban agriculture and art project that connects people, plants and pollinators – will examine relationships between microbial activity, coastal erosion and edgeland plant ecologies.

• Recent postgraduate residency: Joanne Matthews, a queer artist interested in leaning into and finding hope in the darkness of the ecological crisis, will explore possibilities of vocal sound art and performance in response to rising sea water levels.

• Artist and chef Mahala le May will trace the importance of salt as an ingredient for cooking and preserving food, engaging with different methods of salt production across Scotland. Responding to Portobello’s own saltpans, le May is working towards a series of food events, talks and workshops that look at how we perceive and communicate taste.

• Artist, researcher and film programmer Natasha Thembiso Ruwona will co-curate a live art programme of Black Ecologies. Through an open call, Ruwona, who was nominated for the Margaret Tait award in 2022, will curate three climate-responsive micro-commissions for artists based in Edinburgh who identify as Black people or people of colour.

Deluge is a hybrid travelling residency that connects three saltmarsh coastlines with one artist and one organisation in each location: Firth of Forth (Art Walk Projects); Morecambe Bay, Barrow-in-Furness (ArtGene); Wadden Sea, Netherlands (University of Groningen). Artists to be announced shortly.