Edinburgh’s famous ‘North Bridge’ in the heart of the city centre – connecting Princes street and the Old Town – required extensive restoration. An agreement was made between Edinburgh City Council and Jack Arts that during this restoration the structure would be covered with a design by Patricia McGrath echoing elements of the bridges design features, with large areas along the length of the bridge left for Public Art. Martin Gray was selected as the initial featured artist and developed a photographic installation, working with McGrath on layouts, to ensure the work was sympathetic to the whole effect. Each panel is an impressive two metres high and the work, which is still in place, has been widely admired by the public and praised by critics.

ARTIST’S STATEMENT:

The idea behind this North Bridge public arts initiative is to explore modern multicultural Scottishness and community.

It celebrates the rituals of work and play: waiting for a bus, a daily stroll, a visit to a favourite cafe, a personal fashion statement, cheering on our team, a warm embrace, bracing the elements, or both! These are small moments when seen against this legendary backdrop steeped in ancient history. Recently we’ve been reminded how important everyday joys are to leading our best lives. Fresh histories are being made all the time: new hopes, dreams, joys and stoic fights against adversity.

Countless generations have seen a millennium of challenges come and go. That backdrop reminds us. The people we share it with remind us that the world’s most magnificent cities are as much about community as anywhere else and resilience depends on an abiding togetherness.

The recent past feels more like another era than ever before in our lives. I hope the images evoke the value of staying strong, being good to each other and working towards our local and global communities being open and safer again. Maybe we need to readdress who and what we choose to celebrate. Certainly, we should never again take for granted the ordinary interactions of daily life.

Troubled times show us more than ever the importance of public service and humble acts of kindness and loyalty, not to mention the enormous bravery of some of our citizens. All to help to find a way to share great places, as reflected in this project.

“I discovered Martin Gray’s photographic installation on ‘North Bridge’ as part of my research for the cultural strategy at Edinburgh Park. I was struck by the way it was engaging local people and tourist visitors through a blend of architectural and human character – it was a creative contrast to site a thoughtful arts project in the midst of such a bustling city centre space – i feel its important that artists have opportunities to show their projects in public spaces which are high profile, and that these interventions maintain a positive balance between advertising and corporate competition for space. For an international city such as Edinburgh these issues are even more critical to maintain local distinctiveness, and the unexpected ways in which visual artists can animate spaces and engage people are so important to sustain when the public realm is under great pressure”.

Matthew Jarratt, International curator, public arts consultant and Visiting Professor of practice at Newcastle University

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