A DARKENED room in Edinburgh during the Edinburgh festival month of August is nothing new. Usually, however, darkened rooms are filled with people; both performing and watching. All the world is a stage.

At Institut français d’Écosse in the heart of Edinburgh's New Town, a small darkened room plays host to a quieter, more reflective performance in the shape of Heather Lander's 16-minute looped "immersive sonic light sculpture", Nearer Future.

There is no stage in Lander's installation. There is simply a room with white walls, a fireplace and a carpet. A floor-to-ceiling inverted perspex "tent" takes centrestage. This perspex structure acts as a barrier for the sound and the projected beams of light.

A soundtrack, composed by Robert Bentall, is all digital clicks and string-plucking. It lulls onlookers into a trance-like state as rays of multi-coloured light shimmer all around the room. Blues, purples, yellows and white hot beams of geometric lines rise and fall around the perspex, onto the walls and the carpet. I sat through three cycles of this mesmerising 16-minute loop and it made me feel as though I was locked in an eternal cycle of digital daybreak. I didn't want to leave and rejoin the real world.

A commission by Glasgow-based arts house, Cryptic, for biennial sound festival, Sonica 2017, Nearer Future is receiving its world premier as part of this year's Edinburgh Art Festival (EAF) before heading to Glasgow in October.

Originally from Portland, Oregon, Lander graduated from the Glasgow School of Art’s MFA in 2015 where she was awarded the Bram Stoker Medal for the most imaginative work of the year. During 2016, she presented video installations with Cryptic Nights at Glasgow's CCA, Glasgow International with Simon Harlow at The Briggait and The Hidden Door Festival in Edinburgh.

There's also a commission on the horizon by Enterprise Music Scotland to create a new projection installation to accompany an orchestral composition by Colin Broom, to be played live by an amplified string quartet.

She is clearly one-to-watch.

Before I sat down to write this review, I read a post on Facebook from ex-Herald art critic Clare Henry, bemoaning the poor showing of visual arts in Edinburgh this year's festival. "I despair at the thin, weak, poor showing of the visual arts at the Edinburgh Festival," she wrote. "An all time low. Almost nothing to please or feed the eye." Many people – including me – waded in. Henry's beef was that in days gone by, visual art was part of the "official" festival but has now been hived off into the EAF.

So far, apart from the big blockbuster exhibitions at the National Galleries of Scotland, I have only dipped a painted pinkie post-holiday toe in the EAF waters – Nearer Future being one. But I'd contest that Henry is being harsh. The visual arts community does what it can against a backdrop of perennial cuts and an ever-evolving landscape of thought on what art actually is in the second decade of the 21st century.

EAF, which is the "youngest" of Edinburgh's eleven festivals, has a huge programme which includes over 30 exhibitions curated by galleries, museums, and artist-run spaces.

The festival's commissions programme this year sees eight artists exploring the legacy of town planner, conservationist, social activist and all-round polymath, Sir Patrick Geddes, offering access to some of the more hidden corners of Auld Reekie. I’m hoping to spend a day moseying around them soon.

Henry is still not impressed. "Poor videos, gimmicky inflatables, pop up tours, one-off talks, performances or films, do not a Festival make," she posted on social media.

The thing is… in 2017, they do. You pay your money (at the big public galleries shows anyway) and you take your chances. I'm glad EAF exists because even if I don't get to see or experience it all, people are still fighting to keep it in the mix.

Installations like Lander's Nearer Future are the future. Where exactly has technology taken us? And more importantly where are we going? For all that, there's still room for the traditional fine arts disciplines of drawing, painting and sculpture. Come on in….

Heather Lander: Nearer Future, Institut français d’Écosse, Randolph Crescent, Edinburgh until August 28.


Nearer Future will be at the CCA in Glasgow for Sonica 2017 from October 26 to November 5. On October 28, Robert Bentall will perform the soundtrack live.