There is something of a buzz in RSA galleries as we walk in, a press view that seems to have come in the midst of installation, the art still being labelled and hung, trestle tables scattered about the gallery with pens, papers, tools of the trade.

Artists and gallery technicians hunker over their work.

“Are you on the awards committee?” someone asks cheerfully as I peer at an A4 print-out taped to a wall underneath a collection of intricate folded paper and silver jewellery by Isabel Distassi.

In another room, three women stand under recent Duncan of Jordanstone graduate Calum Wallis’ spare and beautiful prints of mountain sides and geologies, hanging, as if drying, from one of the art college’s old print-drying racks.

“How many labels have we got?” says one. “Five…” says another doubtfully.

“And how many prints are there?” “Seven…” A raised eyebrow, and they are off to find the artist.

And yet beyond this lively bustle, on the walls and the floors, is some huge variety of work, as always in the annual Open exhibitions for artists who are members of either the Scottish Society of Artists or Visual Arts Scotland, this particular joint venture encompassing the VAS’s emphasis on applied arts and designers and the SSA with its concentration of contemporary Scottish artists.

It is the first time the two organisations have exhibited together, combining the concerns of both societies in a fine and varied showcase for contemporary art and design.

There is perhaps some disjunct between the curated sections and the Open exhibition, for while the small paintings and drawings, collages and mixed media works are stacked up on the walls in a number of rooms, requiring a slowing-down, a thorough survey, the curated sections necessarily give each artist more space to inhabit the room.

There is a showcase from the Hebrides, entitled Larach, a collaboration with An Lanntair in Stornoway, which includes the evocative photographic landscapes of Alex Boyd and the disintegrating interiors of John Maher. There are works here familiar from recent degree shows, as part of the Ones to Watch series.

I enjoyed another look at Edinburgh College of Art graduate Rebecca Heselton’s Floating Villages, an installation of structures inspired by a certain type of Cambodian house, installed here in a simple white cubicle, the DIY assemblages of structures on stilts made of wooden struts and applied cardboard, taped and tied in a

mish-mash quilting of material, as if built up over time, with necessity, to answer an unknown function.

The lot revolves on a dais, the

shadows playing out on the white walls beyond, intertwining, hypnotic, as

if thrown by firelight, shadows in the cave.

It chimes, at the other end of the entrance hall, with Edinburgh artist and architect Tim Taylor’s Sacred Vessels, an ongoing project based on the Water Tower pictures of Bernd and Hilla Becher, created, painstakingly one imagines, in matchsticks, a tiny miniature world of curious structures, each enclosed, shut off, arranged on a low pedestal.

There is a glass showcase in collaboration with Craft Scotland, then a series of interesting work from applied artists vying for the Inches Carr Mentoring Award.

In another room, some innovative product design from recently-graduated artists, from Natasha Duda (Gray’s School of Art, product design, 2017) and Kasey Hou (Edinburgh College of Art, product design MFA, 2017).

Hou’s well-thought out Repairable Flatpack Toaster is neatly displayed in its constituent parts of sheet metal, next to a working model, with its pleasing drop-down toasting mechanism and its slightly disturbing note on the dial, “Fire Risk”.

Nearby, Duda’s mobile workspace is effectively a wood and glass rucksack – entirely impractical yet eminently beautiful – with a roll-out wooden “desk” and laptop storage.

Her wooden speakers, into which one docks an iPhone, are rather more practical.

Gray’s School of Art graduate Jean Oberlander’s fabulously outlandish chunky jumpers are laid out on the floor and will, I am told, be hung high in installation that afternoon.

In the central hall is Sven Werner’s newly commissioned installation for New Media Scotland, a monochrome “audience” racked up as if in a theatre, of nameless faces, of snapshots in a


And among them all, or perhaps not at all depending on the day, the time, the whim of the man in question, is a made-up figure, his face shaded in grey, a real man among the photographic reproductions, staring right back at you.

The effect is highly disconcerting and yet also mesmerising, a stillness in among the bustle of installation activity, a presence in the corner of the distracted eye.

Open 2018: SSA & VAS Together, Royal Scottish Academy, The Mound, Edinburgh, 0131 225 6671, and, until March 8,

Mon to Sat, 10am to 5pm; Sun noon to 5pm

Critics Choice:

This touring exhibition from the Hayward Gallery in London’s South Bank is a selection from the Archive of Modern Conflict, a collection created 25 years ago to bring together vernacular photography from the First and Second World Wars.

The remit has since extended beyond these parameters to include an astonishing variety of images from around the world, the date range creeping back through cyanotypes and silver gelatin prints to the 1850s and forwards to the rigorously contemporary. AMC director and curator Timothy Prus has put together this fascinating exhibition of striking images, the subject matter ranging from the earthly to the spacebound.

There are images of and from areas of conflict here, but also botanical cyanotypes in their distinctive blue and white, like specimens bleached and preserved in a museum display case, or images of distant communities, such as the black and white photograph of two masked and costumed members of the once thriving Duk Duk secret society in 1912 in Papua New Guinea, pictured right. There are scientific images here too, from a detail of large hailstones, stacked for comparison like a particularly organised snowball stash, and 19th-century images of the surface of the Moon.

The images are loosely grouped into themes – earth, air, fire, water – across the decades and the medium itself, with interesting juxtapositions and links created on the walls, hung high, salon-style, with prints. There is a fascinating illustrated catalogue available, too. It is, as Prus says, “more than eclectic” and all the better for it.

Collected Shadows: The Archive of Modern Conflict, Stills Gallery, Edinburgh, 0131 622 6200,, until 28 Feb, daily 11am to 5pm

Don't Miss:

This wide-ranging survey of an often overlooked corner of Scottish art is full of surprises. Scottish modern art of the early 20th century was a broad church, its adherents – from JD Fergusson to Wilhelmina Barns-Graham – essaying everything from constructivism to futurism until modernism set in.

Names range from the well known, such as Eduardo Paolozzi, to the very little known indeed.

A New Era: Scottish Modern Art

1900-1950, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two), 73 Belford Road, Edinburgh, 0131 624 6200,, until Jun 10, daily, 10am to 5pm, £10 (£8)