This is the second collaboration of two of Scotland's big art societies, Visual Arts Scotland and the Scottish Society of Artists, held annually in the capacious surrounds of the Royal Scottish Academy building. If the two societies previously held their own large scale Open exhibitions, there's nothing to obviously divide the two in this joint venture, although for anyone finding it preying on their mind, anything in what is sometimes called the applied arts – ceramics, furniture, design, tapestry – has usually come under the VAS remit, alongside their painterly contingent. The SSA collaborates, additionally this year, with CutLog, providing a room screening a series of selected moving image works.

Moving around the lofty spaces, each room has its unique character, carefully curating this large scale open exhibition, the result of an open call for work from members, home and abroad, with the final shortlist chosen from the multitude of work submitted. It is, as ever, a case of getting one's eye in, and of not being overwhelmed by the vastness of the enterprise. If competition in each society, with only half the space available to each, must have been high, quality remains so.

It is the smaller rooms this year however – and bearing in mind small is all relative in these palatial Playfair surrounds – that work the best. The central hall is always a big beast to fill and this year, the selection – a lot of geometrically-inspired work, a lot of smaller scale canvases and sculptures – just doesn't have the collective wow to make this difficult but magnificent space work, despite some fine pieces. Indeed the smallest – three World War Two postcards of ruined churches in France, painted over – were the ones that caught my eye.

It linked back to a work I had seen earlier in one of the side rooms, a video by Alessandro di Massimo which charts wars annually since his birth to a soundtrack of hits from the same year. Di Massimo sings to a readymade backing track; the warmongering protagonists on his carefully chosen pieces of film seem to march, dance, sing or rant to the music. It is a moving, almost unbearably depressing indictment of global warfare. Popular music doesn't come out of it too well, either.

Elsewhere there are tiny portraits of Torness power station on matchboxes (Jayne Stokes), darned sports socks (Celia Pym), jewellery made of prickly pears (Iro Kaskani), photographs of Edinburgh community centre halls and lists of their users (Rebecca Millings) – this last, truly fascinating, both in terms of the absolute diversity of the spaces themselves, and the very fact of their continued existence, celebrated here, marked, and in the users.

Room VII, with its abstract and textured landscapes is finely done. Eleanor Whitworth, part of this year's Graduate Showcase, displays her wonderful wearable objects, inspired by miniature curiosities, forms, and rhythms in the natural world. In these small wire-framed square-ish metal objects, ants nests, sand shapes, bee hives, matted grass, compact into a finely textured surface.

Alastair Clark's “An island in time – Glacier Island”, looks like a painting from the other side of the room, but turns out to be a digital collage of broken floes amongst water, taken from above, filled with great depths of blue and white. Also worth noting, invited artist Louise Barrington, who won the SSA Award, here expressively exploring, as ever, her home turf, Orkney, and “the concept of the misinterpretation of emptiness” in naturally dyed fabric.

A few rooms over, I liked William Braithwaite's Concrete Multitude, a series of ranked Escher-blocks of sculpted concrete, a mini metropolis of tower block features, perhaps, of staircases and vents, balconies and ducts, impressed into the concrete form. Elsewhere, Hanqing Mona's striking 143 Second Street, a silver gelatin print of the building taken corner-on, graffitied, blocked windows, the tent-like guy ropes holding up the veranda roof, its form looming out of the picture with remarkable immediacy.

There is a room, too, devoted to the Cordis Tapestry Prize's exhibition Over Under/Under Over, a collection bent on reworking your idea of tapestry. Here, then, are Celia Pym's delightful worked and reworked darnings, Dail Behennah's gilt and plaited paper landscapes, and Sadhvi Jawa's lovely small scale weavings, with a sense of the ancient. It's an interesting way to spend a quiet hour or two in the city centre, a place where quiet, at this current time, and in this current place, has been very much missing.

VAS/SSA Open, Royal Scottish Academy, The Mound, Edinburgh,www.visualartsscotland.org22 Dec – 30 Jan 2020 (closed 25 and 26 Dec) Daily Mon – Sat 10am – 5pm; Sun (and 1stJan 2020) 12pm – 5pm

Don't miss

Every time that the Vaughan Bequest Turner watercolours reopen for the month of January - the darkest month of the year - one feels that long thread connecting modern-day gallery visitors to those of the past. This is the longest-running single artist exhibition in the world. The pictures are like old friends, although the genius in the artist's brushstrokes is fresh every time - the lightening strike on the Piazzetta in Venice, the Alps in sublime majesty, the yawing geology of Loch Coruisk, the sun blinding the bridge at Heidelberg. Joining them this year is another watercolour on long loan to the gallery from a private collection, “Virginia Water”, a highly finished work from 1829, with King George's opulent barge floating in front of his new Chinese Fishing Temple in the artificial lake and landscape of Windsor Park, a remodelling of nature and architecture that brings in threads from the Vaughan Bequest itself.

Turner in January, National Gallery of Scotland, The Mound, Edinburgh, 0131 624 6200,, 1 - 31 Jan 2020, Daily 9am - 5pm

Critics Choice

This latest exhibition at Dundee Contemporary Arts is rooted in the work of the brilliant Ursula K Le Guin, whose 1969 novel, “The Left Hand of Darkness”, also lends its name to the show itself. The ideas in this work of feminist science fiction, set on an ice planet whose name translates as “Winter”, revolve, amongst other things, around the shifting gender of the inhabitants of Gethen.

Curators Eoin Dara (DCA) and Kim McAlese (Programme Director at Grand Union, Birmingham) use Le Guin's ideas – from politics to environmentalism and feminism - as a springboard for this international exhibition, which reassesses ideas brought up by Le Guin's groundbreaking works in a group exhibition that will continue to change and shift as the winter passes.

The line-up is truly international, from Abel Rodriguez, an elder of the Nonuya ethnic group in the Colombian Amazon, whose nature-focused work is drawn entirely from memory, to Sophia Al-Maria (Qatar/USA) and Victoria Sin (Canada), whose video installation "BCE" proposes two creation myths from the deep past and the far future. Amongst all the contemporary work, a selection of artefacts from the D'Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum in Dundee, which looks at exceptions to standard conceptions of gender, sexuality, bonding and kinship across the animal kingdom.

Writers, too, are involved in this exploration of “radical imagining”, with new texts, poetry and prose, commissioned from poets Harry Josephine Giles and CAConrad, alongside Tuesday Smillie, an American artist who takes much inspiration from Le Guin's work. This exhibition, DCA tells us, has at its heart artists who are "crafting alternative spaces and worlds that hint at ways in which we all might better live, love and care for one another," - and that is a rather fine concept for us all to hold on to in the small hours of this brave New Year.

Seized by the Left Hand, Dundee Contemporary Arts, 152 Nethergate, Dundee, 01382 432 444, Until 22 March 2020, Daily 10am - 6pm