Like so much this strange year, the Edinburgh Art Festival 2020, cancelled at first, then existing online and in gossamer skeins in the real world for a few weeks in August, has been curtailed by the pandemic.

And yet, despite every restriction, some of its core strands have managed to endure, including the Platform programme, tasked with giving emerging artists time, money and an exhibition to give them a much-needed outlet for their work.

The four artists were chosen in March by Principal Curator of the Cooper Gallery, Sophia Hao and artist Ruth Ewan, a week before the dead zone of lockdown, and are finally getting to exhibit the work that they have created in Edinburgh’s City Art Centre, this month. Ranging over diverse artistic media, yet all in some way interested in querying the sociological or political status quo, the artists are Rabindranath A Bhose, Mark Bleakley, Rhona Jack andSusannah Stark.

“It really was one of the last things I did in person before lockdown started,” says selector Ruth Ewan, whose own work, Sympathetic Magick, was conceived for the 2018 Edinburgh Art Festival and revived in part for this year’s.

“I went over to Edinburgh on the train and spent the day in a tiny room. I can’t believe we did it! We sat round the table having interesting conversations about the work, but on the train back that evening it was so quiet. I remember thinking, this is serious. It’s happening. I’d like to say the Platform programme has bookended the lockdown, but no, it’s not the end, is it?”

Scotland has a track record in providing opportunities for emerging artists, but they are still hard to come by and even more so now that we are living in changed times. “Part of the Platform opportunity is to allow each artist’s work to have some sort of space for consideration, a substantial opportunity to show work. It’s so important for artists at that stage, and very hard to find your feet in the exhibiting world. Finding the physical space to work, the mental space, then there’s rent, studio rent, trying to work alongside care responsibilities perhaps.”

There were the issues, too, of working in lockdown – for some artists, having the impetus of a Platform commission helped them to stay focused and get through it. For others, the ability to continue “producing as normal” was much harder. “Increasingly, I hear about artists that can’t be artists any more. Musicians who can’t be musicians. We’re at risk of losing a generation of artists. And it is there for older people too: artists of all ages are facing these issues.”

Ewan had her own criteria for selection. “I was looking for artists who are trying to push the boundaries of what art practice should be, whether that’s taking formal or conceptual risks. I think what attracted me to the four artists was that each one in very different ways was making a social commentary through their work. I wasn’t familiar with any of the artists before, and it was a real privilege to get an insight into that generation of artists in Scotland.”

All the artists, whom I speak to via email the week before the show opens, tell me that their planned work has necessarily changed due to lockdown, from Rhona Jack, a textile artist whose planned installation had involved visitors sitting or lying amongst the fabrics, to Rabindranath A Bhose, whose performance would have involved him working closely with a fellow performer. “I instead channelled the writing I had been doing in preparation for a performance script into a poetry pamphlet,” Bhose tells me.

The pamphlet will essentially take the place of the performers, interacting via symbols with the text. Jack has still created a textile installation, if without exploiting the tactile sensory aspect of the work – there can be no touching – but suggesting it through the patchwork of second-hand fabrics stitched and hanging loosely from the walls.

Susannah Stark, who works with music and art, and has long been interested in personal experiences of communal living, has created a soundscape, collages and assembled sculptures from the results of beach combing and other found materials to investigate historical instances of cohabitation.

And finally, Bleakley, a dancer who straddles the world of art and dance, has looked at the collective experience of live performance spaces, from mosh pits to the stage, creating a choreographed16mm/super8 film “Giving Weight” to explore his interest in “what is left within the body after these events, what political power is absorbed or compounded through engaging in these spaces.”

It seems somewhat apt a thought, when the ability to engage in public spaces, and with ideas and experiences in the flesh, is at such a premium. We must make the most of it, when we can.

Platform, City Art Centre, 2 Market Street, Edinburgh, 0131 529 3993 Until 29 Nov, Tues – Sun, 10am – 5pm, book free tickets via website

Critic's Choice

THE Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize, previously known as the Jerwood Drawing Prize, comes to the Cooper Gallery in Dundee this month showcasing the diversity of the drawing medium in this prestigious and large scale open drawing competition.

More than 4,000 drawings were submitted from 42 countries worldwide with just 56 artists selected to exhibit in competition for the £8,000 First Prize.

Founded by Professor Anita Taylor of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee in 1994 to celebrate the art of drawing, those selected by this year’s expert panels cover the wide scope of drawing, featuring work not just from emerging and established artists but designers and makers, meaning that subject matter is as varied as the vicissitudes of modern life to working drawings for whatever any particular maker or designer is working towards.

After touring to London and Birmingham later this year and early next, the overall prize, as well as others including the working drawing prize, will be announced in January 2021.

This year, the selection panel included Cooper Gallery Principal Curator Sophia Hao and Tate Modern Director Frances Morris, who commented: “Drawing, so often assigned by history to the small scale, the preparatory, and the diaristic, is revealed in this prize as the most expansive and dynamic of practices, capable of recording both the intimacy and solitude of living through lockdown as well as the heightened emotions and dramas of this deeply troubled world.”

Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize, Cooper Gallery, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Dundee University, 13 Perth Road, Dundee,01382 385330 13 Nov – 19 Dec, Tues – Sat, 11am – 4pm, Booking essential, via website

Don't Miss

It is 350 flower-filled years of growth, research and exploration since the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh’s beginnings as a 17th century physic garden. So Florilegium, an exhibition of botanical illustration, culled from illustrators worldwide, and contemporary art, in the reinvented Inverleith – now Climate – House, is here to celebrate. Downstairs the walls are crowded with botanical illustrations; upstairs, rooms are filled with thought-provoking work by contemporary artists Lyndsay Mann, Lee Mingwei, Annalee Davis and Wendy McMurdo.

Florilegium: A Gathering of Flowers, Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh, Inverleith Row/Arboretum Place, Edinburgh, 0131 552 13 Dec, Daily 10.30am – 4.30pm (Book time slots)