connie zhong by Esaf Commitee

You’re interested in fashion and fashion illustration, tell me a bit more about what you are exhibiting at ESAF 2016?

I am going to hold my own design exhibition. Basically it’s womenswear fashion illustration but also it includes some abstract drawings.

What kind of style or look are you hoping to capture?

I mostly used to do wedding dresses and evening gowns but now I am designing more current urban styles. The style of my designs has changed a lot. The reason why I started design was because I quite liked wedding dresses. That was a starting point but in order to be a really good fashion designer you need to develop your skills in different areas.

Do you think it is hard to stand out in fashion?

Yeah I think everything is quite difficult when you start but I think the main point is to keep doing what you’re doing and believe in yourself. You have to find that unique thing that makes your designs different. You also have to put yourself in your customer's shoes and think how your designs meet their needs. Overall, I think if you just keep doing what you are doing then you will get there.

What’s you favourite part of the creative process?

I think it's working with different colours. I put colours in different formats and see what goes with what and I even enjoy colouring the designs. I also like photography I like my photos to have a really unique story to them.

What advice can you give someone who wants to pursue a creative idea?

I think it is important to persuade yourself first to do it and once you’ve decided you want to do it, just do it. For me, I was really lost in my second year at university because my major is economics but then I found out it was not really what I wanted to do my whole life. At that point I decided to change myself. I hadn’t formally learned how to draw before so I always love self teaching. I watched videos on YouTube and read some books and within one year my fashion illustration skills improved a lot. Once you've decided you want to do it, just do it!

if you're happy and you know it - take this survey by Esaf Commitee

Agnes Török

Tell me a bit about your show?

It’s essentially a show that I premiered at this year's Fringe Festival and it won a couple of awards. This is the first time I am performing outside the Fringe. It's a spoken word show about happiness. I am a student at Edinburgh University and what I have just finished doing is my research on is happiness and well being. Especially how people can deal with crisis or trauma and come out the other side and dealing with it in the best way possible. Partly from personal experience and partly from the science behind it. It is a funny and light show but it also touches on some serious topics. There’s quite a bit of politics in there as well. It is a one hour show with me and a couple of big pictures of drawings I have done with sketch figures and stick figures. It’s based on a longer version of a TED Talk I did.

So where did this idea come from?

Well I started studying the etymology of happiness and I really liked it so I decided to spend 2015 living according to current happiness research. When I got the opportunity to do a TED Talk it kind of became this test run. That sounds exciting can you tell me a bit more about the TED Talk you did? Yeah it was a lot of fun actually! It was at St Andrews and I was invited as an outside guest. It’s been up on YouTube for a couple of months now and it's been doing quite well. Essentially it was me trying to summarise what I have learned from studying happiness but in chat and poetry. It is light and engaging and I come up with key points as to what I think are the key things we can learn about happiness. One of them is to think of happiness as resilience. We build happiness to deal with the bad times, not something we have when everything is perfect.

So what do you think the core fundamentals of happiness are?

I think a big part of it is recognising that happiness is not perfection. Happiness is not everything being great all the time and there being no difficulties because no one has that. Another big part of happiness is surrounding yourself with people who allow yourself to ask for help when things aren't easy and getting some daily habits in that make you able to to appreciate what is good for me. That's been stuff like writing poetry and writing art, for other people it might be something else. Having regular things that make you stop and appreciate what there is and gather the strength that you need to deal with things that aren't quite right.

Do you think happiness is a constant or something that comes and goes?

I think happiness is sort of a scale which means that part of it is always there most parts of your life are usually good, you know? Most of us don’t realise that we have aspects of our life that we should be happy about. We have our health or we have people that care about us. These are good things that we can be happy for but there can be other aspects of our lives that can be really hard and challenging and make us not particularly happy. I think some aspects of happiness are always there.

Arthur Savile's Crime by Esaf Commitee

Triple B Productions

Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller

If you had to kill someone, would you do it and do you have to?

What are you showcasing at ESAF this year?

Well I am showcasing a play we put on back in November. It’s called Arthur Savile’s Crimes and it's based on Oscar Wilde’s short story. I read it over the summer its very funny and it really struck because it was written in the 1800s but it's hilarious and really, really dark. You don't get many dark comedies, you know? I’m a really big fan, not necessarily of dark comedies, but comedies with a bit of an edge. The book is about a guy in London who met a chiromancy, who reads people's palms and the future, at this party. The chiromancy predicts murder in his future so in the book he goes about trying to figure out what people he can murder. It's all very funny and you can read it as some kind of play on his psyc. So I thought I have this play, sort of, and I wrote it up a little bit more. I stripped a lot of the complicated stuff away. It’s really simple, it’s only half an hour long. I set it in Edinburgh University with more modern references and so on and so forth. 

What themes do you pursue?

That is the main theme how much reality is real and how much fantasy is fake. I think it's funny to play with how people would react. It's funny, I’m not sure why but for some reason I have a kind of different way I look at theatre. It's kind of about having fun, if anything. It kind of evolved around what would happen in real life.

What's your favourite part of the whole creative process?

It was so interesting because I have only directed one thing before but I have never really written and directed a feature. The whole thing was really new, striking and exciting to me. It was interesting working with people and I think working on a team that each had a role and our involvement. I’ve done a lot of school productions, only acting, that I really loved and we were on a team but the directors and so on were teachers. You listen to them and it was great but really being in the team that makes it happen is great. I like this thing I got and turning this book into an actual play and like sitting there in auditions and being like “woah” complete strangers are reading things back to me that I wrote was surreal. It was a really lovely thing to be a part of it. There was a script but we made sure what the actors said made sense and we build it off people's performances.

Conjuring - Heather Davidson by Esaf Commitee

Tell me a bit about Conjuring?

It's an art installation which revolves around the intersections between tech and magic. The gubbins inside is Raspberry PI, a tiny little computer. There will be light show and it's mainly just to examine the mystery that people put around tech and how that can exclude people, particularly women. 

How did this all start?

About a year ago I got a Raspberry Pi because they were about £20 and I left it in a drawer for 6 months. I do a bit of witchcraft (tech) on the side. If you think about magic is general a magician doesn't reveal his tricks because then it’s obvious you could do it yourself. The same happens in tech circles where if you ask how something's done or ask for help they'll either not help you or whatever. You get rejected and I am sure it is the same when you are becoming a magician. I see a lot of interconnections between the two. I saw a good opportunity with the cheap technology that has been coming out, like Raspberry Pi, and I thought let's throw something together.

What is you favourite part of you work

Failing and then fixing what you failed. I think when you’re a programmer that is 90% of what you do so you kind of have to learn to love it.

Do you think women face a lot of obstacles in the tech world?

Oh yes! The harassment can be pretty bad. I haven’t had too much, mostly because I have stuck with people who are good and I've had internships at tiny companies that know my deal and know what they are getting if they hire me. Last year I went out to a massive tech event in Canada and it's the closest I’ve got to the ‘big time tech world’ and it was pretty horrible. It’s not just women. That’s a very downer answer but part of my art is to explore that and push against it try and get somewhere.

How do you overcome these obstacles?

Shout, work together, shout some more and refuse to budge or leave. I think art exploring things is so important because it shows that other people deal with this or other people feel this way.It’s not just you so let's do something about it.

What would you say to someone that is being held back in some way to achieve what they want 

to do in not just tech but in anything creative?

Research. Look into what's stopping you and why it's stopping you. If you can find out exactly what it is you can usually get past it.

Evelyn Hollow by Esaf Commitee

What are you showcasing at ESAF 2016?

I am the president of the QMU Writer’s Society and we’re going to have an exhibition at the Biscuit Factory of written work from some members of the society. Each member will showcase two pieces of work and they will all be written using a technique called cold press which I have been teaching for the past year. In conjunction with that, I will also be doing  a workshop teaching the cold press method and it's open to everyone.

What writers inspire your style of writing?

I like Oscar Wilde and darker classics and when I became a teenager I started sourcing work by transgressive writers. I primarily write transgressive fiction. Douglas Coupland, he has a way of taking the topics or themes that would make most people feel uncomfortable and he would completely put it in your face and force you to experience it. Things like ultraviolence, different crime themes, sexualtiy and just things that are taboo in society. My greatest inspiration of all time is a writer, who has disappeared into obscurity, called Will Christopher Baer. He wrote three books and disappeared off the face of the planet. His fourth book was up for pre-order and his website was doing great and then nothing happened. The last message he put out was that there had been a delay with the publishers it would be out soon. Nobody ever heard from him again, he was already quite reclusive. Nobody knows where he is, if he’s alive or if he's dead. Nobody has ever heard from him again. His work was great. I write transgressive fiction but I also write modern noir and he reinvented noir. He only created three books but out of them three books he created a new genre.

When you have an idea for a story where do you go next in terms of setting it out?

When I'm doing a short story, I usually have a broad idea floating about in my head and I try not to overthink it. I find that if people have a broad idea and they start writing it out in their head, every detail every character, ages of the character, the story is already written. It's already in your head. And when you start to write it you start making excuses. Some writers don't spend enough time writing, they spend all their time planning on writing and then don't actually write. I just usually like to start with a really broad idea and a few character names then i don't overthink it, I just start writing.

Why was it important for you to showcase your work at ESAF?I think because the society has only been up for two years and for a while it wasn't publicised very well. The first thing I noticed is that we needed to be pushing out more work. ESAF showcases work from every university in Edinburgh and QMU has a really performing arts department. In terms of visual arts, we really are the only group so I really wanted to push students to showcase their work. Bringing this to ESAF helps to expand our work but it also gives writers a chance to be part of something they wouldn't normally. Written work isn't always part of a visual exhibition. I wanted to make it a collective experience that everyone can enjoy together.

Commontongue Collective by Esaf Commitee

What is Commontongue?

H.C: It’s a group of like 20 people in the 4th year Illustration class that are often in the same exhibitions. It’s also a business that's been set up by Mhairi Braden. Basically the collective we've set up is to get more people interested with illustration art and art in general together and to make it more accessible for people. That's what is really great about illustration it communicates ideas very strongly. We are going to the collective as this small thing that has guests as part of it. We are showing a bunch of different work. The title is ‘In a Landscape’ and the idea is based on the internal way that people see the world. It's basically a great opportunity for us to showcase what we are already doing.

What different mediums do you use?

H.C: Mostly digital with some printmaking and there's a lot of hand drawings in the collective. A lot of the group draw or do painting.

M.B: Most people are heavily influenced by printmaking. My work is normally printmaking but for this showcase I will be doing monoprinting which is drawing straight on the plate.

Can you tell me a bit about your individual work?

M.B: Oh yeah! My piece is about a memory I had. I was in Peru in the jungle a couple of years ago and it was a really rewarding experience and a lot of things happened. I kept a journal when I was there. My piece is about something that happened when I was there. It's about the space and the environment. we got flooded so it's about heavy rainfall. It's quite funny too.

What is the purpose of the collective?

M.B: Just to show an appreciation of how different illustration can be.

H.C: Yeah, I think that illustration is often quite a good way of bridging the gap between fine art, that may be less accessible to the average person, and illustration, which can often be a big more figurative. I’m kind of doing comic sequence things as well. A lot of people from illustration are often quite narrative and a lot of us are involved with that whether that's a single picture or a sequence.

How important is feedback to you when producing work?

M.B: I think it depends, with feedback you can argue with it. For example I can argue that I did something in a certain way because of my original thought process. Feedback is always useful because if you just had yourself looking at your work the whole time it would get boring and you wouldn't be injecting new things in there. I think what is good about the studio environment is that we all give each other feedback and encourage each other.

H.C: I think I find feedback really useful but i also do a lot of projects that are designed to tell people a story whereas some people do more artist books which are much more personal. 

Commontongue collective's website:

Mhairi  Braden’s portfolio:

Hari Conner website: 

Hari Conner tumblr:

Claire Pearce by Esaf Commitee

Tell me a little bit about your work?

I am doing a short animation, it's a dance video using taxidermy. It features me in it and I and an array of different dead animals are dressed up in the same uniform. We are all sort of dancing in this military, creepy march.

What themes do you explore?

The main themes I touch upon are manipulation, like human control and conformity. How easy it is to manipulate other humans, animals and nature. I’ve taken these animals that were alive and I have recreated them. I am in control of their movements.

What was the significance of using dead animals in the piece?

I think it's because it gave me complete control of what I was doing. I was always interested in  using dance as this form of influencing control. By using taxidermy it goes beyond the animation, I  give them life,  give them animation and then dispose of them. It’s sort of a bit dictatorship.

headless rat pink.jpg

What do you want the audience to feel or think about your work?

I think I just want it to be fun. I think it's apparent in the video. It's colourful and the music is K-pop. Its ridiculous and then its got this underlying, really cynical, terrifying aspect. I think I just want it to be fun and maybe for people to think about it a bit deeper.

So can the animation almost be compared to as a dark comedy?

Kind of, but I don't think it is explicitly for humour, it's just not too serious. It's just a bit deliberately abstract and absurd . I think the only way to deal with such big themes is to put them alongside these ridiculous visuals and aesthetics .

How to did you begin with this abstract idea?

All the ideas are things I've always been interested in and I read and researched around that. I got to a point in my work where i just thought i needed to do something different. I was getting into a routine of wondering if this was actually what I wanted to be doing. I just thought I need to do something I've never done before. I've always been interested in taxidermy in a sort of passive way. The use of taxidermy in art is sometimes naff and gimmicky which adds to the humour of it. Since I've started this video I’ve started on this whole new train of thought

Was there anyone in particular that inspired this particular piece?

Things like gangnam style because it's a korean pop song. I was also inspired by dictatorships like North Korea and how they use the arts to manipulate their people. Even things like the cultural revolution in China. The arts play a huge role in propaganda so i was really interested in that.

ESAF’s 2016 highlights by Esaf Commitee

To many of those who live in Edinburgh it can seem as though, outside the month of August, there is really not so much going on in Scotlands capital city. During this important month, there can be a slight sense that the city is being overpowered, that the force of the talent coming from across the world during the International Festival and Fringe overshadows the local artists, musicians and other creatives who reside here year-round.

Read More

The Importance of a Student Arts Festival in the Age of the Internet by Esaf Commitee

Megan Wallace

It is undeniable that we are affected by our environment our geographical environment as well as the people we come into contact with on a regular basis (our family, teachers, friends, classmates) all contribute to the formulation of our own particular psyche. Art has the quality of allowing us into the mind of another person as it is the rendering of an individuals inner thoughts and ideas into visual or physical form. Furthermore, art allows us to create relationships with a person we may never meet, the artist whose presence is signified symbolically in the work we engage with. Through mentally interrogating the physical object (or digital image) before us and what it means, we build up a relationship with the creator, even in their absence. In short, it is the aim of the artist to communicate a message to the viewer and it is up to the viewer to decipher, then dialogue, with it.


Ergo, by extension, art can act as a bridge between different cultural outlooks in theory, a French person could visit a gallery and look at a piece by an artist who lives and works in Ghana, hence interacting with ideas formed by the consciousness of an individual whose immediate environment has shaped their thoughts and ideas in a completely different way to their own. However, without those who work to facilitate this kind of cultural exchange behind the scenes, the gallerists and curators for example, this situation remains a hypothetical one. While it is easy enough to use the internet to look up works of art, helping to open up access to the arts for all, it is important that the role of exhibitions does not become undervalued.

Perhaps it is worth noting that, while internet art has managed to bypass the gallery system and need not be shown in an exhibition-type setting, this is not the way all art need be shown. Indeed, while one of the distinctive elements of art practice today is the way in which artists are obliged to use social media as a platform to display their work to a wider audience, it is easy to overlook the need to see these works in person in order to build your own, personal connections with them. For example, conceptual works often require rigorous interrogation by the viewer on multiple levels, not just the visual; anyone approaching the artwork must consider how it uses the gallery space allotted to it, the atmosphere which is created within the gallery, even the way it feels. In addition, a lot of contemporary artists are producing work stressing the physicality of the work which they produce. As a rebellion against the presence of art in the virtual plane of the the internet, against the flattening effect of seeing an image through a computer screen, artists can be seen to be working with a renewed focus on texture and materiality.

The latter does not, however, entail a return to the traditional dominance of the art gallery system. Rather, one could argue that young creatives who seek spaces to exhibit their work are less concerned about associating their art with big-name galleries and getting ahead,and are instead drawn to more collaborative, community-based exhibition opportunities. With the ability to showcase their works 24/7 on social media, exhibiting becomes more about process, artistic development and collaboration with other creatives; hence the importance of ESAF.

ESAF offers student artists from a diverse range of backgrounds to come together, helping to achieve an interconnectedness within Edinburghs artistic community, and not only presents visual art with what would be traditionally classed as performance art, but brings this together with a series of creatives working in other branches of performance-based art such as theatre, music and comedy. In this interdisciplinary approach, ESAF embodies the cooperative spirit which resonates in the work being produced by artists today and forces attendees to question their own conception of artand its boundaries. This, in itself, stresses the importance of exhibiting today by proving that it is not only the artists but the curators, who make important creative decisions and display art in interesting, thought-provoking ways, who open up dialogue between art and viewer.


Expressing mental illness through physical theatre by Esaf Commitee

Andrea Tweedie met up with ESAF Creative, Emma Willett, to talk about a piece that will be showcased in ESAF in February.

What are you bringing to the festival this year?

I am working on two pieces but I will talk to you about one of them. It's a play I wrote about mental health issues. What we are bringing is physical theatre mixed with a bit of fragmented dialogue trying to explore the nature of mental illness that's really difficult to just pin down to words alone.

What do you want the audience to take away from this piece?

I'd like them to bring their own experiences and be able to identify with the different parts of it. I think a lot of people struggle with mental illness in some form whether it's just a bit of stress every now and then for them to just go this is something I feel like is something I'd like to express. I went to see Institute by Gabriel last year and I had that kind of experience. I went home and googled it and everyone had different experiences and reactions to it. When I was watching it i thought this is incredible this absolutely sums up something that I feel so what I am trying to do is to try and bring this kind of feeling.

Is there a particular mental health issue the piece focuses on?

I have left it open but it's very much based on my own personal struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. There's going to be a lot of that kind of stuff specifically in there but it's pretty open for people to interpret

How do you see this piece progressing after ESAF?

I am hoping this just a thing that will be a progress that we are going to keep developing it. Take it somewhere else and show it to people. I was considering maybe trying it at the fringe and yeah I will just have to see it keep growing.

Can you sum the piece up in three words?

Expressive, internal and optimistic

Why was it important for you to showcase your work at ESAF this year?

I was part of ESAF last year and I thought it was a really good platform as students performers it's really difficult for us to find a platform that affordable and gets us good venues. I get really inspired from seeing other people's work as well so it was really nice to be part of it, nice to be part of a festival that shares peoples work as well and have discussions about our work so it's also getting collaborations with people.

What artists or art inspires you?

Lately a lot of physical theatre. I have been getting more and more interested in the world of visual art and video art especially. I like to see a lot of new things and taking all the different impressions and putting it into my work.


Writing Songs with Louise McLean by Esaf Commitee

ESAF's Andrea Tweedie caught up with Louise McLean from Nicola and Lou to talk inspiration, performance and writing.

Tell me what are you bringing to ESAF 2016?

It's me and my friend Nicola, we are both singer/songwriters. We've both been writing and singing and performing for quite a while now individually and then we have been writing together as well. We were kind of looking for an opportunity to almost workshop it a little bit and then we saw the ESAF and it just seemed like such an amazing kind of supportive environment. We thought yeah let's go for it and see what we can come up with. There is going to be music and spoken word.

How did you start with all of this?

For me, I only started playing guitar about two years ago. Ago and I have been writing like secretly and singing for a few years, so yeah. when I met Nicola she had been performing for years and she totally inspired me and supported me to start doing that.

So what do you want the audience to take away from your piece?

I think for me the thing that I kind of focus on when I'm writing is very much about exploring relationships as well as my perspective as a woman and you know, how people attract each other. I try write on a very personal level so what I would. Like for people to take away from it is kind of think about the things we both talk about talk about in our music and how think about how they would maybe want to express themselves. I don't know for me it's all about kind of inspiring other people because I was quite nervous to perform before and that I have done it it's just so cool. So yeah, for me it would be that.

ESAF is very much a collaboration between creatives that are all students or recent graduates so what advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue something like song writing or performing?

I think it was about meeting other creative people that's definitely how you shine because you kind of think you are doing all these things on your own and that no one else does them. When you see and artist or performer playing you think they are amazing and that they are just natural art doing it and you don't realise how much work goes into it. I think the advice I would give is to try and surround yourself with people who are creative but also give yourself permission to write a load of rubbish as well. When you first start you are going to have to get through a lot of stuff. For me it's allow yourself to make mistakes. Nobody is perfect and even your hero makes mistakes as well. Don't put yourself under so much pressure and if you have a really supportive crowd around you then you're going to have fun.

Where do you see your work going next after ESAF?

I am working on an EP at the moment, well I've got the songs ready and I will start recording that hopefully I was thinking for after. I might try and get some space in January so for me, I am working on that. That's the kind of solo project but me and Nicola have been writing a little bit more together and things are sounding a bit more fuller. We are thinking about bands and we've started applying for other festivals, so yeah. We just want to focus more on more writing more performing hopefully like getting more instruments.

So what bands or artists inspire you and your work?

I was just talking about this the other day and I am in a total Amy Winehouse phase again. I love her so much. She's like very inspirational to me because her lyrics are so honest and raw she is also amazingly talented and a good jazz musician and she's a guitarist as well. She inspires me, it's the honesty of her lyrics. Basically I like female artists I love even Taylor Swift because I like pop they all inspire me as well but mainly Amy Winehouse. I always come back to her. I saw her perform at Liquid Rooms before her first album came out. One of my friends said have you heard this girl she is totally amazing and I was like yeah I've heard of her. It wasn't even sold out or anything; that was years ago.

Was she more Jazz back then?

Yeah she was. Honestly you could hear pin drop her voice and stage presence was amazing.

How do you cope with nerves?

Nicola gave me amazing bit advice, all you have to do is keep throwing yourself out there. The more times you do that the better it gets. Think about the nerves as you are going roller you want to your passion it's fun don't think about nerves negative use them and your so buzzing excited and it definitely helps.

What part of the process is your favourite?

I am starting to like the performance side, I love singing I feel like at peace when I sing but I love writing before I live coming up with an idea and it will arrive and how will I make it to how I want to say how's the best way. Writing as well, writing with Nicola its a new thing to me that's really cool as well she write in a different way for me when we come together how... writing is probably my favourite part because it's fun to see other people's reaction come up after oh that's exactly how I felt. I like to make that connection and you don't get that from sitting in your room and writing in your diary.