Early Warning Signs

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

20a Inverleith Row

The yellow on black sign was initially adopted by Emma Nicolson, Head of Exhibitions at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to be displayed outside the Inverleith House building for the whole of 2020. However, as a result of the disruption caused by the global pandemic, in November 2020 it was agreed to extend the adoption until the end of September 2021 and to kick-off the 10th anniversary celebrations for Early Warning Signs at the Garden.

The celebrations began in June 2021 when the yellow on black sign was joined at the Garden by the green on black sign from PEER and Hoxton Trust and the red on white sign from Fermynwoods Contemporary Art - the first time three signs have been re-united since the project began at Artsadmin in 2011. Harrison led a special Walk & Talk event to explain the history of the project on Saturday 26 June 2021 as part of the Edinburgh Science Festival and Walker & Bromwich’s The Encampment of Eternal Hope.

Then on 23 September 2021, Harrison drove to Edinburgh in an electric van (hired from Co-wheels) to collect the three signs and bring them back to Glasgow. The following day, the 10th anniversary celebrations continued when the signs were installed at three community venues across the city - The Bowling Green, The Hidden Gardens and Woodlands Community Garden - as part of Glasgow Open House Arts Festival. At the end of October 2021, the celebrations concluded when these three signs are re-united with the fourth (from Impact Arts) as part of a special exhibition at The Mitchell Library in Glasgow during COP26.

End of Year Report

By Amy Porteous, Producer, Creative Programmes, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

When we first applied to host one of the Early Warning Signs in October 2019, it would have been hard to predict the years that followed. Looking back, the artwork acted as an anchor for our work in a turbulent time – a somewhat ironically reassuring, continuous presence and a constant reminder of our mission.

In January 2020, the Creative Programmes team at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh was thrilled to receive the yellow sign from CCA Derry~Londonderry. The first thing we noted was that it did not look yellow at all. The text had become sun bleached and near white since its creation in 2011 – an immediate indicator of the history, outdoor visibility, and sustainability of this project. We carried out a condition report, positioned it prominently at the entrance to Inverleith House and welcomed it into our care for the year.

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It was a particularly stormy January and immediately got us (and our visitors) thinking about extreme weather events, and how they might be affected by global warming, as the sign spun faster and faster and the Garden experienced high wind closures. The wind was activating an increasingly urgent message. As one visitor commented, ‘Seems appropriate that the sign’s spinning so fast, eh?’

We had to bring the sign into Inverleith House for safe keeping for an entirely different reason in March, when we entered the first national lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the Garden was temporarily closed, we reflected on Early Warning Signs in our blog Botanics Stories, launched a new manifesto for the arts at RBGE entitled ‘By leaves we survive,’ and were awarded Outset Contemporary Art Fund’s Transformative Grant, to transform Inverleith House into Climate House. Since then, Climate House has welcomed artists from Scotland and around the world to showcase work that encourages conversations about life on earth and expands our understanding of biodiversity, climate change and our place in the world. It was in this new context that Inverleith House reopened in October, with Ellie’s yellow sign on display outside again.

Prior to reopening, we spotted a split appearing in the join between two metal parts of the sign and were pleased that we could employ the welding skills of our colleagues in Horticulture to fix this. It felt rewarding to enable this artwork to age naturally, lead a long life, and fulfil Ellie’s long-standing pledge to reduce, reuse, recycle (and repair) artwork. We decided not to repaint the repair work as the project manual states that 'the gradual ageing and deterioration of its overall appearance is part of the Early Warning Signs project. This ageing is core evidence, not only of the power of the elements, but also that the sign has been put to good use.'

Due to the disruptions of 2020, we were delighted to extend our adoption of the yellow sign into 2021 and commissioned graphic designer Rydo to make a poster for the artwork – a sign for a sign! That summer we marked the ten-year anniversary of the Early Warning Signs project, and the first opportunity to see three parts of the artwork reunited. The yellow sign in front of Inverleith House was joined by the green sign near Inverleith House pond and the red one beside the Botanic Cottage, with PEER and Fermynwoods Contemporary Art passing on their batons, respectively.

This display of Early Warning Signs was part of Edinburgh Science Festival 2021, the theme of which was ‘One World: Science Connects Us.’ During this period, we also hosted Walker & Bromwich’s Encampment of Eternal Hope. The Encampment invited participants to come together outdoors and take part in a wide range of activities, which considered our relationship to the natural world and sought to find hope and resilience in the face of the climate emergency. One of these activities was a ‘Walk & Talk’ with Ellie, who set off from the Encampment on a walking tour of the Garden, taking in her three Early Warning Signs and sharing how her work has evolved over the last decade in response to the climate crisis.

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In September 2021, it was time to say goodbye to the three signs, which departed from RBGE in an electric vehicle to join the final sign in Glasgow for COP26, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of Parties. Our hosting of Early Warning Signs had marked the leadup to COP26, but we continued to remain connected during the Conference. RBGE commissioned another iteration of the Encampment of Eternal Hope, which took place at the Briggait in Glasgow throughout COP26, and from here Ellie hosted her ‘Bike & Talk’ – an afternoon cycle around Glasgow to celebrate the launch of the new edition of her book The Glasgow Effect and the tenth anniversary of the Early Warning Signs project.

We feel lucky to have been able to spend longer than expected with Early Warning Signs, sparking interactions with visitors in person in Edinburgh and Glasgow and online through our blog and social media, and to have become part of the ever-growing network of hosts. On a particularly windy day, one visitor exclaimed, ‘God, it’s noisy.’ Let us hope that the Early Warning Signs’ message is heard, loud and clear.