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Is It Art …?

Where are the boundaries between art and life? And are those boundaries fixed, or can they change?

Art shouldn’t just be in galleries. Is it only art if it’s hanging on a wall surrounded by white space?

You could say that a walk around a city is a piece of art. The Situationists, and the flâneurs made a performance out of their footsteps, and their interactions with the surroundings. Iain Sinclair turns a walk around the London M25 motorway into a written meditation.

People haven’t really done that in Edinburgh. So I thought I’d give it a go.

It was one of those Autumn mornings where the air still feels warm and soft, but the sunlight is already looking thin and you know it won’t be long before the year ends. I took my camera; I needed to make a record.

I just went where my feet took me, along the neat pavements of the clipped streets in the New Town, into the Botanic Gardens where I danced up and down the length of the giant beech hedge, back along the water of Leith which runs like a forgotten secret through the city, until I came up for air by the Tesco’s at Canonmills.

I walked up the hill from there, and could have gone home at that point but something  made me carry on, over the concrete roundabout, past the shopping centre and onto North Bridge. Whenever I see the shopping centre, built on top of the old St James quarter of the city in the 1970s I always wonder how many bodies are buried beneath there.

I had taken photos of my feet walking the streets all day, pressing down on the stone and the earth beneath me. But there was something about the photos that was too prosaic, too Earth-bound. I wanted to fly.

North Bridge soars over the railway lines. From the middle of the bridge, you can see out to the Firth of Forth in one direction, and to the castle in the other. Tourists stand around there all the time, gazing at the views and annoying the locals.

It was quite easy to climb over the low wall, and stand on the parapet. But because I did it so quickly, nobody actually noticed. To bring attention to myself, I used the flash on my camera to flash light into the sky. The seagulls were the first to notice, perhaps they thought I was going to feed them. They started flying around my head, circling me. Then someone screamed. Not me.

It was dark by then, and what happened next was a little bit like a dance. This was what I had been looking for when I left the house that morning. Some impact on my surroundings. A performance that people would remember.

First the police arrived, and they blocked off either end of the bridge with their cars so that no-one else could drive across it. Then the sirens were turned on, so when I looked at my hands they were lit up by flashing blue light.

I told myself that if I stood still and looked straight ahead I would be ok and nothing would happen. But I could hear the trains rumbling below me and I couldn’t stop thinking about their neat sharp wheels slicing over the tracks. Perhaps I did scream then.

There were voices behind me and suddenly they grabbed me and scooped me back over the wall, just like I was some washing that had blown away.

They seemed a bit angry when I explained what I was doing, but sometimes people need to be disturbed out of their routines. That’s what art is for, after all?