(g) Host City
Launched in August 2011, (g)Host City was Edinburgh’s first ‘virtual festival’, The project generated widespread media coverage, including Channel 4 News, BBC Radio Scotland, the Guardian, The List, the Scotsman, Fest, and the Observer.
(g)Host City was – and still is – a collection of online sound pieces designed to be listened to in specific locations across Edinburgh. Kirstin Innes, whose second novel Scabby Queen is currently receiving rave reviews, took listeners on an immersive walk through Fountainbridge. Cult writer and musician Momus created a subversive and surreal ‘Unreliable Bus Tour’ to be listened to on various bus routes around the city. Playwright and performer Kieran Hurley created a story set on Arthur’s Seat, through told through a series of answer phone messages. Other artists involved in the festival’s first year included Jenny Lindsay, Alan Bissett, Hannah McGill, Jim Colquhoun, and Ewan Morrison.
In 2012, (g)Host City was commissioned by Edinburgh City of Literature to create six new pieces, with Gavin Inglis, Kirsty Logan, Ken MacLeod, JL Williams, Kirsty Logan and James Robertson, as part of a public art project called enLIGHTen. We also added new pieces by Rachel McCrum and Hamish Kallin and Fiona Keenan. All of this work is still available at (g)Host City’s website, where you can either browse an A-Z of artists or find each piece using a Google map. And while it adds another layer to the experience to listen to them in the locations that inspired them, it’s not essential. Instead just imagine your own ghost city wherever you happen to be, out on the street or even in your own home.
As Edinburgh’s festivals all move online this year, it feels like a perfect time to revisit (g)Host City, and perhaps claim a bit of credit for being years ahead of our time. All of the work still holds up, and many of the Scottish writers and performers involved have seen their profiles soar in recent years. And (g)Host City seems custom designed for this year’s ghost-like Edinburgh festival. Even the title has felt eerily prescient recently, when the Edinburgh International Festival announced a city-wide light installation, initially called Ghost Lights, and this week when the National Theatre of Scotland announced a new film with virtually the same title.
Our own title was playing on the idea of Edinburgh as a ‘host city’, bringing the whole world to Scotland. We wanted to use the internet – a place that is everywhere and nowhere at once – to create an Edinburgh festival where neither the performers nor the audiences were present, although they might pass each other unknowingly in the street.
We had ambitious plans for (g)Host City at the time. We talked about expanding it into a much bigger sound map of the city, mixing live and online performances, and perhaps making it international, overlaying different ghost cities on top of each other. What would it be like to listen to a story created for a street in Berlin or Singapore on a similar street in Edinburgh, or the other way around?
Instead we moved on to other things – another ambitious multi-artist project called Whatever Gets You Through The Night (2012) then we moved to the Outer Hebrides, and left (g)Host City – the real one and the virtual one – behind.
Next year, though, will be (g)Host City’s tenth anniversary. Perhaps that would be a good time to bring the ghost back to life? Back then, we could never have imagined that one day all festivals would look like ours. This year every festival has been a ghost festival.
In the meantime, we’re grateful to Bella Caledonia for helping to spread the word about (g)Host City again.