Edinburgh Art Festival (2023) 

This series explored the themes of Sean Burns’s film Dorothy Towers (2022) – the story of two Birmingham tower blocks that serve as a locus for the city’s queer community – within the context of Edinburgh, where the work screened at the French Institute during Edinburgh Art Festival 2023. The programme examined the commonalities and regional specificities of queer experiences in the UK during the 1980s and ’90s – a time of both political change and social trauma.

The artist collaborated with three partners – Lothian Health Services Archive (LHSA), Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive and Cole Collins from Edinburgh College of Art – to organise events that delved into different areas of the city’s history. Each partner activated the space in their own way:

Lothian Health Services Archive
Drawing on original material from the Lothian Health Services Archive – an NHS collection held at the University of Edinburgh Library – this event examined the role of archives in the preservation of queer histories, providing an opportunity to hear how the archive operates and exploring original material relating to HIV/AIDS awareness and activism in Edinburgh.

Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive
Two of Lavender Menace’s directors, Sigrid Nielsen and Bob Orr, convened a group of friends to reflect upon personal and political experiences of HIV/AIDS in Edinburgh during the 1980s and ’90s. Lavender Menace, which developed out of the bookshop West & Wilde, aims to give space to hard-to-find and out-of-print queer books.

Dr Cole Collins
Sean Burns and Cole Collins, lecturer at Edinburgh College of Art, led a roundtable conversation on queer space that considered historical examples in Edinburgh, including nightclubs, housing and social spaces. The discussion aimed to reflect on the relationship between architecture and community and took place in an informal setting with food.

In Edinburgh, Dorothy Towers was supported by the PLACE Programme, a partnership between Edinburgh Festivals, Scottish Government, City of Edinburgh Council and Creative Scotland with additional support from Edinburgh World Heritage. Images: Sean Burns, ‘Dorothy Towers’, 2023, installation view (containing material from the artist’s archive and Lothian Health Service Archive alongside books from Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive); photographs: Stephen Lister and Charlotte Cullen