Craig Coulthard is interested in the way that, despite our expectations, tradition never actually stays still. It is invented and reinvented as times change. Coulthard is an artist and musician who works with ideas and events as well as film and objects. From folk music to football, he tweaks traditional forms or familiar occasions to play with our ideas of memory, history, conflict and belonging.
His best-known work to date is Forest Pitch, commissioned by the Cultural Olympiad in 2012, a brand new football pitch in the heart of a forest in the Scottish Borders. Only two matches were ever played there and the pitch has since deliberately been left untended. The players were amateurs living in Scotland, most of whom had recently become British citizens or been granted ‘exceptional leave to remain’ in the UK. They thus reflected the way that national identity, and our assumptions about what it might mean to be Scottish or British, can be fluid rather than fixed. The rural setting questioned our ideas of nature. By clearing an area of unnatural commercial forestry, it actually prepared the way for the gradual return of a natural habitat.
Born to an air force family, Coulthard is also fascinated by our attitudes to military traditions. His work An Exchange of Value (1) (2013) is one of a series of carpets made for the artist in Afghanistan. Fascinated by the way that traditional carpet-making had been adapted to include images of recent armed conflict, he commissioned a series of rugs from different makers each featuring the same retirement portrait of his father in his RAF uniform.
The Drummer and The Drone, Coulthard’s film commissioned for the Edinburgh Art Festival, draws on a simple association to explore a complex idea. The word ‘drone’ in music means a sustained sound. In bagpipes, pipes known as drones can sustain a long note without the need for the player’s attention. In recent years the word has become associated with unmanned aerial vehicles. Drones have massive potential. But armed drones are controversially used by the United States and the UK in combat missions. Coulthard’s film draws on the ambiguities of our relationship with machines, using the musical rhythms of both military music and the distinctive sound of the pibroch – a type of solo lament played on the Highland bagpipe.