We live in neomedieval times. That’s to say that much of our contemporary condition has more than a passing resemblance to the Middle Ages, with its plagues, financial crises and globalisation. Yes, globalisation. According to the academic, artist and member of the art collective Confraternity of Neoflagallants, Neil Mulholland, the medieval period had a fully globalised economy. What is more, like our economy, the arse fell out of theirs too.
To fully appreciate the extent of what Mulholland is suggesting it may help to ignore him a little. His chat is like a dense and sprawling medieval city. Like intricate, gothic tracery, he weaves a complex tapestry of ideas and cultural references that includes both Marx and The Mighty Boosh. And likewise, he doesn’t shy away from blatant incongruity, using his iPhone to prove that we live in dark ages.
“We are lay peoples dedicated to the ascetic application, dissemination and treatment of neomedievalism in contemporary culture,” he explains of the Confraternity, which includes founding member Norman James Hogg. This is not a romanticising of pre-capitalist society like the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood did over a century ago, Mulholland emphasises, but a way of deciphering the future – what they call premodern futurity. “Neomedievalism embraces the spectral traces of its historical past as part of an ever-morphing, force-feedback simulation of coming events,” he tells me, like a latter day soothsayer.
The Confraternity’s most recent show, Avalon, at Embassy Gallery, Edinburgh, was in many ways a kind of manifesto proclaiming that contemporary life is once more imbued with the concerns that once preyed on the lowly serf and included work by Confraternity members Torsten Lauschmann and Alex Pollard. It displayed an eclecticism that reflected the diversity of the Middle Ages, with all its regional and ecclesiastical nuances. We’re confronted by a peculiar, ritualistic performance by the collaborative duo Plastique Fantastique and a mesmerising dramatisation of a chat room debate, or what is known as a flame war, about online gaming by the game art pioneer Eddo Stern.
As part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, the Confraternity has been commissioned to stage a ‘zombie walk’, called An Unco Site!, dedicated to Edinburgh’s ‘ghosts’. The ‘ghosts’, or ‘living dead’, in this case being all those who wear historical costumes to work, including street performers in historical garb and bagpipers kitted out in retro regalia. Beginning at the Scott Monument on Princes Street, the Confraternity looks to gather a crowd of all these lost souls – nomadic performers who have found themselves drawn to the city during festival time – to parade through the streets of Edinburgh in a homage to our advanced stage of crisis.
Setting off from the Scott Monument at 11pm on Saturday 7 August, the parade will wind its way through the city centre toward the old town, eventually arriving at an undisclosed venue where a reception will be held for the participants. The Confraternity encourages all those who wear historical attire for work to get involved, providing a social setting for the solitary performers to meet. The rest of us can choose to watch the parade go by or follow its progress into the depths of the ‘zombie city’.
Central to the parade is the city itself. With its origins in medieval times, new building developments around the docks and the Quartermile have seen the city transformed. A building boom followed by a swift depression has left brand new buildings unoccupied, again drawing comparisons with the undead. Both a camp celebration of the city’s nomadic labour force and a kind of ominous prescience of a bleak future, An Unco Site! looks to be a darkly pleasurable affair.