Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Edinburgh Festival: Gregor Schneider's 'secret' artwork Susser Duft opens

Image caption Gregor Schneider is known for his architectural installations, including this piece Haus u r in Germany

The Edinburgh Festival is no stranger to art that provokes or shocks.

This year, a piece by German artist Gregor Schneider has got people talking.

Yet the contents of the show have been kept a closely-guarded secret.

SPOILER ALERT: If you are planning to visit the exhibition, do not read on.

I'm standing in a corridor underneath Summerhall, Edinburgh's old veterinary college, waiting to go through a set of white double doors.

Inside is Gregor Schneider's installation Susser Duft, which translates as "sweet scent".

All I know about what happens beyond these doors is that I'll be alone - and I should expect nudity.

A woman with a walkie-talkie guards the entrance.

"A few rules before you go in..." she says. "You have five minutes. Over 18s only, and no video recordings or photography."

Then she swings open one of the white doors, and I step inside.

White noise

I find myself alone in a brightly-lit corridor that has been painted white. Even the floor is white.

Walking carefully towards a set of double doors at the end, I pull one open - to reveal another empty, white corridor.

A door on my left leads to an empty room, white again, but this time painted with gloss paint. It makes the sound of my footsteps echo.

Retreating back out to the corridor, I step through a third set of white doors.

This time, I find myself in a small, black room. In the dim light, I realise there are people inside - around ten men, all black, all naked.

Image caption In 2001, Schneider was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale for his work

Some of the men are standing. Some are crouching. Some shuffle slightly. Not one of them looks at me.

The walls are metal, like those of a shipping container, and the air is warm.

I step cautiously past the men.

Giving in to my instinct to flee the confined space, I push open the exit. It takes me back up to the sunny cafe.

My heart is still pumping with the initial shock of entering the room. I find myself laughing - even though the exhibition is anything other than funny.

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Media captionThe contents of the show have got people talking

It is disquieting, arresting, intense.

Schneider is known for his architectural artworks, usually set within traditional museum or gallery spaces.

He has a house in Germany which has false corridors, secret rooms, and rooms where once the door closes, it will never open again.

This piece, Susser Duft, aims to confront the audience with issues around race and slavery.

Schneider himself shies away from interviews. Paul Robertson, exhibitions curator at Summerhall, says the piece is designed to be "deep, intense experience":

"We do believe it may be controversial. It is about a topic which white artists - and Gregor is a white artist, and I happen to be a white curator - don't tackle in the art world, and that is the subject of race and slavery.

"I think he's done it remarkably well. I think it absolutely shows the power of the stain that the history of slavery has on the whole of civilisation, and particularly people from Britain and the US.

"I've seen people come out and not be able to talk for two minutes."

"Bleaching experience"

So what is the reaction from visitors?

Joyce Summerville, from Edinburgh, has just left the exhibition. "I found it quite shocking, because I've never been in an environment like that before," she says.

"I do life drawing, so I'm used to naked bodies, but it make me think of slavery, and people that were not free. I didn't linger because I felt uncomfortable."

David Robinson, from London, had a very different reaction: "It was like being at an all male gym I suppose...without the showers.

Image caption Other shows on at Summerhall include Paul Robertson's Exhibition in a Pocket

"It felt like they were deliberately not looking at me for some reason, I couldn't get any eye contact.

"The bleaching of your experience in the white room before you went in was good as well."

The ten men inside the room, some of them students, have been told not to talk, touch, or interact with the audience. If someone tries to touch or speak to them, they have been told to walk away.

One of the actors is Rama Diocotlhe. He is an artist from Namibia, living in Edinburgh with his family.

"It is more from a perspective of an artist that I'm looking at it," he says.

"Like life models, or living artwork - but the topic attached to it is quite awakening. For us, it is about bringing some awareness.

"We get quite diverse reactions. Some people just go through. Some stand there.

"But we can't really have any contact with the person's expression. For us it's not uncomfortable."

Susser Daft is at Summerhall until 31 August and is open from 13:00 to 18:00 every day.

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