A look ahead to Glasgow International with its artists and curators

We meet 25 artists and curators who are part of Glasgow International to share details, hints and insights on what to expect from this year's biennial spring art programme

Feature by Adam Benmakhlouf | 30 Mar 2018

It’s April and an even-numbered year ergo it’s time for the new edition of Glasgow International (GI), taking place this month from 20 April-7 May. With international relations taking a historical backflip for the worse, the idea of an international visual arts festival feels more optimistic and indispensable than ever.

Last month, we had a good chat with the new Director Richard Parry about his takes on the exhibiting artists and his new life in Glasgow after relocating here less than a year ago. This month, we’ve taken a sizeable sample of some of the exciting projects that will be happening over the course of GI’s two week run.

The range of artists involved cover all different types of work, media and subject matter. As always, you’ll find lots of topical works and some of the most vital emergent artists working in Glasgow and further afield, as well as some more art-historically relevant names too.

Critical gaze

As well as looking to wider contexts of GI, there are parts of this year’s festival that officially and unofficially import a sense of reflection to the broadly celebratory atmosphere.  In Kind, by Janie Nicoll (former president of the Scottish Artists’ Union) and artist Ailie Rutherford, specifically sets out to log the unpaid hours and out-of-pocket artistic expense that makes GI possible. “Even people that are getting paid to work in the festival are going above and beyond,” they explain.

Working with cabinetmakers, Nicoll and Rutherford promise a trolley that will allow them to distribute their research and cultivate further engagement across several sites, including CCA, Platform and the GI 2018 Hub at Trongate 103.

Recognising pioneering female artists

Two projects in particular bring two older European women artists’ works to the fore. One of these, in the Hunterian Gallery, will feature the work of prolific 75-year old German filmmaker and photographer, Ulrike Ottinger, who has had “a long and interesting career,” according to curator Dominic Paterson. “The films are carnivalesque,” he says, involving aspects of “masquerade and drag.” Paterson in particular mentions one title Freak Orlando, that includes cross-dressing and disabled bodies. Another, Johanna D’Arc of Mongolia takes the form of a travelogue as she brings a cabaret troupe through Mongolia.

Ulrike Ottinger, Chamisso's Shadow (2015)

For most people in and around Glasgow, the Hunterian exhibition of Ulrike Ottinger’s work will constitute their first introduction to her decades-long career. Similarly, when it comes to the Spanish artist Esther Ferrer, her established practice is unlikely to be within the purview of artists and other cultural workers in the city.

One of the curators, Fritz Welch sums up Ferrer’s influence, saying, “Her approach to anarchy is helping to fuel the tractor that is pulling the wagon that is harvesting my soul.” The other curator, Mónica Laiseca conducted extensive research into art in Spain during the 60s, with particular emphasis on the effects of the rule of the fascist dictator General Francisco Franco, who ruled until 1975. Her work will be on show across presentations in the Pearce Institute and Project Ability.

As a different kind of meditation of avant-garde 20th century figures, for her show in the Reid Gallery artist Susanne Nørregård Nielsen especially translated a book by Sophie Taeuber Arp, whom she describes as “one of the pioneers of abstract art, alongside Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich.” Nielsen specifically tracks her research back to Arp’s time as artisan and teacher at Zurich School of Arts and Crafts in 1922, when she wrote Remarks on Instruction in Ornamental Design, including suggestions of geometrical painting exercises involving circles and squares. Nielsen’s exhibition emerges from a sustained period of experimentation in drawing using the systematic rules set out by Arp.

Alternative realities and fictions

While many of the artists mentioned so far work across disciplines like history, music, dance and construction, Deborah Jackson has curated an exhibition of work across CCA, Platform and Savoy Centre entitled We who are about to... that centres around the possibilities of speculative fictions. Thinking in particular of its admonitions and imaginings of the future, Jackson questions “Whose future gets to be the future? Who is empowered and legitimised and who is excluded?”

Looking instead at retrofuturism, in Fairfield Heritage in Govan, Marija Nemčenko combines references to her upbringing in brutalist prefabricated flats in Lithuania with the architecture that characterises 20th century Glaswegian urban regeneration. “Often these buildings… tend to have negative connotations attached to them – in Lithuania these Soviet artefacts have become a definitive feature… in Glasgow they stand as a reminder of poor city planning decisions, crime and drug problems, anti-social behaviour and so on.” From this, Nemčenko tracks a kind of “erasure” and “amnesia,” but also links two propaganda-esque films from the period when they were optimistically designed, Glasgow 1980 by Oscar Marzaroli and Lazdynai, Architektų gatvė by Vytenis Imbrasas, studying the “shocking” number of similarities of content.

More film is on show in the work of Florrie James and Sam Bellacosa who have collaborated over recent years to make a feature-length film, 4 Day Weekend Underground. “The story is set 40 years in the future, as a man, Runner, travels from Glasgow to the Inner Hebrides in search of [another character] Lover,” they explain. Merging dystopia and utopia, James and Bellacosa’s film combines references to road and action genre movies with ambitious soundscaping, speedboat chases and improvisational performances from the actors they’re working with. They’ll be presenting the work at the Garnethill Multicultural Centre between 5-6 May.

Experimental video

Also situating Glasgow within an international axis, in House for an Art Lover Glasgow-based Alex Sarkisian and Istanbul's Bahar Yürükoğlu have been working between their respective cities. Sharing the editing process across the 2000+ miles between them, they started thinking initially about meeting and working side-by-side in the Arctic and then collaborating in Panama. “The resulting work borders on sci fi strangeness,” they say, even though they’ve added no effects or filters to the work. During the work, Sarkisian’s plans to travel to Turkey were frustrated by a travel ban. “The physical separation of trying to work on the GI project together leading up to the festival brought forward political contexts of international collaboration and added another layer to the project.”

Alex Sarkisian, arc'teryx (2016) 

Also working with experimental video, Hardeep Pandhal has repurposed footage he took in 2010 when part of student occupations and will be showing in Kelvin Hall. Some of the footage has been lost, and parts of the experience forgotten. Pandhal thus considers his additions as “superimposed on the documentary footage, imagine scenes that I cannot currently envisage otherwise, in a physical film studio for example. The objects morph and change shape, their transitions frustrate and play with conventions within documentary filmmaking or linear storytelling. It looks like a digital mind-map, with propositions and scenarios taken from imagination and other histories/contexts that I want to put in relation to the documentary material somehow.”

Historical interests

Going further back into Glasgow history, at the Anderston Fire Station, artist Douglas Morland considers the grisly 19th century practice in Glasgow of following some executions with surgical intervention to attempt reanimation of the body. These “were widespread across Europe in the early 1800s,” he explains. Morland condenses and deconstructs these lineages in a choreographed video work, which has been in turn manipulated magnetically using analogue televisions and re-filming. He considers the work as speaking to “layering and blurring of historical voices, and the absence of Clydesdale’s own voices, [which] speaks volumes about class, power, historical veracity, identity, the body, science and superstition.”

Looking to more recent Glasgow history, a project by artist duo Beagles & Ramsay involves setting several artists around historical Glasgow landmark shops and well-known materials haunts for artists in the city. Jack Cheetham is one of the participants, and will be showing outside Tam Shepherd's Trick Shop, Garnethill Hill Stores and Bill’s Tool Store. In figuring out his exact response, he’s been walking from one to the other “in a kind of cycle over the past six months, to the point where one of the shopkeepers told me that they were worried I was ‘casing the joint’!”

Thinking more broadly of important political events, in the CCA, Kirsty Hendry and Ilona Sagar consider an early 20th century social investigation in public health, The Peckham Experiment, a health centre that generated unprecedented observation of the circulation, causes and consequence of health and sickness over the course of 25 years from 1926-50. Hendry and Sagar both question some of the legacies of this report, such as the moral implications of relating responsibility and health, as to who might deserve healthcare. Nevertheless, they set the findings within current threats to public healthcare and moves to increase privatisation. “We should take every opportunity to question and challenge policy and increasing health inequalities. Once it’s gone it's gone.” Throughout the various invited artists’ works and screenings, they “explore the notion that health and illness are not just biological phenomena but are also socially, culturally, and politically constituted.”

Also taking cue from Glasgow lore, Rosie O'Grady looks to Margaret Macdonald, longtime collaborator and wife of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. As one of the many projects taking place in House for an Art Lover, O'Grady thinks in particular of Macdonald’s often overlooked but pivotal influence and work that’s often subsumed within the mythology of Mackintosh. "The work will be visible within the house, and take over all the screens," says O'Grady. "They usually display the conference room schedule and venue hire. The same footage will be screened all around the house, a little bit like a virus.” The footage is from a drone camera above a crop formation in the shape of Macdonald’s May Queen gesso panel.

Taking a more theoretical view of the operations of power and historical narrative, again in the CCA Camara Taylor, Zoé Schreiber and Ewan Mitchell put together their exhibition Roadmaps, which uses “archival materials as springboards to explore themes relating to memory and time,” and especially thinking of “forgotten stories.”


With one foot squarely in fun and the other in the Clyde, there’s Robert Thomas James MillsThe Legend of St Mungo? “I’ll be rowing down the River Clyde to the South Portland Street Suspension Bridge,” he says. Before he arrives, collaborators will be telling stories about St Mungo. Then Mills will tell the story that sees Mungo convincing animals of the forest to help a farmer pull his cart, after his horse can no longer do the job.

Taking a different slant on performance, Raydale Dower considers more specifically the impact of absence and pause in order to combine careful mathematics with logic-defying perceptual trickery. He has processed a 71 minute 1991 Nirvana concert to include a minute of pause for each second of sound, elongating the entire recording to 71 hours. To accommodate a sequential once-round playing of the work, the CCA will be open for 24 hours a day over one weekend. “There will be a light show and an empty stage,” says Dower. He also describes people who work in the CCA on a daily basis “becoming disoriented” while others, on seeing the work "described the seconds getting longer as the minutes shortened."

For their presentation, South Africa-based artist collective iQhiya bring their communal spirit of institutional critique to Transmission. Working with local women of colour artists, they've hinted at potentially creating a public procession through the streets of Glasgow.

Interdisciplinary sculpture

House for an Art Lover also features the work of Tine Bek and Paul Deslandes who consider the concept of mobility across video and sculpture. This might provide a counterpoint to MollyMae Whawell across town (717 Great Western Road; originally listed at TS Queen Mary), who considers ideas of movement, dance, stillness, bodies and objects. Whawell asks “how can these things go together?” and especially looks towards the point at which objects are consumed when materials and bodies meet. Picking up several commercial kitchen tables and combining with what she describes as “elemental materials,” and edible flowers, Whawell combines her interests into a large scale sculptural and site-specific installation.

While Whawell looks to the sculptural possibilities of dance, fellow GI exhibitor Susannah Stark considers “music and voice as a form of sculpture.” For GI, her work Unnatural Wealth collages viewings of London luxury apartments and references to the Ancient Cynic philosophers, a body that responded to the materialism of ancient society by making a virtue of begging and challenging polite decorum. Remembered for being open to including women, Stark refers to them as a means of considering “public platforms for speech and how voices are used in public spaces, at a time dominated by online/virtual communication.”

Ross Birrell, Athens-Kassal Ride: The Transit of Hermes, documenta 14, Image of Tina Bosche, Macedonia | image: Samuel Devereux

Thinking of the Ancients, too, in one of the works central to Ross Birrell's show in the CCA, he has filmed a horse that he calls Hermes, set within New York streets with some particularly topical landmarks nearby but out of sight: Trump Tower, Central Park, equestrian statues dedicated to historical figures. This is intended to operate in a way that is “imagistic, poetic and evocative,” while being at the centre of several lines of political and historical relevance.

Back in House for an Art Lover, Winnie Herbstein’s Studwork considers the male domination of the construction industry across video, a publication and studboarding. “Underpinning the whole thing is the fact that so many movements [that sought to redress problems with gender representation] push so hard and try to make a difference, then it’s forgotten again.” Also during Herbstein’s research, she pursued enquiries into women-led activist skillsharing and learning exchanges. “I met a bunch of women that were involved in setting up amazing projects in the 80s, like the Suffolk women’s wood workshops that taught working class women and women of colour woodworkshop techniques. Then it was passed on and on. One of their students went to Nicaragua and set up a women’s workshop there that continues today.”

Considering the past and present of communications, Francis McKee is one of the exhibitors as part of a group show on writing forms, Invitations to Forms. Inspired by George Jackson and Angela Davis’ prison and love letters, he thinks of the way this form has been consigned to redundancy in the immediacy of the digital age. “You say something then there’s this three-week gap,” he says. He also considers the kinds of ephemera that come with it. “I got interested in the material culture around letters, so I’m making a stamp and I’m making some postcards.” Inspired by the Irish stamp that commemorated 1930s Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, McKee has repurposed into a stamp one of his images of the year-long 2016/17 occupation of a Parisian French square by activists and radicals, Nuit debout.

Unofficial fringe

It’s official, Glasgow International has now spawned an unofficial fringe.

Outside of the official roster, there is Glasgow Why Open House Arts Festival (GYFest) from 27-30 April. As GY Fest Committee member Jack McCombe describes, “The grassroots festival has over 40 venues/shows across all sides of the city from 27 April with over 100 artists taking part.” Describing the rationale, McCombe goes on: “we are looking to showcase the spontaneity and fun that exists within the development of emerging local artists' practices through an open house platform – especially against the backdrop of a festival which hosts such a wide array of global players. GI is undeniably exciting and great for Glasgow, but nonetheless we feel it is our duty to keep these larger organisations honest with fringe events such as this one. It’s essentially just a shameless bit of symbiotic piggybacking!” Events will include a DIY pizza oven open to all, an art taxi, and Queer Mechanisms: a collective that will “drag and drop oppressive binaries into the trash and rewrite alternative social scripts.”

All events are free, more details and further information available from glasgowinternational.org