Glasgow International 2016: Festival plans

Glasgow International Director Sarah McCrory talks through her plans for this year's festival

Feature by Adam Benmakhlouf | 08 Feb 2016

When the biannual Glasgow International blazes for two and a half weeks, every exhibition space is filled – and some made for purpose. From 8 to 25 April, this edition’s 18 days in Glasgow will involve over 200 artists exhibiting across the city in over 70 venues.

It’s well known that Glasgow already has a healthy year-round regime of art exhibitions, talks and events – hence the brimming monthly and weekly round-up columns. This understandably makes hosting a biennial more complicated. “When the population of the city is 600,000, the amount of artists here is a different proportion to other places in the country,” says director Sarah McCrory.

Nevertheless, briefly intensifying the city’s busy art scene is a demand consistently met by the festival. Heading into the seventh edition, McCrory has agreed to give away some of what’s in store for GI 2016.

First, while the numbers of artists and venues are impressive, there’s an emphasis on variety, not just quantity. “You can go to the Southside and visit an exhibition in Tramway [major public gallery in huge former tramworks], then you can visit weird and old abandoned spaces that have been revitalised with contemporary art.” On top of that, “the diversity of practices ranges from painting exhibitions in the Mitchell Library to the performance troupe Megahammer making events at our opening. In Glasgow’s Roller Rink Rollerstop, there’s Asparagus Piss Raindrop also doing performance.”

As well as showcasing many different kinds of space and artmaking, it’s also important to McCrory that GI 2016 comes as a timely event. As a way of meeting this aspiration, there’s a theme to this year's festival.  When considering this, it became important to McCrory that “a lot artists are still makers in Glasgow.” Contextualising this characteristic of art in the city, she considers the “history of the city as a post-industrial city,” with notions such as “craft, making, feminists practices [and] labour” being particularly significant.

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As another first there will also be a group exhibition in Tramway, which McCrory has co-designed along with established Glasgow-based contemporary artist Martin Boyce. It’s within this presentation that McCrory makes good on the promise that the festival includes “artists that are 24, then artists that are 83.” Representing the octogenarians is the renowned Paris-based American artist Sheila Hicks. “She is an incredible, formidable artist, who makes large-scale, incredibly seductive pieces that do have craft and artisanship at the heart of them.”

Speaking also of events outside of the Director’s Programme, McCrory mentions Glasgow Sculpture Studio’s pairing of “Liz Magor, a really established and really important artist and art school lecturer in Canada, with emerging American artist Alisa Barenboym, whose practices have a lot in common. I think it’ll be really exciting.”

Continuing and bettering an already solid reputation is the aim. But McCrory also thinks in more general terms about the city to explain the appeal of the Glasgow International. "Whenever I mention to people that I run this festival, everybody comes back with ‘Oh, I love Glasgow ... When people come up here they get looked after. It’s a really good hosting city, people know how to pull out all the stops. When we have events and openings, we work hard to make them as accessible to people, and as fun as possible.”

McCrory closes with an important reminder about the festival part of the art festival: “The whole point of a festival is about also developing an atmosphere, and allowing people not just to experience the artworks but also the city. Good hosts, good drinks, lots of good places to go – it’s probably as simple as that.”

GI 2016 runs 8-25 Apr