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Glasgow International 2020: 'Looking at art in the flesh rather than through a screen, you're going to see it differently'

Glasgow International 2020: 'Looking at art in the flesh rather than through a screen, you're going to see it differently'

Walker & Bromwich, 'Mosaic Performance' (2019) / Photo: Julia Bauer

The director of Glasgow International takes us through the highlights and new innovations at the heart of the renowned visual art biennale

Richard Parry has clearly been hard at work instigating major structural changes and pulling together the programme for this year's Glasgow International, the city's bi-annual festival of contemporary art. Following Parry's inaugural tenure as festival director in 2018, 'attention' is the theme of GI's three-week city-wide takeover of venues great and small this year.

'The way we see things is changing,' says Parry of GI's theme. 'We've got 24-hour news, we're seeing things constantly through a screen, and we're living in a world where we're required to be constantly "on". Our attention is changing because of that, and that has both physical and mental consequences. Looking at art in the flesh rather than through a screen, you're going to see it differently. The sign of great art is that it invites you to look at it again and again and get something different from it each time, and that requires attention.'

This year's GI programme will see some marked differences in structure. While the Director's Programme will see a series of major commissions from the likes of Duncan Campbell, Georgina Starr and Sarah Forrest in some of the city's major venues, the festival's Across the City programme will showcase and support artists, curators and artist-led spaces working at ground level.

Glasgow International 2020: 'Looking at art in the flesh rather than through a screen, you're going to see it differently'

Illustration by Ruth Mitchell, commissioned by The Gallow Gate for Hushed Tones by Ndidi Dike, digital illustration, 2019.

This year, a panel featuring artist Alberta Whittle, head of exhibitions at Dundee Contemporary Arts, Eoin Dara, and director of Kunsthal Stavanger, Hanne Mugaas, has worked alongside Parry and Poi Marr of GI to select the programme. This includes work by familiar names such as Graham Fagen and Jacqueline Donachie, as well as a plethora of younger artists.

Beyond the wealth of work on show, the biggest change to Across the City is about money. Artists have become increasingly vocal about the day-to-day economics of their practices, and institutions have similarly been called out for not paying fees. With this in mind, the Scottish Government Expo Fund, designed to support and promote artistic innovation in Scotland, has supported GI for the first time. This will enable GI to pay all projects by freelance artists and curators and artist-run spaces selected for inclusion in this year's programme a minimum of £1500. Awards of £3000 and £5000 will be paid out to other projects, with a top award of £10,000.

That top award goes to the Chapter 13 collective for a group exhibition that will include work by French artist Kadar Attia, Japanese video artist Hikaru Fujii and New York-born film-maker Margaret Salmon. Elsewhere, those receiving funding include Transmission, for a show co-curated with Brazilian artist and performer Ana Beatriz Almeida, and to the non-profit based Many Studios for an exhibition by Nigerian-based artist, Ndidi Dike. The GI Bursary Award of £3000, given to a recent graduate, has been awarded to Iman Tajik for his proposal Bordered Miles, a performance-based walk linking Glasgow city centre and the Dungavel immigration removal centre. Other events include a series of walks by Walker and Bromwich and a group show of tableaux vivants in a city centre garage.

Glasgow International 2020: 'Looking at art in the flesh rather than through a screen, you're going to see it differently'

Ana Beatriz Almeida, Tchidoun (2018) / credit: Catarine Brum

This is barely scratching the surface, however, of the vast array of activities demanding attention. In terms of providing tangible support for artists, the signals the new financial model sends out are positive.

'I'd love to do more,' says Parry, 'but this feels like a really important first step. These are challenging times, both for artists and for society as a whole, and I'm not going to pretend any of this is easy. We've made a big change to the model of GI, and we've only really gone through the first part of the process. We'll find out how that goes as it happens.'

Glasgow, of course, has a rich history of DIY artistic happenings long before GI existed and helped put the city on the international art map. This is something Parry is aware of, and he seems to relish both GI's umbilical links with that history and being part of its ongoing evolution.

'I think it's a really inspiring place,' he says. 'It feels now that Glasgow is one of the key centres in Europe for contemporary art. There is such strength and depth in some of the things artists are doing, and what's great is that it's from the ground-up rather than top-down. It's very much about artists doing things on their own terms and making things happen. I've not been to too many places with that sort of energy, where artists with more experience are happy to share that with younger artists. What you're seeing now are new voices with different sets of concerns right across the board, and I think what's great is that people aren't afraid to ask questions, and that's really energising.'

Glasgow International 2020, Fri 24 Apr–Sun 10 May, glasgowinternational.org

Glasgow International

Two-yearly festival of contemporary art commissioned from artists around the globe and including exhibitions in traditional gallery spaces, plus unique site-specific installations and live performance art. The 2020 festival has been postponed to 2021, however a digital programme is available online.

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